Benjamin Woolley is a writer, broadcaster and academic who has specialised in the often fraught relationship between the sciences and arts. His first biography was Bride of Science (1999) about Ada Lovelace (1815–52), the daughter of the poet Lord Byron whose collaboration with the engineer Charles Babbage led to her being described as the world’s first computer programmer. His next book The Queen’s Conjuror (2001) was a bestselling biography of Dr John Dee (1527–1608), Queen Elizabeth I’s maverick astrologer. The book went on to inspire an opera about Dee by Damon Albarn, formerly of Blur, which was performed by English National Opera as part of the London Cultural Olympiad. The Herbalist (2004) is a biography of the apothecary and republican radical Nicholas Culpeper and his bitter rivalry with the founder of modern medicine William Harvey at the time of the English civil war.
As well as biographies, he has written and presented documentaries for the BBC on subjects ranging from the rise of Singapore to the end of the Space Age. His script for a documentary on the solar system for the Discovery Channel won an Emmy award. His most recent production was Games Britannia (BBC4, 2010), a three-part history of Britain told through the unexpectedly revealing medium of board games.
He has taught English at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is currently undertaking a PhD in creative writing. His thesis is an historical novel set in Renaissance Italy, and a critical commentary entitled ‘What’s History Doing in Fiction?’, which draws on his experience as a biographer to examine the connection between historical research and fiction.