The Complete Human Body, 2nd Edition
The study of the human body has an extremely long history. The Edwin Smith papyrus, dating to around 1600 bce, is the earliest known medical document. It’s a sort of early surgical textbook, listing various afflictions and ways of treating them. Even if those are treatments that we wouldn’t necessarily recommend today, the papyrus shows us that the ancient Egyptians had some knowledge of the internal structure of the body— they knew about the brain, heart, liver, and kidneys, even if they didn’t understand how these organs functioned.
Historically, finding out about the structure of the human body involved dissection; the word “anatomy” literally means “to cut up.” After all, when you’re trying to find out how a machine works, it’s not particularly helpful just to look at the outside of it and try to imagine the machinery inside. I remember a physics practical at school, when we were tasked with finding out how a toaster worked. We found out by taking it apart—although I must admit that we miserably failed to put it back together again (so it’s probably a good thing that I ended up as an anatomist rather than a surgeon). Most medical schools still have dissection rooms, where medical students can learn about the structure of the body in a practical, hands-on way. Being able to
PROFESSOR ALICE ROBERTS
learn in this way is a great privilege and depends entirely on the generosity of people who bequeath their bodies to medical science. But in addition to dissection, we now have other techniques with which to explore the structure of the human body: cutting it up virtually using X-rays, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or studying the minute detail of its architecture using electron microscopy.
The first section of this book is an atlas of human anatomy. The body is like a very complicated jigsaw, with organs packed closely together and nestled into cavities, with nerves and vessels twisting around each other, branching inside organs, or piercing through muscles. It can be very hard to appreciate the way that all these elements are organized, but the illustrators have been able to strip down and present the anatomy in a way that is not really possible in the dissection room—showing the bones, muscles, blood vessels, nerves, and organs of the body in turn.
Of course, this isn’t an inanimate sculpture, but a working machine. The function of the body becomes the main theme of the second part of the book, as we focus on physiology. Many of us only start to think about how the human body is constructed, and how it works, when something goes wrong with it. The final section looks at some of the problems that interfere with the smooth running of our bodies.
This book—which is a bit like a user’s manual—should be of interest to anyone, young or old, who inhabits a human body.
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|August 9, 2019|
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