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Bones: Inside and Out

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A lively, illustrated exploration of the 500-million-year history of bone, a touchstone for understanding vertebrate life and human culture.

Human bone is versatile and entirely unique: it repairs itself without scarring, it’s lightweight but responds to stresses, and it’s durable enough to survive for millennia. In Bones, orthopedic surgeon Roy A. Meals explores and extols this amazing material that both supports and records vertebrate life.

Inside the body, bone proves itself the world’s best building material. Meals examines the biological makeup of bones; demystifies how they grow, break, and heal; and compares the particulars of human bone to variations throughout the animal kingdom. In engaging and clear prose, he debunks familiar myths—humans don’t have exactly 206 bones—and illustrates common bone diseases, like osteoporosis and arthritis, and their treatments. Along the way, he highlights the medical innovations—from the first X-rays to advanced operative techniques—that enhance our lives and introduces the giants of orthopedic surgery who developed them.

After it has supported vertebrate life, bone reveals itself in surprising ways—sometimes hundreds of millions of years later. With enthusiasm and humor, Meals investigates the diverse roles bone has played in human culture throughout history. He highlights allusions to bone in religion and literature, from Adam’s rib to Hamlet’s skull, and uncovers its enduring presence as fossils, technological tools, and musical instruments ranging from the Tibetan thighbone kangling horn to everyday drumsticks. From the dawn of civilization through to the present day, humankind has repurposed bone to serve and protect, and even to teach, amuse, and inspire.

Approachable and entertaining, Bones richly illuminates our bodies’ essential framework.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published October 20, 2020

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About the author

Roy A. Meals

6 books21 followers
Roy A. Meals, MD is a clinical professor of orthopedic surgery at UCLA. The author of several medical books, he has practiced, researched, and taught hand surgery for forty years. He has served as president of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand and has also been on the editorial board of the Journal of Hand Surgery for most of his career. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

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5 stars
66 (25%)
4 stars
110 (42%)
3 stars
74 (28%)
2 stars
9 (3%)
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2 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 59 reviews
Profile Image for Bill.
Author 6 books260 followers
October 20, 2020
If you enjoy books like "Gulp" by Mary Roach and "Cannibalism" (by some guy with the same name as me) you should seriously consider Dr. Roy Meals incredible new book "Bones: Inside and Out". Dr. Meals has taken a sometimes complex topic and turned it into a fascinating, entertaining and jargon-free adventure.
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,408 reviews302 followers
Want to read
November 24, 2020
One of Nature's 5 best of the week, https://www.nature.com/articles/d4158...
"Bone is a marvel: light-weight, durable, responsive to changing conditions and self-repairing. But “hardly anybody has ever seen or wants to see living bone, especially their own”, writes orthopaedic surgeon Roy Meals in his revealing, sometimes riveting and finely illustrated investigation, ranging from the dinosaurs to today. Hence, perhaps, the confusion over how many bones humans have: although 206 is the widely accepted figure, it actually varies from person to person. Even the number of ribs can differ, from 24 to 26."
Profile Image for David.
504 reviews32 followers
July 21, 2021
3.5 stars.

The publisher's description (above) is completely accurate. Dr. Meals is an expert on the subject matter of bones and the bibliography suggests he's done a good amount of research to supplement his knowledge of the material. The author is appropriately enthusiastic without being annoying and the information is presented in an understandable way without being dumbed down. Photos and illustrations appear throughout the book and are very helpful. (I read the kindle version and the inserts were actually pretty good. Books are always better, IMO, but, in this case, the difference isn't so exaggerated.)

I loved some portions (how bone repairs itself; the relationship between the heart, bones and calcium; how x-rays, MRIs & ultrasound work; how bone china is made; how bones are used in fertilizer), really liked others (the mini histories of the great contributions to orthopedics over the centuries and the Piltdown scam), and wasn't particularly interested in others (bones used to make musical instruments and bone used in fashion just didn't tickle my fancy). The material is presented very consistently, my only issue was a personal lack of interest in certain subjects.

I can't imagine anyone disliking this book. There's plenty to learn about an essential element in our daily lives, the author writes confidently without arrogance or condescension, and there's nothing controversial. I've been told to avoid talking about politics and religion but I've never heard anyone say you shouldn't talk about bones.

I might have rated the book 4 stars if the material uninteresting to me hadn't been bunched up towards the end. I highlighted few or no passages from the last several chapters.
Profile Image for Amos.
610 reviews71 followers
May 31, 2021
Learned a whole mess about bones, yo; both inside the body (what they're made of, how they work, how they heal, ancient/modern bone surgery procedures, etc) and out (used as decorative pieces, buttons, sewing needles, musical instruments, earrings, false teeth and on and on). Fascinating stuff!!
3 1/2 Informative Stars
Profile Image for Colleen.
1,065 reviews8 followers
January 30, 2022
This is a great survey of everything you never knew you wanted to know about bones. There is medical information, including both how the healthy process of bone replacement proceeds as well as what happens with various diseases and treatments, but then there are sections on bones in myth, art, music and daily human life. All written at a label anyone could understand but with enough detail to leave you feeling like you learned something
Profile Image for Chrissy.
330 reviews
October 29, 2020
Thorough look at a subject I didn't know I was interested in! He explains in extremely easy to understand language how bone is so important to us personally and historically and why it is such a wondrous thing. His passion shows and makes it all the more interesting to read. Thank you for wonderful, relatable analogies and for being a scientist who doesn't take himself too seriously.
Profile Image for Jenna.
16 reviews
January 22, 2021
I found this book both informational and interesting. I could really tell Meals is passionate about bones, and that transferred into the book being more engaging. It covered both the history of bones and the biological facts about bones, which I enjoyed.
Profile Image for Reggie.
153 reviews7 followers
November 25, 2021
Wow! I learned a lot of great facts and stories about bone from this book. It was well researched and covered a vast breadth of information. The author was witty and lent his voice to the text, which kept me reading and made things humorous! This is a fascinating book on the topic of bones and I recommend it to the curious or the scientifically inclined!

Also, hats off to the cover designer, this one is beautiful! Would love a larger scale version of this design. Pops on the shelf!
Profile Image for Anna Kennedy.
18 reviews
January 21, 2023
Truthfully I don't want to give this book a 3 but a 3.5, and I think the reason it's not a 4 star is because I expected more of it than it could deliver. Dr Meals is very clearly a smart and curious individual and he is able to translate more academic writing for a non-academic crowd quite well in my opinion. The first half, at least, of the book is allotted for discussing bone in the context of orthopedic surgery and medicine in general, which is very fascinating but not what I was necessarily reading it for. The second half is in regard to bone in the archaeological record and as someone who is in the archaeological field it was clear to me that Dr Meals has a passion but not experience in archaeology. It is a good primer but by no means in depth in either half. Fun for those looking to learn more about bone!
Profile Image for Paleoanthro.
117 reviews
February 27, 2021
An interesting read that is all about them bones! Dr. Meals takes us through an engaging discussion of bones from their biology to cultural applications. We learn about living tissue and fossil remains and how cultures treat bones in a wide-ranging, engaging and well researched narrative.
Profile Image for Catherine.
644 reviews1 follower
October 7, 2020
For anyone who loves science or is in the medical field then they will love this book. Having worked in hospitals for many years it was great to see names I’ve heard off in this book. It also had reference to bone scanning which was one of my roles. (Although I would have liked a bit more on that subject)
Really informative and actually a very interesting read.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the arc in return for an honest review
Profile Image for Tawney.
248 reviews5 followers
October 14, 2020
I received this book compliments of W.W. Norton through the Goodreads giveaway program.

Almost immediately upon starting this book I learned the word hydroxyapatite. Without even trying. It's that kind of book.

Dr. Meals has assembled an amazing amount of information about bone. The first chapter may seem a bit too academic, but it is the basic information about bone that you need in order to understand much of the rest of the book. The style is conversational after that. From what bone is; what can go wrong - breaks, disease, genetics - to the ways bone problems can be fixed is fascinating. There is also some history and some thought on what the future might hold. That part is bones inside. From there Dr. Meals goes to bones outside. Bone tools, ornaments, their value in deciphering or distant past. There are plenty of illustrations and an extensive bibliography.
Profile Image for Sugarpuss O'Shea.
340 reviews
November 14, 2020
This book fits right in to my offbeat nature. I loved it. The way Dr Meals breaks down the subject of bones so that everyone can learn something is just magical. (It's not everyday an author gives you an at home experiment you can try!) And a big thanks to Bill for recommending this book. I echo his endorsement wholeheartedly. Go and read this book. After all, if it weren't for bones, I wouldn't be able to type this review, nor hold my head atop my body, or even have a body for that matter. So why not go & learn more about this element that's essential to our existence.

Oh..... And I can't wait to eat a chicken so I can explore its bones!
Profile Image for Steve.
493 reviews21 followers
September 2, 2020
This is how science writing should be done

I loved this book. It has everything I want in science writing: plain explanations, conversational tone, a little bit of the author’s journey, and a fair amount of humor.The book was hard to put down and is at least as good as “The secret life of bones” by Brian Switek, but has a slightly more medical tone. I recommend “Bones” for anyone interested in science.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley for review purposes.

337 reviews1 follower
January 22, 2021
The first half is a description of anatomy and physiology of bone and would be good for high schoolers or interested adults. The second half is about the cultural and artistic aspects and is a bit wandering and redundant.
Profile Image for Debbie.
180 reviews31 followers
October 14, 2020
Received via W. W. Norton Company and NetGalley in exchange for an completely unbiased review.

I'll preface this review by saying I knew absolutely nothing about bones. I could tell you that it’s the hard stuff that holds our bodies vertical, that they sometimes break but eventually heal and it’s where our red blood cells come from, but beyond that? Nothing.

Bones is a book that is for the initiated and uninitiated alike, although granted the initiated will find that 90% of the content of this book is remedial. The book is divided in three sections: what are bones and what do they do, what happens when bones ‘go bad’ and what innovations have we developed to rectify these problems and how are bones part of humanity���s cultural and artistic history? It also answers interesting questions like how do bones grow from the moment we are born until we are adults and then what happens to them as we age? Meals also covers topics such as the composition of bone and the reasons why bone are so darn strong – both of which, as a neophyte in bone, surprised me.

Meals straddles the line between accessible “everybody" popular science and the more technical side of things, dumbing down the important parts but also adding just a tad more for those who better understand biology and chemistry. In the end, while Bones started out a bit bumpy with Meals’ discussion as to why bones are nature’s greatest building material (i find construction materials boring), later chapters were educational and fun to read.

The only part of this novel that fell flat for me what the anthropological section, which will still be incredibly interesting for many readers.

The author is very passionate about all things bones, including architecture, art and carved items (there’s a photo of a contraption made entirely of bone that folds in and out like an accordion that’s particularly surprising). I can verify the author’s enthusiasm for all things bone shines through in every line, but one section that fell flat for me was the last bit of the book dealing with cultural and artistic uses of bone throughout all of human history. Some of this section was interesting but grotesque which, granted, is expected of anything made from the remains of a once living creature and some of which were things I’d already learned during my university degree. Thus, while written in an engaging, accessible and enthusiastic manner, this section above all was a slog for me – but still worth a read for those who haven’t studied bones or have never taken interest in how bones have shaped or been shaped by human cultures into tools, art and games.

Finally, Bones contains several photos taken by the author himself and added a personal touch to such an impersonal subject. The author includes several anecdotal stories regarding the author’s bone-ish hobbies outside the operating theater and amusing hints that his wife is somewhat discomfort with his hobbies. Meals comes across as a quirky and interesting person without delving too excessively on his personal successes, which will undoubtedly make Bones a strong entrance into the popular science genre.

Bones is an under represented subject in popular science – its much more complex and fascinating than our grade school teachers made us believe – and Meals delivers a wonderful reading experience much worth taking.
164 reviews1 follower
June 22, 2021
This is a fascinating read. The book is divided anatomically into two sections. Bones Concealed and Bones Revealed. Roy Meals gives comprehensive information about the living bone within the body in the first section and in the second section what happens to bone over time when the body no longer nourishes it. So you learn how bone builds, heals, regenerates and how medical interventions can facilitate proper growth and healing using grafts and hardware and various techniques of surgery. Then you read of the lore and magic of bones and fossils of yesteryear: catacombs, inscriptions on bone, magical ideations around "dry bones," how bones have been used to make tools, art and jewelry by Native Americans and others throughout the centuries. We find out what archeologists have learned about humankind and animals through examining and dating bones of old. This book is one of a kind. It sings out loud.
Profile Image for Kim McGee.
2,818 reviews50 followers
August 29, 2020
An all encompassing view of all things bone. How does an infant's shinbone measuring 3 inches long end up at about 18 inches long in most adults? What happens when you get a stress fracture? These are just some of the questions you might have that will be answered along with many more body miracles that you might have just taken for granted. Half of this book is devoted to the historical background , innovations in science and some odd places where you would find old bones. The other half is scary but true science of how it all works in humans and the animal world. Scary but true information about a subject that all of us can relate to. Science and health geeks will enjoy plus it will give you lots of interesting facts to bring to the next family dinner table. My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy.
Profile Image for Asuka.
83 reviews
November 28, 2020
I loved this book! You have to be a bit of a science nerd to fully enjoy it I think. I'm also very big into horror so I think that helped as well. You can't be queasy or grossed out by bones and anatomy if you want to read this book. I loved that there were photos throughout, it helps you understand what is being said. I also really enjoy the cover, it looks wonderful on a shelf. This book is educational and enjoyable, I recommend giving it a read if you're into science-y things or even horror. I clean and process animal bones that I find outside (only animals that have died a natural death), and I make jewelry from the bones I process. So I kind of already have a knack for bones, however even if you don't, you might find that you are more interested in them than you thought after reading this book!
2 reviews
February 19, 2021
This is a book all about bones. Throughout the last 20 years, I have studied the human skeleton and taught many classes about bones. However, this book presents information about bones in a more comprehensive way than any other publication that I have come across, and it introduced me to new information. I especially enjoyed the first section of the book, which focuses on the history of studying bones and treating conditions in a medical setting, as well as the section on bone artifacts. It is an easy read (the text is a bit choppy in sections) that would be palatable for even those with just a passing interest in bones. If you are interested in anatomy and medicine or paleontology/paleoanthropology and archaeology, this book would make a great addition to your library.

Thanks to the publisher, W. W. Norton, and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book.
Profile Image for Will Browning.
30 reviews3 followers
September 8, 2021
In this book, Dr. Meals chronicles the culture, history, utility and science of bones in a very readable and intriguing fashion for those interested in medicine as well as the layperson. It was hard to put down, at least for me, as evidenced by the 4 days it took to read. He has compiled an authoritative and comprehensive text on bones which will leave you with little more to learn about the subject.
As a hopeful future doctor, I particularly enjoyed his writings about orthopedic surgery and the science of bones, but nonetheless genuinely enjoyed the rest of the book as well. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in medicine or just curious about one of the most basic and foundational aspects of life that has united us all since the first living thing walked the earth.
Profile Image for Jaime Andrews.
619 reviews3 followers
November 14, 2020
Wonderful book. I homeschool and while teaching a skeletal system unit, this book was used A LOT! Excellent information. Rare diseases and conditions.

Explores all things skeletal and bone related in easy to understand language...for the most part. I did gwt confused in some places.

I didn't find errors but I'm not a doctor so I could be wrong.

I did find parts slow and clinical...but again, not a doctor. Someone with more education or knowledge might see it differently.

I wanted more pictures. More diagrams. More visuals. Then again, thats just who I am..im a visual learner and love images.

All in all happy with the book. One I will use for homeschool yearly, I'm sure.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
Author 4 books15 followers
May 5, 2021
"Bones" is a fascinating and well written exploration of exactly what it says on the tin/front cover, from an expert in the field. For anyone who is interested in anatomy or the human body, "Bones" provides a thorough and interesting overview, not just of what bones are, but also in exploring how bones have featured in art, literature and history. A richly detailed and riveting read - would highly recommend.

Thank you to NetGalley, and to the publisher, who granted me a free ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Catherine Carr.
55 reviews
December 19, 2020
I loved this book! Who knew bones could be so interesting? Since I have multiple joint replacements (both knees, both hips, both shoulders plus a second reverse shoulder replacement—I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome), I’m happy so many innovations have made staying moving easier than for my grandmother, who stayed bedridden in her last years because of hip problems. The writing’s fun and easily understood by the lay person, although I’m sure medical professionals could learn something, too.
266 reviews
March 6, 2021
I like anatomy and learning about the human body, so I really enjoyed this book. The author makes it entertaining. His explanations are easy to understand and the illustrations add to that understanding. The second part of the book goes a little crazy with the history of bone and I found myself losing interest at times. I like how the author’s respect and appreciation for bone really comes through.
460 reviews
July 26, 2022
Delightful exploration of the industry and utility of bones. At a cellular level, with no external instruction, bone cells know what to do to produce structural strength, to protect precious stem cells, and, when needed, to repair itself.

What an amazing enterprise is the human body.

A great book for non-scientists and non-medical personnel. Makes understanding what the doctor might be trying to tell you much more accessible.
Profile Image for BiblioKel.
711 reviews2 followers
November 6, 2020

Every second or third sentence is a poor attempt at humour, frequently so US-centric that they make no sense.

This "humour" isn't amusing and distracts from the actual science being discussed. Someone needs to tell the author that 1. Less is more, and 2. they're not as funny as they think they are.
127 reviews
January 17, 2021
Everything you want to know about bones. Medical information, history, evolution, folk stories. It was a very interesting read, few chapters went deep into the medical side. If you have any interest in fossils, becoming a bone doctor, combatting bone health, or interest in bones, this is the book for you. The audible was a very good narrator that made the stories and history very lively.
Profile Image for Mushujanine.
77 reviews5 followers
February 12, 2021
Some interesting facts about bones but seemed a bit random in it's organization. Basically the reader should expect to learn about all the different ways humans relate to bones. Some examples include how bones were fashioned into instruments, how we fought over bone discoveries (dinosaurs), burial practices and bone composition.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 59 reviews

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