Gray’s anatomy has long been considered one of the definitive text books for the study of human anatomy. It’s arguably the best known book on the subject of anatomy – not that that is a hard record to hold – how many people can name ANY textbook on an academic subject as esoteric as anatomy? Not many.
Gray’s anatomy is an old book. It was written by a British scientist named Henry Gray. He wrote it in the 19th century, first publishing it in 1858. At the time, Gray’s anatomy was considered a ground-breaking work of art. There was little like it on the market at the time. It was made to be inexpensive, and completely comprehensive in nature.
Unfortunatley, Gray’s anatomy has not aged as well in academic circles as well as it has in popular culture. Despite being so famous that the name has even spurred a TV show with the moniker “Grey’s Anatomy” (a horrible farce of a show that never should have been produced – but I digress), Gray’s anatomy – the textbook – is rarely, if ever, used by modern medical students.
There is a reason it is not used often, despite being commonly seen on bookshelves and the discount rack at the local bookstore. Simply put, it’s wordy, hard to read, and massively overdone. Much like a lot of 19th Century writing, Gray’s anatomy suffers from a total lack of editorial oversight.
New editions of Gray’s anatomy are still being published today. The publishers have made the decision to keep as much of the 19th Century style in the text as possible – and in doing so, they continue to make the book hard to read and inaccessible. Modern anatomy textbooks are much better organized and easier to reference.
Some of the difficultly of organization comes from the comprehensive nature of the material in the book. If ever there was an example of the idea of “too much information”, it’s Gray’s anatomy. Although it may seen odd to criticize an academic text for being too detailed, that’s exactly what Gray’s anatomy is. A large portion of the description and names for body parts are just too obscure to be practical for 95% of doctors in modern medicine.
Today, only surgeons (and possibly radiologists) are likely to be interested in the level of detail provided by Gray’s anatomy. Primary care doctors have little need for this. Although anatomy is a vital topic in any branch of medicine, modern medicine has moved well beyond simply naming and understanding every nook and cranny of every bone, muscle, tissue, and vessel.
If you are looking for a good, easy to follow, review of human anatomy, stay away from Gray’s anatomy. If you are looking for something to put on your bookshelf that will make you look smart and well-read, this is exactly the text for you.