Author: Ross L. Jones
Publisher: Haddington Press, 2007
2007; 318 pages + fully annotated and indexed, $35 Australian
The foreword sets the tone for this book—the recounting of the University of Melbourne’s Department of Anatomy’s history—with the hint of a somewhat controversial past. Because the book is an academic work about an academic department, I prepared myself for a very dry description of department chairs and faculty that would reflect nothing of current day teaching. However, as I began to read the book, I found myself completely engrossed in the telling of this tale. The author did not simply describe a few individuals and how they taught anatomy in a country located half way around the world from its parent country, but rather described the need for teaching anatomy during a time when the world was learning about Darwin’s evolutionary hypotheses.
The social and political pressures of the late 1800s shaped the way medicine was evolving (e.g., development of anesthesia, using aseptic and antiseptic techniques, the use of formaldehyde as a fixative, etc.) and anatomy was at the heart of these changes in medicine. Also of interest were the colorful personalities and their scientific views that guided these early years in Melbourne. As the reader is led through the school’s fledgling beginnings, one is also given a glimpse of the social and political machinations of the anatomy chairs; from their pro-creationist views to their pro-eugenic leanings. The weaving of this anatomical journey was made more interesting as the people were given context and depth.
The book did have some drawbacks, as the stories were often broken up into different chapters, which led to some confusion when trying to keep the timeline and the characters all in place. Unlike some other books on the subject of anatomy, medicine, or cadavers (e.g., M. Roach’s Stiff or F. Gonzalez-Crussi’s A Short History of Medicine), this book kept the reader in touch with the people who were actually involved with the school and played a part in the general story of anatomy with which we are all familiar. In essence, this book reflects the modern history of Western medicine through the eyes of the University of Melbourne’s Department of Anatomy—Humanity’s Mirror.
Reviewer: Bob Hutchins, Ph.D., Associate Professor & Director of Predoctoral Basic Sciences, Dept. of Biomedical Sciences Texas A&M University System Health Science Center, Baylor College of Dentistry
Review Date: March 2008