Gray's Anatomy Book - Review
"To this reviewer the 41st edition of Gray's Anatomy is the single most important text a radiology should own. Buy it now not only for its practical and intellectual/educational value but to have in your possession a slice of medical history".
The above description of ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ from the American Journal of Neuroradiology review successfully captures the essence of the book in a nutshell - intellectual, educational, and historical. This book has been the Bible of anatomy knowledge for almost 160 years, so you can certainly argue that ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ is the single most important text not only for a radiologist to posses, but for any anatomy novice and expert.
If you search the reference section of any anatomical textbook, resource, or online platform, you will see ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ being mentioned without a doubt. It’s not surprising, since it is the most complete anatomy book currently available, and more than likely in the future as well. After all, it has been the go-to reference book since 1858…
Nevertheless, it’s not foolproof by any means and exaggerated completeness can also be detrimental, to a certain extent. This article will review and shed some light onto the pros, cons, and ‘so-so’s’ of ‘Gray’s Anatomy: The Anatomical Basis of Clinical Practice’, more commonly referred to as ‘Gray’s Anatomy’.
Gray’s Anatomy Latest Edition
The birth of this book was in 1858 with the publication of the first edition. Over the years, it has become incrementally thicker, representing the constantly advancing field of anatomy. Finally, the peak was reached in 2015 when Elsevier published the current and latest 41st edition.
Due to its extreme and unique longevity, ‘Gray’s Anatomy 41st edition’ has not just one brain behind it, but an army of people and generations. The spark was provided by the surgeon and professor Henry Gray after he became tired of the subpar qualities of anatomy books during the 1840s. Therefore, he put together a collection of his own work with the intention “to furnish the Student and Practitioner with an accurate view of the Anatomy of the Human Body, and more especially the application of this science to Practical Surgery.”
After Gray’s initial spark, the flame was kept alive for one and a half centuries by numerous teams of anatomy experts, scientists, physicians, professors, surgeons, and editors. The current editor-in-chief is Susan Standring, who remained true to Gray’s initial intention and edited ‘Gray’s Anatomy Latest Edition’ to reflect the modern anatomical knowledge of the 21st century.
The book is divided into ten sections, or chapters, as follows:
- Section 1 - Cells, Tissues and Systems
- Section 2 - Embryogenesis
- Section 3 - Neuroanatomy
- Section 4 - Head and neck
- Section 5 - Back
- Section 6 - Pectoral girdle and upper limb
- Section 7 - Thorax
- Section 8 - Abdomen and pelvis
- Section 9 - Pelvic girdle and lower limb
In turn, each section is further organised as follows:
- Overview and surface anatomy
- Specific regions with their respective bones, muscles, neurovasculature, and/or organs
The moment you open ‘Gray’s Anatomy Latest Edition’ you can’t help but trust its contents. Each individual sub-section was edited by an expert in the respective field according to the latest evidence and the knowledge spans every stage from conception, through the cellular level, gross anatomy, scientific techniques, and modern developments. It feels like you are examining a human being with a magnifying glass, going deeper and deeper both through space and time. This book feels so complete that once you succeed to read it from cover to cover you can truly call yourself an anatomy geek and expert.
In contrast to many of its rivals, the ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ book can be found in multiple formats on the market. These include hardcover, paperback and even an eBook. The prices vary considerably, anywhere from $62 USD for an older and used hardback, all the way to approximately $230 USD for a new and shiny one. The eBook is not much cheaper either, retailing for around $200 USD. Of course, all those prices are influenced by the state of the book and offered discounts.
Nowadays, no academic book can be considered modern if it doesn’t have some sort of electronic content and a portable format. ‘Gray’s Anatomy Latest Edition’ is no different. To remain fresh and literally avoid breaking its binding, according to Susan Standing, additional information, tables, videos, artworks, and commentaries accompany the book as online features. Only to give you an example, 77000 words of additional text are offered online, translating to roughly 170 more pages. That’s certainly not something to turn up your nose at.
- Completeness - From simply glancing at the table of contents, you can immediately see that ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ itself is an entire library of anatomy knowledge. Including multiple layers of knowledge like cellular biology, embryogenesis together with developmental anatomy, gross anatomy, clinical information, and scientific techniques, this book leaves no stone unturned. It even has neuroanatomy, an area that is often explained in completely separate books.
- Evidence based information - Dotted throughout the book and compiled in a huge list at the very end are the sources from which all the content within this book has been extracted. In addition, if you look closely at the years, something becomes crystal clear - the knowledge provided in this book is current and based on the newest scientific evidence. These are the aspects separating good medical professions from the best ones nowadays.
- Longevity - How many academic books can you name that have been continuously printed forty one times for nearly 160 years, and that people still buy earnestly? Very few, if any! This longevity definitely proves the merit of ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ book.
- Online resources - 170 extra pages, 300 illustrations and tables, 28 videos and 24 commentaries are included online. Who doesn’t want additional material for the same price?
- Illustrations - Vividly depicted, coloured, and clearly labelled drawings bring the book to life and help you visualize the concepts. Rest assured, embryogenesis has got nothing on you once you start visualizing it, regardless of how difficult it is (or how much you hate it). It even has radiological images, cross-sections, microscopy images, histological slides, and clinical photos, filling up any potential knowledge gaps.
- Commentaries - No, these are not your favourite sports match commentaries, although they are equally exciting. Appearing at the end of every chapter (section), they describe, analyze, and comment (duh!) about injuries, surgeries, procedures or anything clinically relevant to that specific section.
Although beneficial to have on your library shelf, ‘Gray’s Anatomy 41st edition’ comes with some problems:
- Lack of quizzes/questions - Unfortunately, there is no way to test and cement your acquired knowledge, since ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ doesn’t offer any MCQs or review questions. It’s true, you can make your own, but they can take an awful amount of time to prepare. Are you prepared for such an investment?
- Price - If you search the library of any physician or anatomy expert, you will certainly find this book as a hardback. Some argue that a copy of ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ is for life, so the hardback version is the obvious choice for durability purposes. However, longevity and sturdiness come at a price. Getting your hands on a brand new one can burn a $230 USD hole in your wallet (depending on discounts and offers), so it’s quite an investment compared to its competition.
- Access to resources - The extra online resources certainly sound like a nice addition, but you cannot access them without buying the book itself, so you’re back to where you started.
- Limited resources - While ‘Gray’s Anatomy 41st Edition’ has a huge variety of illustrations, certain sections and topics can have only a few of each specific type. In addition, some of them are more for adding flavour to the book, rather than clarifying or simplifying a particular point. Radiological images and transverse views are also somewhat lacking, with the emphasis being on frontal and sagittal perspectives. The text and explanations are indeed extremely detailed and well written, but a picture can speak 1000 words, right?
- Big, thick and heavy - You thought your typical anatomy textbook or atlas is heavy? Wait until you pick this bad boy up. The hardback has 1584 pages, is close to A4 in size, and weighs almost 5 kgs. No wonder readers keep it in the library...
- Unfriendly format - The book’s completeness and success at having all the answers can also be the chink in its armor. Having the most complete anatomy book geared towards a wide target audience, meaning experts as well, does come at a cost - unfriendliness and lack of engagement. Overall, the book does exactly what it says on the tin - presents anatomy. However, it can feel dry and even daunting for students or beginners. When you look at certain parts, you are hit with a page full of complicated and cramped text with no illustrations or tables to provide some breathing room. Have a look below:
Although very informational and factual, it’s not the prettiest sight to see when you are reading anatomy. Small text, lengthy paragraphs, and no illustrations will suck the joy out of every study session. It sounds a lot easier to just hit the ‘Play’ button, sit back, and listen to a video tutorial, doesn’t it?
Gray’s Anatomy vs Kenhub
As you can see, ‘Gray’s Anatomy 41st edition’ comes in a mixed bag. It didn’t become the world’s Bible of anatomy on empty promises. It definitely succeeds in providing readers with all the required levels of knowledge to understand this subject, but the book still has its limitations.
If you want to distill the knowledge and learn it in an engaging, active and student friendly way, Kenhub is your go-to platform. After all, learning anatomy is already a massive undertaking, so you need to take advantage of anything that makes it as manageable as possible. Here’s how Kenhub can help you to achieve this - and how it compares with ‘Gray’s Anatomy’:
Using Kenhub gives you more than one way to skin a cat and tackle anatomy. Through the integration of several teaching methods, you receive all the explanations and descriptions about your favourite anatomical structures. There is only so much you can do by reading articles and watching videos (although it certainly doesn’t hurt). You need to apply the knowledge and test yourself as much as possible. Have you heard that the quizzes offered by Kenhub are organized into four levels of difficulty and can be customized to match your personal learning objectives? They also use spaced repetition, the most effective, scientifically proven way to retain information long-term - so what are you waiting for?! Go and try it out now!
Gray’s Anatomy for Students
If you are an anatomy student, the recommendations about what materials you should use are clear as black and white - ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ for reference purposes and ‘Gray’s Anatomy for Students’ for daily learning and studying. Colloquially referred to as ‘Big Gray’s’ and ‘Baby Gray’s’ respectively, both textbooks are helping students with their anatomy studies worldwide but from different perspectives.
‘Gray’s Anatomy for Students’, also published by Elsevier, is written by Richard L. Drake, A. Wayne Vogl, and Adam W. M. Mitchell. The latest edition is currently the third one and has one main aim - to try and distill ‘Big Gray’s and make it more manageable. Here is how they compare:
- Thinner and lighter - Compared to its older sibling, ‘Baby Gray’s’ only has 1192 pages and consequently weighs a lot less. It might not seem like a big difference, but the devil is in the details, in this case in the book’s layout.
- Friendly format - This is the big one! Just from reading the title, you can guess that ‘Gray’s Anatomy for Students’ was written with a specific target audience in mind - students, such as yourself. Full of large, simplified, and self-explanatory illustrations, breathing spaces, tables, and obvious clinical boxes, you will have no trouble finding or reading the information. In fact, you might even enjoy it!
- Cheaper - With less information come cheaper prices. ‘Baby Gray’s’ retails anywhere between $35 USD and $58 USD approximately for the paperback version, depending on current discounts and the state of the book.
- Online Student Consult - ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ has online resources, but not ones geared towards students’ learning. One of its massive problems was the lack of quizzes and test questions. Fortunately, ‘Gray’s Anatomy for Students’ fixes this, including review questions inside the ‘Student Consult’.
In the end, the majority of learning resources do their job of teaching you anatomy, but they can tackle this from different angles. Some of them can be an excellent reference source and be complete with all the required knowledge, but have an unfriendly format. In contrast, others can be more distilled but more approachable. In the end, no textbook or platform is perfect so you need to weigh the pros and cons and pick one that will simplify your journey as much as possible.
Strengths of 'Gray's Anatomy':
- Evidence based information
- Online resources
- Vivid and clear illustrations
- Clinical commentaries
Weaknesses of 'Gray's Anatomy' book:
- Lack of quizzes/questions
- High price
- Access to additional resources requires purchase
- Limited resources
- Big, thick, and heavy
- Unfriendly format