A Journey Through the Changing Human Body

Regular Price $27

Regular Price $35.5 CAD

Regular Price $27

Regular Price $35.5 CAD

Also Available From:

Buy Now:

On Sale

Jun 5, 2018

Page Count

304 Pages




From birth to death, a lyrical exploration of the role of transformation in human life

To be alive is to be in perpetual metamorphosis: growing, healing, learning, aging. In Shapeshifters, physician and writer Gavin Francis considers the inevitable changes all of our bodies undergo — such as birth, puberty, and death, but also laughter, sleeping, and healing-and those that only some of our bodies will: like getting a tattoo, experiencing psychosis, suffering anorexia, being pregnant, or undergoing a gender transition. In Francis’s hands, each event becomes an opportunity to explore the meaning of identity and the natures-biological, psychological, and philosophical-of our selves. True to its own subject, Shapeshifters combines Francis’s lyrical imagination and deep knowledge of medicine and the humanities for a life-altering read.

What's Inside

Read More Read Less


"In this provocative and important book about our shared future, Francis ranges broadly to describe altered human states and selves. He delves into medical history, and, with equal ease, into medical case studies, to reveal how humans are capable of changing our bodies and minds. Steeped as much in history as in the future, we might describe this book as an audacious attempt to write a manifesto for a trans-human future (read it to understand what that phrase might mean)."—Siddartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies and TheGene
"This stylish and exhilarating collection of essays comes from a wide-ranging mind and a profound humanity. With warmth and wit, Gavin Francis examines the body's strategies for survival and change, embedding his thoughts in a broad frame of reference from across human culture and history. Each piece is a pleasure to read, and in sum they are inspiring."—Hilary Mantel, Man Booker Prize-winning author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies
"Ambitious... [Francis] is well schooled in the literature of medical curiosities, from Galen to Sir Thomas Browne and beyond. But Shapeshifters is at its best, and strangest, when dealing with mundane translations: puberty, pregnancy, menopause, the not so simple facts of our being sexed beings. Francis has an engaging way with medical-cultural history... Such is the breadth of [his] interests that Shapeshifters is never less than intellectually energetic."—Guardian (UK)
"A thought-provoking read."—Book Riot
"Francis elegantly weaves detailed descriptions of physiological processes together with memories, anecdotes, and tales from history to produce a rich narrative that is informative and surprising... a pleasure to read."—The Lancet
"A thoughtful exploration.... Francis's wide-ranging experience and curiosity produce fascinating samples of medical and cultural approaches to human change."—Publishers Weekly
"Gavin Francis makes being a doctor sound like the best job in the world.... The 24 essays in this collection...all circle the theme of metamorphosis, and shed light on the biases of modern medicine even while celebrating its achievements."—Village Voice
"What makes the book fun to read is not only the author's limpid anecdotes from his private practice, but also his abiding marvel at the body's endless expressions. Francis ranges freely and skillfully from the strange to the elemental... [he] always makes you think. Captivating medical narratives that fit well alongside those of Oliver Sachs, Atul Gawande, Jerome Groopman, and Berton Roueché."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"[A] timely, thought-provoking and eloquent book... Francis is the opposite of the arrogant doctor-god. Indeed with this book, brimming both with warmth and insight, he puts himself among the ranks of physicians with fine pens, including Oliver Sacks and Atul Gawande, who, for all their learning, retain a deep humility."—The Times (UK)
"Reading these essays is like touring a museum of medical marvels led by the best guide; one with boundless curiosity, a taste for the weird and a deep well of thoughtfulness and knowledge. Shapeshifters is about bodily change, from normal transitions such as conception, menopause and sleep, to anomalies and disorders -- amputation, anorexia, people who have grown horns. What gives this book heart are Gavin Francis's moving encounters, as a working GP, with people whose bodies have undergone strange transformations."—The Times of London (UK)
"The heart of the book is about the key life transitions: conception, birth, puberty, pregnancy, menopause, death--and sleep. Francis's method is to weave together stories from his general practice, his medical training and his travels, with a host of quotes, references and anecdotes from art, literature and history. The result is a rich pleasure."—Sunday Times (UK)
"[An] enthralling collection of illustrated pieces about human transformation.... Dr. Francis will leave you marveling at the physical self you carry around with you every day."—Daily Express (UK)
"This is a fascinating account, full of detail that one would otherwise not know, and full of openness in terms of the difficulties, triumph, disasters and glories of a career in medicine."—Scotsman (UK)
"The insight [Francis] offers into the physician's realm is profoundly affecting.... Shapeshifters provides a fascinating account of humankind's efforts down the millennia to understand our minds and bodies in order to prolong life and wellbeing...beautifully written as well as extremely absorbing."—Herald Scotland (UK)
"Wonderful, written with a deep feeling for language. A writer-physician who sees the drama and beauty in human life."—Annie Dillard, author of An American Childhood and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
"A wonderful series of meditations--clinical, anthropological, literary and deeply humane--on his patients and their illnesses."—Henry Marsh, author of Do No Harm
Read More Read Less