rusq: Vol. 51 Issue 1: p. 75
Sources: Encyclopedia of Human Body Systems
Maria C. Melssen

Maria C. Melssen, Head of Learning and Information Services, Florida International University, Miami

In a market already filled with anatomy and physiology texts, McDowell’s Encyclopedia of Body Systems adds little. McDowell’s encyclopedia focuses on the various organ systems in the human body and provides basic, comprehensive information on how the specific organ systems function. The text is well written, but it is arranged more like a textbook rather than an encyclopedia. The content is organized into chapters rather than individual, independent entries. Each chapter begins with a list of interesting medical facts followed by lists of key terms and concepts addressed in the chapter. The remainder of the chapter provides information on a specific organ system and concludes with a summary. This content is broken down into various headings and subheadings. Though the content is easy to follow and reads smoothly, a chapter based arrangement is inefficient for an encyclopedia. Each section in a chapter is written in relation to the other sections within that same chapter. For example, in the “Endocrine System” chapter there are two sections regarding feedback mechanism. The reader cannot only read “Negative Feedback” or “Positive Feedback” to learn more about mechanisms of feedback: he or she has to read the preceding sections as well.

Features typically found in an encyclopedia are lacking in McDowell’s text. There are no lists of further readings or see also references. All figures and illustrations are in black and white. Chapters that address such complex topics as “Cerebral Circulation and the Blood-Brain Barrier” would benefit from additional images to help readers better understand the content. There is a glossary, index, and select bibliography in addition to illustrations, figures, and tables when available. The only features of note are Side Bars which are found in each chapter: the Side Bars provide additional facts regarding the specific organ systems.

Another issue of note is the lack of authority of the editor and contributors to the text. Over half of the contributors including the editor do not hold advanced degrees in science or medicine and none of the contributors are clinicians. The lack of authority is also evident in the Select Bibliography: the majority of the references provided are websites. With an exception of three references published after 2001, the remaining references are either books written by the contributors or books that were published at least 10 years ago. There are no references to such premier texts as Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy (Saunders/Elsevier, 2010, 5th ed) or Thibodeau and Patton’s Structure and Function of the Body (Mosby, 2004, 13th ed).

The intended audience for the Encyclopedia of Human Body Systems is students; however, the specific student population is not identified. This encyclopedia is too basic for students in higher education and is not recommended for high school students due to the text’s lack of authority. There are many similar works currently available that are more authoritative and appropriate for students. Ashwell’s Anatomica: The Complete Home Medical Reference (Firefly, 2010, 2nd ed.) is comprehensive, written at a level appropriate for high school students, has many colorful images, and has a robust list of consultants and contributors (of the 23 individuals listed, all but four are either MDs, researchers, or university instructors). Burnie’s Concise Encyclopedia of the Human body (Dorling Kindersley, 1995) and Walker’s Encyclopedia of the Human Body (DK Publishing, 2002) are also comparable texts for high school students. Undergraduate and graduate students would find the works of Netters and Thibodeau of most use.

McDowell’s work may be of interest to a public library that needs to supplement a basic science collection; however, it is not appropriate for school library collections or academic library collections.

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