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P M Conn, ed. New Jersey: The Humana Press, 2003, pp 701, $135.00, (hardback). ISBN 1-58829-016-6
Neuroscience in medicine, second edition, is aimed primarily at medical students and seeks to explain the basic structure and function of the nervous system underlying medicine. It is arranged as a collection of essays by individual contributors, interspersed with short clinical chapters. Most of the chapters are written at a level appropriate for medical students but others (for example those on hypothalamus, muscle, and ion channels) carry detail more suited to a neuroscience undergraduate or even postgraduate student. While it is no bad thing to offer students more information than they strictly need, it does need careful management in order to avoid a fascinating subject becoming a daunting one.
In terms of coverage, it is refreshing that subjects such as sleep, cerebrospinal fluid, and neuroimmunology are dealt with individually, as these tend to be minimised or overlooked in some textbooks. However, there are also some serious omissions. There is no chapter explaining the structure and function of the autonomic nervous system, surely one of the topics most often misunderstood by medical students. Also, parts of the motor system are described in several chapters but no attempt is made to show how it all fits together. The order in which subjects are dealt with is unusual. For example, chapters on synaptic transmission and receptors come early in the book while neurotransmitters come much later. A chapter on spinal mechanisms for control of muscle is divorced from the other chapters dealing with either spinal cord or other motor functions, being placed between chapters on the thalamus and chemical messenger systems.
Perhaps the greatest disappointment is the illustrative material, which varies considerably from chapter to chapter. While some contain effective explanatory diagrams, others have figures of poor quality (apparently due to scanning at low resolution, as in the chapters on spinal cord and higher brain function). The chapter dealing with neuroanatomy relies on a few black and white photographs of dissected brains and histological sections—no diagrams or MRIs.
In summary, when compared to its many competitors, this book is unlikely to appeal to its intended audience. Sadly the generally high quality of the individual contributions is not sufficient to compensate for the poor organisation and variable illustration of this book.
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