Book Review - Clinical Neuroanatomy for Medical Students by R.S. Snell (0-316-80103-8) Alexander Tan, 5th Year Medical Student, Liverpool University 19/10/00
Learning neuroanatomy is like being in a huge maze. Mention it to any medical student who has just had their first encounter with it, and the most likely response you'll get is a heavy sigh. More often that not, medical students faced with the task of understanding neuroanatomy will lose their way and become disheartened as they go along. The subject is vast and complex. Some may end up never quite finding their way out of this maze for their entire medical lives.
In this day and age however, medical texts are becoming more and more user-friendly. Gone are the days when students had to learn from great tomes crammed with fact upon fact written in archaic prose with hardly a diagram or table in sight. Principles, facts and patterns that once took medical students ages to grasp are now explained in simple language and accompanied by visual aids. Current textbooks also concentrate on presenting information that has clinical relevance rather than just inconsequential facts. In fact, medical textbooks nowadays can sometimes appear quite attractive!
Oversimplification and omission of material however, may lead to an incomplete or flawed understanding of a subject. It is important remember that in neuroanatomy, there are a great number of important and relevant facts that are intrinsically difficult to understand. The temptation of taking short cuts will always seem a feasible option when learning neuroanatomy!
Snell's Neuroanatomy is quite comprehensive - it covers a wide range of topics from the neurobiology of neurons to neurodevelopment. At the same time, it is quite understandable. The language used is clear and concise with appropriate diagrams and tables. There is an emphasis on clinical correlations in this book as evidenced by the clinical notes in each chapter, which highlight the clinical significance of the information that has been presented in the chapter. Anatomy with little significance have either been omitted or given only brief descriptions in the book.
Clinical correlation is important, for all too often, students don't realise the practical purpose of what they are learning. Visual aids in the book include images of neuroanatomy in practice as well; quite a number of CT and MRI scans are included. There are also lots of illustrations, pathological sections and photographs. At the end of each chapter, USMLE type questions are provided. On the extremely rare occasion when the thirst for learning neuroanatomy is not satisfied, references to authoritative books and papers are given (yikes!). The whole format and overall presentation of book are similar in style to Professor Snell's more well-known clinical anatomy book.
This book will not give an instantaneous understanding of neuroanatomy but with enough effort and thought, the book does deliver. It shortens and guides one through the potentially confusing and long journey of learning neuroanatomy. All in all, this book covers enough neuroanatomy in sufficient detail to be a good reference text for students and at the same time is quite accessible (considering the subject it deals with) and would function quite well as a primary textbook also.