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

Beyond Weird - Philip Ball *****

It would be easy to think 'Surely we don't need another book on quantum physics.' There are loads of them. Anyone should be happy with The Quantum Age on applications and the basics, Cracking Quantum Physics for an illustrated introduction or In Search of Schrödinger's Cat for classic history of science coverage. Don't be fooled, though - because in Beyond Weird, Philip Ball has done something rare in my experience until Quantum Sense and Nonsense came along. It makes an attempt not to describe quantum physics, but to explain why it is the way it is.

Historically this has rarely happened. It's true that physicists have come up with various interpretations of quantum physics, but these are designed as technical mechanisms to bridge the gap between theory and the world as we see it, rather than explanations that would make sense to the ordinary reader.

Ball does not ignore the interpretations, though he clearly isn't happy with any of them. He seems to come clo…

Mercury - William Sheehan ****

Driving to work one morning several years ago, I spotted a tiny white dot close to the rising sun. ‘That’s Venus,’ I said to myself. Almost immediately I saw another, much brighter dot a few degrees away. ‘No, that’s Venus – the first one must be, um ... Mercury.’ Even with a lifelong interest in astronomy, I always manage to forget Mercury.

With eight planets in the Solar System, one of them has to be the least interesting – and Mercury got the short straw. That’s a relative statement, though, and a diligent author could still dig up enough fascinating facts about that tiny dot by the Sun to fill a short book. William Sheehan has done a brilliant job of doing just that.

One of the reasons Mercury is so easy to forget is that it’s almost impossible to get a good view of it from Earth. Even after the invention of the telescope, which turned planets like Mars and Jupiter into explorable worlds, Mercury remained a mystery – and the subject of some pretty wild speculations. In 1686, for exa…

Everything You Know About Planet Earth is Wrong - Matt Brown ****

This is the latest of a series of 'Everything You Know About... is Wrong' books from Matt Brown. Although I always feel slightly hard done by as a result of the assertion in the title, as there are certainly things here I know that aren't wrong (I mean, come on, the first corrected piece of 'knowledge' is that 'The Earth is only 6,000 years old' and I can't imagine many readers will 'know' that), it's a handy format to provide what are often surprisingly little snippets of information that are very handy for 'did you know' conversations down the pub (or showing up your parents if you're a younger reader).

Some of the incorrect statements that head each article are well-covered, if often still believed (for example, people thought that world was flat before Columbus), some are a little tricksy in the wording (such as seas have to wash up against land) and some are just pleasantly surprising (countering the idea that gold is a rar…