An Infinity of Things: How Sir Henry Wellcome Collected the World

Shortlisted for the Medical Journalists’ Association Open Book Awards 2010.

An Infinity of Things tells the story of one of the largest private collections ever created and the life of the man behind it. Henry Wellcome wanted to document the whole history of human health: the breadth of his vision was matched only by the depth of his pockets. This is a tale of ambition, intrigue and rivalries, and a collection that, in the end, consumed its creator.

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Reviews and comments

  • The Sunday Times Books of the Year 2009
    "This is the biography of a collection of extraordinary objects. It is also the story of the extraordinary figure who collected them...His general weirdness and Larson’s sinuous style make for a curious and original book" (Frances Wilson)

  • New Scientist Best Books of 2009
    "This well-researched, readable and penetratingly honest ‘biography of a collection’, captures Sir Henry Wellcome's driving personality and compulsive avarice that created a chaotic mega-collection in his lifetime and, posthumously, an enlightened foundation dedicated to the focused and solid scientific research of which Wellcome himself was completely incapable." (Andrew Robinson)

  • The Sunday Times
    "Fascinating and elegantly written.” (Christopher Hart)

  • The Sunday Telegraph
    "Rigorously researched and fluidly written, Larson's book is a Poe-like tale of a man who literally became buried under his own unquenchable avarice." (Wendy Moore)

  • Literary Review
    "Frances Larson's excellent book...has done us a service in chasing out the story of this ultimate collector.” (Richard Fortey)

  • Bookseller’s Choice
    "Eccentric behaviour makes for great reading and Henry Wellcome's biography will have you mesmerised." (Patrick Neale)

  • New Scientist
    "Accurately billed not as a biography but as ‘the biography of a collection’ the book is penetratingly honest." (Andrew Robinson)

  • The Wall Street Journal
    "Frances Larson's absorbing account...of Wellcome's truly odd and amazing mania shows how it was rooted in his business and intellectual interests but came to control his existence." (Stuart Ferguson)

  • Washington Times
    "Fascinating... There’s a great deal in this book to enthrall the reader" (Martin Rubin)

  • Fortean Times
    "Frances Larson brings this whole unlikely tale to life. She has explored the confused by-ways of Wellcome’s world, tried to understand what drove him, and gives the reader a sense of the scale of his efforts. Her approach is canny; by viewing Wellcome through the lens of his collection, she has created an imaginative biography, that explores issues far beyond those merely of manic acquisition. It almost certainly give us a far more entertaining view of Sir Henry Wellcome than a conventional biography could have managed and, in doing so, she has thrown well-deserved light onto one of Britian’s greatest, but least known, collectors." (Ian Simmons)

  • The Word
    "Weird and wonderful." (Mark Ellen)

  • Featured in The New Yorker Books Briefly Noted

  • London Review of Books
    "A gripping chronicle of accumulation...Larson’s impressive scholarship allows us to see the internal coherence of Wellcome’s collection" (Christopher Turner)