Wootton, David 1952–

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Wootton, David 1952–


Born January 15, 1952; son of Canon R.W.F (a cleric) and Joan Wootton; partner of Alison Mark; children: (previous marriage) Lisa, Thomas. Education: Peterhouse, Cambridge University, M.A., Ph.D.; attended Balliol College, Oxford.


Office—Department of History, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, England. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected]


Westfield College, University of London, London, England, lecturer in history, 1976-82; Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, assistant professor, 1982-85, associate professor of history, 1985-87; University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada, associate professor of political science, 1987-89; University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Lansdowne Chair in the Humanities, 1989-95, associate professor, 1989-91, professor of history, 1991-95, founding director of Humanities Center, 1991-95; Brunel University, West London, England, professor of politics and head of the department of government, 1994-96, professor of history and dean of faculty of arts, 1996-98, acting head of performing arts, 1996-98; Queen Mary, University of London, London, England, professor of intellectual history, 1998-2004; University of York, York, England, anniversary professor of history, 2004—. Peterhouse, Cambridge University, Cambridge, England, research fellow, 1975-76; McGill University, Montréal, Quebec, Canada, visiting professor of political science, 1980-82; Center for the History of Freedom, Washington University, St. Louis, MO, visiting fellow, 1990; and Shelby Cullom Davis Center, Department of History, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, visiting fellow, 1992-93.


Paolo Sarpi: Between Renaissance and Enlightenment, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1983.

(Translator and author of introduction) Voltaire, Candide and Related Texts, Hackett (Indianapolis, IN), 2000.

Bad Medicine: Doctors Doing Harm since Hippocrates, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including the London Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, and London Review of Books, and to Web sites, including the Social Affairs Unit.


(With Michael Hunter) Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1992.

Republicanism, Liberty, and Commercial Society, 1649-1776, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 1994.

(And translator) Niccolo Machiavelli, Selected Political Writings, Hackett (Indianapolis, IN), 1994.

(And translator) Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, Hackett (Indianapolis, IN), 1995.

(And translator and author of introduction) Thomas More, Utopia, Hackett (Indianapolis, IN), 1999.

(And author of introduction) Divine Right and Democracy: An Anthology of Political Writing in Stuart England, Hackett (Indianapolis, IN), 2003.

(And author of introduction) The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, Hackett (Indianapolis, IN), 2003.

(And author of introduction) John Locke, Political Writings, Hackett (Indianapolis, IN), 2003.

(And author of introduction and notes) Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus, Hackett (Indianapolis, IN), 2005.

(And author of introductions) Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche, Hackett (Indianapolis, IN), 2007.


David Wootton is a historian and scholar whose primary interest is in the intellectual and cultural history of English-speaking countries, as well as Italy and France. He focuses on the centuries from 1500 to 1800. He has written and edited numerous books related to his interests, including works about atheism, the history of science, early modern political theory, and the origins of the American Constitution.

According to Free Inquiry contributor Gordon Stein, Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment, which Wootton edited with Michael Hunter, is ‘an important and perhaps essential acquisition for the person seriously interested in atheist and freethought history.’ The book contains ten chapters, each written by a different scholar who explores early atheistic sentiments, some of them in published form. For example, one essay examines the Enlightenment treatise titled The Three Impostors, which claimed that the stories about the three religious figures of Muhammad, Jesus, and Moses were misrepresented. Among other topics discussed in the book are atheism in countries such as Italy and the atheistic views of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Peter Burke, writing in the English Historical Review, commented: ‘Wootton's introductory chapter offers a useful historiographical overview of the subject and an analysis of the elusive concepts of ‘atheism’ and ‘irreligion.’"

In his 2006 book, Bad Medicine: Doctors Doing Harm since Hippocrates, Wootton provides a history of medicine that examines how, for the most part, medicine was originally not much of a science but more akin to astrology. Although the official history of medicine can be traced back to Hippocrates and the fifth century B.C.E., Wootton presents his case that, until antibiotics were invented in the 1930s, the vast majority of physicians hurt their patients more than they helped them. Not only did physicians do irreparable harm to many of their patients, but they constantly resisted new advances and discoveries that could have helped. ‘At first sight this history of medicine … could be an Ivan Illich-style demolition of the pretensions of the medical profession to do any good whatsoever,’ wrote Seamus Sweeney on the Social Affairs Unit Web site. Sweeney added: ‘In fact it is very far from this. It is a catalogue of the medical profession's vanity, resistance to innovation, protectionism and frank stupidity at times."

Wootton points out in Bad Medicine many instances of the medical profession's recalcitrant and nonscientific approach to helping patients, some of them relatively recent. For example, in the 1880s the first patient was treated successfully with penicillin, but it was not used again until the 1940s. The author also points to ignored evidence about the addictiveness of smoking. Another example of how the medical profession continued to practice bad medicine in modern times is the thalidomide tragedy of the 1960s. Thalidomide was a drug developed by German researchers and sold primarily to pregnant women to treat morning sickness and help them sleep. However, because of inadequate testing and a lack of attention by physicians, the medical community did not realize that it caused birth defects. According to some estimates, from 1956 to 1962 approximately ten thousand children were born with severe deformities due to thalidomide. Bad Medicine received favorable reviews from many critics. ‘This short, brilliant bracing book is written with a combination of erudition and narrative drive,’ wrote Sweeney. ‘Wootton has a gift for making the often-recondite story of medicine alive.’ Ray Sturgess commented in the Pharmaceutical Journal: ‘Anyone interested in the history of medicine will want to read this book."

Wootton has also served as translator and/or editor of several classic texts, including Thomas More's Utopia, which, in addition to the author's translation, includes an introduction by Wootton. ‘Anybody teaching Utopia should consider assigning David Wootton's edition,’ declared Anne Lake Prescott in the Renaissance Quarterly. Prescott added: ‘The thoughtful introduction is informative.’ The volume also includes Wootton's translation of Desiderius Erasmus's ‘The Sileni of Alcibiades,’ a noted adage by the Dutch theologian and humanist that was included, along with adages by More, in the 1518 publication of Utopia. ‘In fact the most distinctive element of Wootton's edition is the opportunities it provides of seeing More's Utopia through an Erasmian lens,’ according to Elizabeth McCutcheon in Utopian Studies. ‘Scholars and critics have long explored the relationship between the two men and debated the extent of Erasmus' influence upon More."

Wootton also translated a new edition of Voltaire's Candide, which appears in Wootton's Candide and Related Texts. Among the related texts included are Voltaire's stories ‘The History of the Travels of Scarmentado’ and ‘The Comforter Comforted,’ as well as ‘Poem on the Lisbon Disaster’ and an article titled ‘Well (All Is).’ Selections of writings pertaining to Voltaire from other writers are also included, such as texts by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Alexander Pope, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Utopian Studies critic Guillaume Ansart noted that the ‘choice of related texts, along with the translator's introduction, provides a rich background against which to read Voltaire's masterpiece."



Canadian Journal of History, December, 1996, Ronald Hamowy, review of Republicanism, Liberty, and Commercial Society, 1649-1776, p. 448.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, February, 2007, G. Eknoyan, review of Bad Medicine: Doctors Doing Harm since Hippocrates, p. 1016.

English Historical Review, November, 1995, Peter Burke, review of Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment, p. 1274.

Ethics, January, 1988, Ruth W. Grant, review of Divine Right and Democracy: An Anthology of Political Writing in Stuart England, p. 426.

European History Quarterly, October, 1994, Stephen Pumfrey, review of Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment, p. 624.

Free Inquiry, summer, 1993, Gordon Stein, review of Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment, p. 58.

Historical Journal, June, 1997, Geoff Baldwin, review of Republicanism, Liberty, and Commercial Society, 1649-1776, p. 519.

History: The Journal of the Historical Association, October, 1994, Bernard Capp, review of Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment, p. 489.

Journal of Modern History, June, 1998, Michael Sonenscher, review of Republicanism, Liberty, and Commercial Society, 1649-1776, p. 371.

Journal of Religion, October, 1994, B.A. Gerrish, review of Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment, p. 570.

Journal of the History of Ideas, April, 1995, review of Republicanism, Liberty, and Commercial Society, 1649-1776, p. 351.

Journal of Theological Studies, April, 1994, Rolf Myller, review of Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment, p. 409.

London Review of Books, November 30, 2006, Steven Shapin, ‘Possessed by the Idols,’ review of Bad Medicine, p. 31.

Pharmaceutical Journal, September, 2006, Ray Sturgess, review of Bad Medicine, p. 405.

Renaissance Quarterly, summer, 2000, Anne Lake Prescott, ‘Renaissance Utopias and the Problem of History,’ p. 596.

Sixteenth Century Journal, winter, 2006, Matthew Spencer, ‘Doctor Faustus with the English Faust Book,’ pp. 1152-1153.

Times Higher Education Supplement, July 14, 2006, Chris McManus, ‘Hippocratic Oafs, Curers of Ill Repute,’ review of Bad Medicine, p. 22.

Times Literary Supplement, September 15, 2006, Druin Burch, ‘Quack, Quack,’ review of Bad Medicine, p. 28.

Utopian Studies, spring, 1999, Elizabeth McCutcheon, review of Utopia, p. 297; spring, 2001, Guillaume Ansart, review of Candide and Related Texts, p. 394.


Bad Medicine Web site,http://www.badmedicine.co.uk (November 13, 2007).

Social Affairs Unit,http://www.socialaffairsunit.org.uk/ (November 13, 2007), Seamus Sweeney, review of Bad Medicine.

University of York Department of History Web site,http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/hist/ (November 13, 2007), faculty profile of David Wootton.

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