The Unity of Form and Function

R. McNeill Alexander

Photographs by Brian Kosoff
Introduction by Mark Norell

“Form and function are at the heart of Bones, the best picture book on the subject you are ever likely to come across. Lit by photographer Brian Kosoff as if they were 1960s starlets showing off in an expensive studio, here are 140 beautiful colour plates of eagle wishbones, rodent knees, bat snouts and?suddenly and disturbingly?the skeleton of a small baby, with its huge skull....this architecture of life also has a scholarly but thoroughly readable text.”
New Scientist

Skeleton of a Reticulated Python
Python reticulus).

Few creations of nature display the perfect unity of form and function found in the vertebrate skeleton. Ingeniously designed by the processes of evolution, bones are marvels of engineering: their material and construction the ideal compromise between strength and lightness; their shapes precisely suited to the tasks required of them; their forms by turns bizarre, utilitarian, and lovely.

From the perspective of an engineer admiring the girders of a bridge or the parts of a machine, Bones celebrates how animals work. In tribute to both the beauty and the mechanics of its subject, the book explores the structure, material, and movement of bones as they serve the design of living animals. It examines the composition of bones, looks at the joints and muscle attachments that allow for movement?including such elaborate mechanisms as fish jaws, rattlesnake fangs, and a lion’s retractable claws?and shows how the same bone is shaped wildly differently in a variety of animals.

A wealth of specially commissioned color plates complements the text. Their precise, luminous images range from the unusual (the skeleton of a pygmy flying squirrel) to the ordinary (the tailbones of a domestic cat), and from the enormous (the vertebra of a dinosaur) to the miniscule (the acoustic bones of a desert kangaroo rat).

Rights available: World

Teeth of a Crab-eating Seal (Lobodon carcinophagus).
This seal eats krill (shrimp-like animals) not crabs.


224 pages
140 color photographs
dimensions: 11 x 9.9 x 0.6 inches
shipping weight: 2.4 pounds

R. McNeill Alexander CBE FRS, is Emeritus Professor of Zoology in the University of Leeds and Editor of Proceedings of the Royal Society (Biological Sciences). He has been President of the Society for Experimental Biology and of the International Society of Vertebrate Morphologists, and Secretary of the Zoological Society of London. His many books include Dynamics of Dinosaurs, Human Bones: A Scientific and Pictorial Investigation, Exploring Biomechanics and Optima For Animals. He has received medals from the Zoological Society, the Linnean Society and the International Society for Biomechanics, and honorary doctorates from the Universities of Aberdeen and Wageningen.

Brian Kosoff is an award-winning still-life photographer whose studio is in New York City.

Mark A. Norell is Curator, Department Vertebrate of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.


“From the opening chapter on design to the closing contemplation of an eagle’s skull, [Alexander] challenges his readers to do more than just admire some 140 amazing photographs and the text. Alexander sees bones both as marvels of engineering and beauty. After a few hours with this book, the reader should share that feeling—along with one of wonder.”
The Birmingham News

Skull of Hydrolycus
scomberoides fish.

“At first, Bones seems to be a ‘coffee table book,’ with glossy color photographs throughout. They are strange and beautiful, clearly captioned and well worth study. But the book is not only about strange beauty; it is primarily concerned with function and design....After reading Bones, familiar animals are seen through changed, more discerning and appreciative eyes. R. McNeill Alexander is deputy head of the department of pure and applied biology at the University of Leeds, England, and must be a consummate lecturer. Each chapter of Bones is a lesson laid out in lucid and personally appealing language and has a wealth of information to offer the reader interested in biology, evolution, aesthetics and philosophy....Discovering [bones’] myriad roles and learning how these have evolved makes a wonderful reading adventure.”
Austin American Statesman

”The configuration of bones and skeletons offers compelling examples of engineering principles and design. Evolution has produced countless variations of features and functions based on the same basic parts of the skeleton, and so bats suspend their wings on long fingers while monkeys use their fingers for grasping, and horses run on one enlarged toe with nothing but remnant slivers of bone to show that their ancestors ever had more. This volume's 140 elegant photos illustrate some of these amazing adaptations (no diagrams of muscles or living animals intrude on the macabre purity of the bones themselves). The discussion focuses on engineering aspects such as the trade-off between strength and lightness, how joints are constructed, how bones adapt as an animal grows, and the uses for different shapes of teeth. It's an eye-opening and visually beautiful synthesis of ideas about ecology, evolution, and engineering.”
Library Journal

“In tribute to both the beauty and mechanics of its subject, the book explores the structure, material and movement of bones as they serve the design of living animals. It examines the composition of bone material, looks at the joints and muscle attachments that allow movement—including such elaborate mechanisms as fish jaws, rattlesnake fangs and a lion’s retractable claws—and shows how the same bone is shaped wildly differently in a variety of animals. It explains how bones grow yet remain strong and functional throughout an animal’s life, and delves into the amazing variety of patterns and textures bones display.”
The Shreveport Times


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