Frank Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy - Review
Even though the above words were said in the mid-1900s by an astonished colleague of his, they are just as relevant now if you look at the work of one dedicated man - Frank H. Netter. He left behind a unique legacy built on talent, hard work and passion which anatomy students, such as yourself, can take full advantage of.
This genius was not a one-trick pony as his illustrations spanned not only pure anatomy, but also clinical aspects and even pharmacology. However, the zenith of his work is represented by a detailed, coloured, and beautifully illustrated, but thick and back-breaking book (come on, it is anatomy after all) which he worked on until his death. This compilation is called the ‘Atlas of Human Anatomy’, otherwise known as ‘Netter Atlas of Human Anatomy' among anatomy students.
If you are reading this review, you have certainly heard about this atlas, but perhaps you’re not sure if it’s worth the investment or not. Don’t worry though, you have stopped at the right place. This article will reveal the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of ‘Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy’ and allow you to reach your own conclusion if you should use it or not.
Frank H. Netter
Before diving into the atlas itself, let’s explore the brain behind it. Frank H. Netter was a celebrated surgeon and medical illustrator, born in 1906 in Manhattan, New York. He dreamt of becoming an artist, but along his journey, the path towards medicine also crossed his way. By utilizing his unusual skill set, he found a way to merge both of his passions. The result? The Frank Netter illustrations and atlas collection that to this day inspire artists and aid students and medical professionals alike.
In his own words, Netter tried to “achieve a happy medium between complexity and simplification” by striving “for a middle course of realism without the clutter of confusing minutiae”, and he definitely succeeded.
Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy Latest Edition
The birth of this atlas was in 1989 with the publication of the first edition by Elsevier Saunders. It was updated several times to fit the needs of anatomy enthusiasts, ending with the latest version published in 2014, the current 6th edition, which is translated into 16 languages.
‘Netter Atlas of Human Anatomy’ is divided into seven sections, each one covering a particular body part, as follows:
- Section 1 - Head and neck
- Section 2 - Back and spinal cord
- Section 3 - Thorax
- Section 4 - Abdomen
- Section 5 - Pelvis and perineum
- Section 6 - Upper limb
- Section 7 - Lower limb
In turn, each section is organized conceptually according to the following format:
- Topographic and surface anatomy
- Bones and ligaments
- Muscles and/or organs
- Arteries and veins
- Radiological images
- Summary muscle tables
As you can see, you can navigate this atlas in two ways and they both make sense. You can either jump back and forth using the content’s page, or read it from cover to cover like a book, like all respectable anatomy geeks do (if you're one of them, join the club ;-)).
Once you open the atlas, you can instantly spot the aspects adored by so many generations of health science students: vivid, detailed, and clearly labelled drawings, together with Netter’s signature and pages called ‘plates’. Let’s just call the last two the ‘Netter personal touch’, since they are unique to his atlas. In addition, the plates are not stand alone, but they are linked together through recommended ‘See also’ boxes, which advise you to check out a different, but related plate to complete your understanding.
What versions exist on the market? ‘Netter Atlas of Human Anatomy 6th edition’ usually retails for approximately 60 to 75 USD for the paperback version, if it is brand new, and between 31 and 70 USD for the eBook version (discounts are sometimes provided for limited periods of time). The latter can be found in various formats, depending on your device, and can be accessed both online and offline.
‘Netter Atlas of Human Anatomy Latest Edition’ also comes with e-learning resources, such as a ‘Student Consult’. This is a compilation of bonus anatomy plates, study guides, dissection videos, 3D models, and quizzes (labelling and MCQs) that work in harmony to facilitate your learning as much as possible.
- Drawings - Vibrantly coloured, full of details and clearly labelled, you’ll crush any confusions and misunderstandings. Tracking every single nerve forming the cardiac plexus and innervating the heart will be a breeze!
- ‘See also’ boxes - Perhaps the last thing you want to hear after staring at an anatomy drawing for a long time, but they help you. Anatomy is about different perspectives and joining the dots, so understanding the bigger picture is required.
- Summary muscle tables - You can almost hear every anatomy student jumping with joy! Learning the origins, insertions, vascularisation, innervation and actions of every muscle in the body is already gruesome (you have 320 pairs, by the way), so seeing all that information distilled into a table is a blessing. Such tables truly are an anatomy student’s dream!
- Cross-sections and radiological images - Even more perspectives to aid your learning! Not to mention the clinical touch provided by X-rays, MRIs and CT scans.
- Student Consult - Who doesn’t want even more anatomy plates, dissection videos and quizzes that test your understanding?
- Multiple versions - Paperback - eBook, online - offline, mobile - tablet - laptop, pdf - mobi, the possibilities are numerous and ready to suit your needs!
You should remember that all that glitters is not gold. ‘Netter Atlas of Human Anatomy Latest Edition’ also has some drawbacks that you should take into account:
- Price - Getting your hands on it can burn a 60 to 75 USD hole in your wallet if it’s brand new, and that’s just for the paperback version. Portability comes with a price as well, setting you back up to 150 USD if you want the eBook as well. Compared to other atlases and products, ‘Netter Atlas of Human Anatomy’ comes with a hefty price tag.
- Access to resources - Although the ‘Student Consult’ feature is beneficial, you can only access it after you purchase the book itself, so you’re back to square one.
- Limited resources - While the atlas offers cross-sectional views and radiological images, they are few and far between. There are only a few at the end of each section and some are dotted throughout. The focus is placed heavily on frontal and sagittal planes, with little in the way of transverse planes. The extra plates offered by the “Student Consult” are also small in number, and let’s not forget - it is an atlas, so additional explanations in addition to the labels is out of the question. All of those aspects are obliging you to use additional resources and books, which guess what? That’s right - results in you spending even more money.
- Big, thick and heavy - While an eBook version is available, the majority of anatomy students buy the paperback version and it is the most popular choice. Unfortunately, this bad boy comes with 640 pages, weighs around 2 kgs, and is A4 in size. You certainly don’t want to carry this with you every day...
- Labels - More than likely, you have heard that too much of a good thing can actually be bad. Although beneficial to see the entire picture in one go, it can be extremely tedious and confusing. For example, take a look at an illustration showing the axillary artery:
It looks confusing, does it not? Not to mention how much time it takes identifying the artery in the first place. You can make your learning a whole lot easier and faster if you look at a different type of image, where only the axillary artery is highlighted (green), as given below:
Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy vs. Kenhub
As you can see, while ‘Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy 6th edition’ successfully helps you to orient yourself and navigate through the world of anatomy, it’s far from perfect. You will definitely not pass your next anatomy exam using this book alone.
However, Kenhub can certainly help you to successfully bridge the gap. Here is how it compares with “Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy”:
As you can see, Kenhub’s anatomy atlas has more than just one string to its bow. Through the integration of several teaching methods, like articles, videos, quizzes, and an anatomy atlas, you receive all the explanations and descriptions about your favourite anatomical structures. What are the good news? You receive everything in one go, automatically adapted to work on all portable devices! What are the best news? In addition to telling you what to study, Kenhub can also show you how to do it effectively - so what are you waiting for?! Go and try it out now!
In the end, ‘Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy’ does exactly what it says on the tin and does it well. Let’s be honest, it’s the most popular anatomy atlas for a reason. However, it does have its flaws. Additional resources are included, but they are quite limited in their scope and potential, forcing you to acquire even more books. At the end of the day it is a matter of personal preference and availability of funds. The most important thing to do is to weigh the pros and cons, and pick a learning resource that you enjoy using and fits your learning.
Strengths of 'Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy':
- Excellent drawings
- 'See also' boxes that connnect the information
- Summary muscle tables
- Cross-sections and radiological images
- Extra illustrations, dissection videos, and quizzes via the Studet Consult
- Multiple versions available
Weaknesses of 'Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy':
- High price
- Access to resources requires buying
- Limited types of resources
- Big, thick and heavy
- Potentially confusing labels