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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.

Review by Jo Reed


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