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Anatomies: The Human Body, Its Parts and The Stories They Tell Paperback – 7 Feb 2013
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Magnificent, inspired. He writes like a latter-day Montaigne. Stimulating scientific hypotheses, bold philosophic theories, illuminating quotations and curious facts. I recommend it to all (Telegraph *****)
Splendid, highly entertaining, chock-full of insights ... It inserts fascinating scientific snippets and anecdotes about our organs into the wider history of our changing understanding of our bodies (Sunday Times)
A relentlessly entertaining cultural history of the human body ... brims with fascinating details, infectious enthusiasm ... the terrain he covers is so richly brought to life (Guardian)
Elegant and informative ... For Aldersey-Williams, [the body] is a thing of wonder and a repository of fascinating facts (Mail on Sunday ****)
About the Author
Hugh Aldersey-Williams studied natural sciences at Cambridge. He is the author of several books exploring science, design and architecture and has curated exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Wellcome Collection. His previous book Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the Elements was a Sunday Times Bestseller and has been published in many languages around the world. He lives in Norfolk with his wife and son.
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P.S. Did you know that "Leonardo da Vinci may have been the first to assemble an inventory of drawn representations of human facial features, which he did in order to be able to teach fellow artists how to produce recognizable portraits based on only a brief glance at their subject" ? I didn't. Now, I can't find a reference to Leonardo in the References section at the back of the book so this will need more investigation by me because it's too tempting a titbit of information for me to let pass, esp. as I know something about Leonardo's faces but not that much. Can anybody suggest a publication that might lead me in the direction of finding out more about this? My interest in the human face stems from portrait painting and the ability of some artists to "get to the heart" of a person using only paint on canvas. The point of this last comment is that this book has stimulated curiosity and isn't that what reading is all about? Another good reason to buy it and enjoy reading it.
If you love reading, then Anatomies may well be something you want to add to your list. Always interesting and informative, it is a somewhat random walk through medical history and the parts of the body, supplemented with art and culture, and a smattering of religion. Fig leaves, for example, are explored in great depth, not only for their very particular artistic design, but also for the bizarre coincidences of history which led to them being deployed in much semi-nude art from the Renaissance onwards.
However, this book has little to lift it above the level of informational entertainment for the already erudite. For me, it is an interesting read but no more than that.
Hugh Aldersey-Williams looks at many historical references and beliefs, some well-known, such as the heart being the seat of emotion, others not so well-known (Washington died through over-enthusiastic blood-letting).
There are so many different sources and references throughout the book that you have to admire the organisation of the author in putting it all together. It could have been a real mish-mash of information, but instead there is a logical progression through the different parts of the body, as well as an overall view of anatomy and dissection.
The book begins with a look at a famous painting, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp, and its portrayal of a partially dissected cadaver. Even here Hugh spots something that countless commentators seem to have missed.
The hand and arm are dissected; but the odd angle of Tulp's hand as he addresses his audience seems to suggest that he was actually demonstrating how tendons in the arm are used to move the fingers. When you hold your hand at that angle you can feel this for yourself.
It's that level of thought and reflection that makes this book such an interesting read. Suitable for older teenagers (15+) onwards, it is a useful source of extra information for science students.
What I expected was a discussing aspects of the human body - both anatomy and physiology - what I received was an interesting text on the historical uses of body in texts - for example the Shakespearian "pound of flesh" which was probably taken from an reputed event a century or two before - which may itself have been based on even earlier events. Not only that, but the books gives a history of how our understanding of the human body has come into being.
Divided into whole, part and future in made for a fascinating read.
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