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The essential handbook of memory disorders for clinicians
  1. P Garrard

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    Edited by Alan D Baddeley, Michael D Kopelman, Barbara A Wilson. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2004, pp 392, £26.99 (paperback) ISBN 0-470-09141-X.

    Any reader who is familiar with the editors’ comprehensive and authoritative “Handbook of Memory Disorders” will experience a powerful sense of déjà vu on opening this volume, and may be forgiven for wondering what exactly the point of it is. The Readers’ Digest edition? Neuropsychology lite? With its 392 pages this is hardly a pocket companion. The real reason can be found in an (extremely brief) preface: the 35 chapters of the original work had resulted in a “heftier and more expensive book, which might well be seen as less directly relevant to clinical practice”. In other words, a self-confessed case of “mega biblion mega kakon”, and doubtless a publisher’s marketing wheeze.

    A wizard one? Perhaps. Thirty-five chapters have been whittled down to 15, of which all but one have direct clinical relevance, ranging from the amnesias of childhood to a review of rehabilitative strategies for the memory impaired. The exception is Baddeley’s opening essay on contemporary and historical views of the psychology of memory. While such an overview is by no means out of place, its theoretical emphasis might perhaps have been acknowledged by according it the title and status of Introduction rather than merely “Chapter 1”.

    The remaining contents are also rather arbitrarily ordered, and the clinician in search of an up-to-the-minute review of some aspect of diagnosis or management is hardly guided by it to the most relevant pages. All the important themes—evaluation, differential diagnosis, management—are well represented, but needlessly interleaved. Chapters dealing with the assessment of memory disorders and the distinction between disorders of memory and other cognitive systems come after those in which specific subtypes of memory dysfunction are discussed. No fewer than four chapters discuss remediation and rehabilitation, while the discussion of retrograde amnesia is entirely subsumed within a review of psychogenic disorders, and the critically important topic of semantic memory is completely neglected.

    So while this handbook will undoubtedly be of interest to clinicians, I suspect that many will prefer to distil the essence of the subject from the more comprehensive parent volume, and regard the additional heft and cost as a price worth paying.