Saturday, 16 February 2013

Anatomies – Hugh Aldersey-Williams ***

Author Hugh Aldersey-Williams had a real success with his chemical elements book Periodic Tales, so was faced with the inevitable challenge of what to do next. He has gone for a medical tour of the body, intending to reach into the bits we don’t normally find out about to uncover the hot research topics.
After a quick canter through the history of the way we view our bodies he breaks it down for a bit-by-bit exploration. If I’m honest, basic biology (especially human biology) is not a topic that thrills me, but there is no doubt that Aldersey-Williams manages to bring out some enjoyable, quirky and interesting subjects. Admittedly some of these are covered better elsewhere – so, for instance, his brief foray into what made Einstein’s brain special can’t match Possessing Genius – but the idea that they were already performing nose jobs over 100 years ago or the weirdness of synaesthesia certainly catch the attention.
I like plenty of historical context – and this book has it in spades – but I also like to see a balance of science content, and there it seems a little weak. It is interesting to contrast the book with our editor’s The Universe Inside You, also based on a tour of your body, but in this case dominated by the science and the sheer amazement of it all. When we take the same journey in Anatomies we certainly get more of the basic biology, medical aspects and cultural context, but we miss out on so much of the meaty science.
By no means a bad book, but not in the same league as Periodic Tales.
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Review by Jo Reed

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