Steven's Reviews > Making of Mr Gray's Anatomy

Making of Mr Gray's Anatomy by Ruth Richardson
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Jun 20, 10

bookshelves: biography, history, maps, medicine, science
Read from June 13 to 20, 2010

This is an interesting approach to history, and as a librarian who works with health sciences literature, one I truly appreciated. There are so many eponymously named medical textbooks, but none more well-known than Gray's Anatomy. Richardson effectively writes a biography of a book, rather than its authors. And although Henry Gray and Henry Carter feature prominently in the story (and Carter more so than Gray), this is a through and engaging homage to a book that has been a part of medical education for over 150 years.

Richardson covers so many aspects of the world into which Gray's Anatomy appeared in 1858 -- the recent passage of the Anatomy Act that legally regulated anatomy school's acquisition of corpses for dissection, the anxiety held by the poor over what could happen to their bodies after death, the gradual move toward meritocracy in advancement through the ranks of the medical profession, an overview of anatomy texts and how they'd changed over time, mid-Victorian publishing and printing practices, and more. For some, the attention given to some of these topics might seem tedious, but I appreciated this thorough treatment.

I especially enjoyed the chapter on how the authors, publishers and printers dealt with a last-minute realization that, due to a lack of communication, the engraved wood blocks used for illustration had been made too large for the intended book size -- a lucky accident that helped to make Gray's Anatomy unique. I was also moved by Richardson's description of Carter's approach to representing dissected human anatomy in a respectful and caring way -- especially in comparison to the more horrific representations that had appeared in earlier texts.

Richardson understandably gives more attention to Carter than Gray, mostly because Carter kept a journal, lived longer and left more of a paper trail. However, since it is Carter's illustrations that were so unique and innovative at the time, I think this emphasis is fair. Although the book was Gray's, what we remember are the images.
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Steven Dawn --

As I recall, it did go a bit into the history of the school, but not into any great detail -- a bit of how the school was run, where it was located, and perhaps a bit about some of the more well-known faculty. But I don't remember the book going into great detail.

Perhaps you could get a copy from a local library or interlibrary loan to see if it would suit your needs?

Hope this helps,

Steven


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