Photography by Aaron Diskin
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.
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.
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.
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