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Foundations of Neurobiology
  1. ROGER BARKER

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    Foundations of Neurobiology. Edited by Fred Delcomyn. (Pp 649, £32.95). Published by W H Freeman, Macmillan Distribution, Basingstoke, 1998. ISBN 0-7167-2627-0.

    There is nowadays a trend in the training of doctors to integrate basic science with medicine in a bid to make more sense of the biology one learns as a medical student. Furthermore in the long term it is hoped that as a result medical practitioners will seek a more scientific basis to their art, even if the current funding bodies and training schemes are not always especially encouraging in this respect. It is in this context that Delcomyn finds his book on the “Foundations of Neurobiology”, a book that has clearly come from years of patient teaching and explanation. Indeed the whole emphasis of the book is to teach, as is evidenced by the language used; for example “As you will learn in Chapter 5, the …” The book is divided up into six sections, each of which contains up to half a dozen chapters. The sections are conventional in their topics, beginning with the cellular and organisation of the nervous system, followed by sections on the motor, sensory and integratory systems and concluding with a section on neural plasticity. Each chapter is characterised by clear text, beautiful multicoloured figures and punctuated by short summary paragraphs. In addition scattered throughout each chapter are separate boxed items which detail experimental techniques, typically with a gorgeous illustrative figure. At the conclusion of each chapter are a few key references which gives the enthusiastic student some realistic hope of finding and reading important review articles. Finally at the end of the book, to the relief of all students, is a glossary of terms along with a brief chapter detailing anatomical orientation. However, despite the obvious attraction of this book, the major problem (as its title implies) relates to its concentration on neurobiology at the expense of any neurological application. There is therefore a great deal of discussion on the functional organisation of the nervous system in a number of different species, including invertebrates. This is useful in establishing the principles for the organisation of more complex neural networks as are found in the mammalian nervous system, but in the context of a busy clinical training seems somewhat erudite. Although I found this book profoundly interesting and useful, especially given the complexities of the mammalian nervous system, as well as being well-presented, it does have limited appeal to students. For example, one has to search hard to find the section on movement disorders in the section on motor control and then the account is limited and not put into any major therapeutic context. Similarly the account on cranial nerves is presented somewhat in isolation. Overall the book is a very enjoyable experience, both in terms of the clarity of the text and the visual aesthetics of the figures. However, the recent shift in medical training means that books such as this are increasingly going to struggle to find an audience.

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