Skip to main content

The Human Body Close-up – John Clancy ****

Sometimes a set of pictures can be so stunning that they make a book worthwhile in its own right – and that’s the case with John Clancy’s book. It’s sort of biomechanics porn, allowing you to drool over the detail of cells and muscles, nerves and invaders in the form of viruses and bacteria.
On this micro-tour of the body you will be taken around the basic building blocks, circulatory and respiratory systems, nervous and endocrine systems, digestive and urinary systems, the reproductive system and body problems. Described like that it sounds, dare I say it, a bit dull – but Clancy takes us in at a hugely detailed level with colour manipulated images that emphasise the complex and amazing components of the body.
It’s not all pretty pictures, though. There is a solid enough text covering what you see, though this tends to be more descriptive than informative. So it tells you, for instance, what all the component parts of a muscle are called, accompanied by magnification 360 and 5,500 shots of the muscle fibres. But it doesn’t tell you how a muscle works in any useful fashion.
The triumph of the book remains the pictures. Some are absolutely stunning, others rather confusing, almost providing too much detail. There is a mix of photographs and diagrams – some of these are so detailed and photo-like (the cross-section of a cell, for instance) that it would be really useful to have a bit of labelling to make it clear which is a photograph and what’s an illustration. We also ought to be told where false colours have been used for emphasis.
But the only significant criticism I have of the book is its form factor and weight. It’s a fiddly shape to handle and weighs in at a wrist-numbing 1.2 kilograms. I found after holding it for five minutes my wrists were starting to ache and I had to find various ways of propping it up to keep reading. I can’t help but feel this would work even better (and less painfully) as an iPad application. But it doesn’t stop it being a fascinating book.

Hardback:  
Review by Jo Reed

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Demon in the Machine - Paul Davies *****

Physicists have a habit of dabbling in biology and, perhaps surprisingly, biologists tend to be quite tolerant of it. (I find it hard to believe the reverse would be true if biologists tried to do physics.) Perhaps one reason for that tolerance is Schrödinger’s lecture series and book What is Life?, which had a huge impact on molecular biology and with a reference to which, not surprisingly, Paul Davies begins his fascinating book. 

At the heart of the The Demon in the Machine (we'll come back to that demon in a moment) is the relationship between life and information. In essence, Davies points out that if we try to reduce life to its simple physical components it is like trying to work with a computer that has no software. The equivalent of software here is information, not just in the best publicised aspect of the information stored in the DNA, but on a far broader scale, operating in networks across the organism.
This information and its processing gives life its emergent compl…

The Cosmic Mystery Tour – Nicholas Mee ****

This is another book, like last year’s Enjoy Our Universe by Alvaro de Rújula, that sets out to provide a light-hearted introduction to physics and astrophysics for the general reader. It’s from the same publisher (OUP) and packaged in the same way: as a high quality small-format hardback with 200 glossy pages, the majority of them adorned with colour pictures. But that’s where the resemblance ends. Unlike its predecessor, this new book by Nicholas Mee delivers exactly what it promises.

It’s not that de Rújula’s book was a bad one, but he just wasn’t able to think his way into the reader’s mind. He kept saying ‘physics is fun’, but he was talking about the fun a professional physicist gets out of doing it – which is a very arcane, often highly mathematical, type of fun. The result, for a non-specialist reader, was actually quite alienating. Mee, on the other hand, understands exactly how his readers think, what they find interesting, and the details that – no matter how important they …

Professor Maxwell's Duplicitous Demon - Brian Clegg ****

‘It’s not uncommon when trying to give Maxwell his rightful place in the pantheon of physics to bracket him with Newton and Einstein’, Brian Clegg says towards the end of this book. In one sense that’s perfectly true. Dip into any physics textbook and you’ll see Maxwell’s name at least as often as the other two. His greatest achievement – Maxwell’s equations – did for electromagnetism what Newton had done for gravity, while laying the essential theoretical groundwork for everything Einstein was to do.

There’s a big difference, though. A few years ago, when I was offered the chance to write short biographies of Newton and Einstein, I jumped at it – because they addressed mysteries of the universe that anyone can relate to, and their lives outside physics were, if anything, even more fascinating. At the risk of sounding downright rude, you can’t say either of those things about James Clerk Maxwell. In spite of that, Brian Clegg has done a wonderful job here of recounting just what Maxwel…