Anatomies by Hugh Aldersey-Williams Review

The Human Body, Its Parts and The Stories They Tell


Reviewed by Sally Smith

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I would instantly have picked Anatomies up in the bookshop or library to read what it was about. I have a great interest in popular science and was looking forward to learning a little more about the human body.

The author instantly draws the reader in, making it clear that it is not a science textbook so will be written in a way that everybody can understand. It was a shame that the book wasn’t consistent with this all the way through. For instance in the first chapter discussing the anatomy lesson, Aldersey-Williams talks about the Rembrandt painting “The Anatomy Lesson of Doctor Tulp.” On the next two pages is a printed copy of the painting. Brilliant, not having seen the painting before, it was nice to know what he was describing and its relevance to the subject. However within a few pages, some Latin phrases are given, but no translation. It alienated me slightly from the book.

In saying that Anatomies is well laid out. Each chapter covers a different part of the body. It isn’t all an easy read, but it was nice to look at a chapter every evening and have time to digest the stories. The book doesn’t explain to you how different parts of the body works, instead it is heavy with the symbolism of these parts, how the body parts have been portrayed in art and literature, and a little medicine history from previous centuries.

Anatomies is incredibly informative and educational, I would read it again and certainly recommend it. I wouldn’t buy it for a friend though unless I knew that they had a firm interest in history. There are some thoughtful subjects debated, such as the ethics of blood transfusion. It has never crossed my mind that some people may have issues that donated blood may come from a person of a different religion, a different race, or even a different sex than themselves.

Overall I’m really pleased that I read Anatomies, although sometimes grew a little frustrated at the rambling narrative. The chapter on the heart was primarily about the kidneys. However I knew little about either, and now I know a lot more about both! A good value book that I’m sure I will come back to look at again.

Rating: 3/5

Available to buy from Amazon here.

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