Human Bones
A Scientific and Pictorial Investigation

R. McNeill Alexander

Photography by Aaron Diskin
Drawings by Simone Nevraumont

“An academic anatomist once told me that his subject was very boring because there was nothing new to say about it. He was wrong, and Human Bones beautifully illustrates why. The combination of Aaron Diskin's stunning photographs and McNeill Alexander's lucid text inspires the description of the 213 bones that make up our skeleton, from those of the ankle to the vertebral zygapophysis.”
New Scientist

Human skeleton.

Human Bones
combines an intriguing discussion of the function and design of human bones with stunningly beautiful color photographs that capture their unique elegance. R. McNeill Alexander, the world's foremost authority on biomechanics, takes the reader on a tour of the human skeleton, investigating and celebrating the human body's 213 bones.

Alexander explores the nature of human bones as well as their relationship with other parts of the body in this lucid and informative book. Beginning by reminding readers that bones are living organs they grow, suffer damage, and repair themselves just like other organs Alexander elucidates the form and function of the myriad bones in the skull, the arms and legs, and the torso. How the bones in the arm combine with the torso at the shoulder to create a wide range of motion, and the relationship among the various parts of the skull the nose and mouth cavities, for example are some of the topics explored. Counterintuitive insights are revealed along the way with the help of do-it-yourself interactive experiments that prompt readers to investigate their own bodies.

Why different people's bones are different is examined in detail by Alexander. This knowledge is behind important work in forensic science and archaeology: it informs the art behind the reconstruction of faces from skulls, and the composition of bones betrays information about the lives of individuals and their daily habits. Throughout the work Alexander places bones in their ancestral context, explaining the principles of evolution and how these relate to utility, and he devotes an entire chapter to exploring the evolutionary relationship between human bones and those of other mammals.

Alexander's authoritative, crystalline prose, Diskin's 115 color photographs, and superb graphic design have united in this remarkable book to showcase the extraordinary beauty at the core of our bodies.

Rights available: World

Human skull.


208 pages
115 color photographs
18 black and white drawings
Dimensions: 11.1 x 10.2 x 0.9 inches
Shipping Weight: 3 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, Bones: The Unity Of Form And Function, 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.


“If you are not up for something as weighty as Gray's Anatomy, this might well be the book for you. True, it covers only bones, not all the other essential tissues and organs. But its coverage of bones is exquisite--thanks in equal part to the gorgeous photographs and the erudition and charm of the author. Alexander, emeritus professor of zoology at the University of Leeds in England and author of many books and articles on locomotion (including Dynamics of Dinosaurs), takes us from the living cells scattered throughout bone to the linked assemblages that form a human skeleton. Stops along the way examine specimens of the human skull (an astonishing number damaged by ax blows and other trauma) and offer enlightening comparisons child to adult, abnormal to normal, diseased to healthy.”
Scientific American

Human backbone.

“Alexander (zoology, Univ. of Leeds) here continues the exploration he began in Bones: The Unity of Form and Function (1994), this time concentrating on the human skeleton. In what is essentially a companion piece to his earlier survey, he discusses the evolution, physiology, mechanics, and forensics of the human skeleton, from the skull roof, to the 24 ribs, to the 28 phalanges of the fingers and toes. His text is complemented by Diskin's artful photography and Simone Nevraumont's detailed scientific illustrations Though human bones are often associated with the macabre, Alexander's information on what the study of bones can tell us about our interactions with other humans and with our environment justifies the presentation. Featuring a reading list, this well-organized book is recommended for public and academic anatomy collections.”
Library Journal

“R. McNeill Alexander is an acclaimed zoologist and authority on vertebrate skeletal morphology, function and biomechanics. Human Bones: A Scientific and Pictorial Investigation is an enjoyable, lavish education on the human skeleton, its structure, function and evolution. Alexander possesses an impeccable aptitude for conveying scientific knowledge to a general audience with style and superb instruction. His book is also of considerable relevance to students and academics in many scientific disciplines including medicine, archaeology, forensics, orthopaedics, comparative zoology and dentistry.

“From the outset, the author immerses our minds in hard scientific facts and insightful concepts. We are taught that bones are living organs that adapt all the time and that this view is crucial to an understanding of the nature of our skeleton. I particularly like the manner in which he exposes a most illuminating fact that bone cells are the most active in the body. This challenges the general preconception of bones as inactive fossilised tissue and sets up the style for the rest of the book.

“There is much more to the study of human bones than description.

“Alexander organises the core text in a manner typical of a textbook. We are given methodical descriptions in detail of the structure and function of every part of the skeleton beginning at the skull and ending up at the feet. However, he enlivens each paragraph with arresting facts and easy-to-understand explanations using a flowing, engaging style. What often makes good general scientific writing is the use of metaphors or everyday experiences to convey a scientific explanation. Alexander does this seamlessly. The text reads without cliche or excessive technical jargon. It possesses a pleasing balance of fact, explanation, metaphor and the everyday.

“Mention must be made of the splendid colour photography by Aaron Diskin that accompanies the superb lucid writing and forms a considerable part of the book. The pictures are of exceptional clarity, vividness and detail, such that the precise detail of the structure, shape, form and texture of human bones are instantly conveyed to the viewer. There is also a semblance of humour to the images of dead bones, as though someone had breathed life into them. It is an imaginative way of capturing our skeletal structures.

“Here is an example of art and science complementing each other. A slight quibble would be that sometimes it might have been useful to have had graphics indicating areas of interest as explained in the text.

Human Bones is a comprehensive, insightful work that includes fascinating chapters on diseased and damaged bones, natural variation and structure, the evolution of the skeleton in mammals and the stepwise changes that led to the emergence of the present form of our skeleton. It reveals our origins and subsequent development. Biology only really has true meaning in the context of evolution.”
The Times Higher Education Supplement


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