Histology: A Text and Atlas by Ross (Review)
Similar to the way ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ is the bible of anatomy, ‘Histology: A Text and Atlas’ is the bible of another subject dreaded by a lot of health science students - histology. Less commonly known by its full name as ‘Histology: A Text and Atlas, with Correlated Cell and Molecular Biology, 7th Edition’, this histology encyclopedia has terrified many students such as yourself, helped or saved others, and even turned a few into pathologists.
|Pros||Text and atlas in one, detailed and clearly labeled illustrations, summary boxes, student friendly, clinical folders|
|Cons||Very few additional resources, too detailed, inefficient labels, excessive focus on cell and molecular biology, being a textbook|
Therefore, you can see that despite its completeness, this textbook can’t be described as a ‘one-size-fits all’. Some hate it, while others love it. It’s up to you to weigh up its pros and cons and decide for yourself if this histology heavyweight is worth your time and investment. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will have a better idea of which side of the fence you’re on.
Histology: A Text and Atlas 7th Edition
To keep up with the ever developing world of tissues, the seventh edition of ‘Histology: A Text and Atlas’ was published in January 2015 by Wolters Kluwer and is the latest version at the time of writing. Ever since conception of the first edition in 1985, this textbook has received constant makeovers and new features. Each edition has inched closer to completing its single and most important aim - to simplify and make histology as manageable as possible.
Written by Michael H. Ross and Wojciech Pawlina, two dedicated physicians, ‘Histology: A Text and Atlas’ intertwines histology and cell and molecular biology with an ease that is difficult for competitors to match. The majority of other histology textbooks describe the structure, features, functions, components - and so on - of tissues quite well, but they stop there. What makes this particular book the cream of the crop is that it goes above and beyond the call of duty by diving all the way down to the molecular level, way beyond the histology of tissues. In doing so, it increases your likelihood of really understanding the topic at hand, rather than merely memorizing it.
Broadly, the book is divided into four sections:
- Tissue preparation and handling, together with microscopy
- The cell as an entity
- Tissues, each one described in detail
- Systems, each one examined separately
In turn, each chapter has a particular structure, as follows:
- Theory and explanations sprinkled with a dash of imagery and tables
- Several folders, each one containing a detailed clinical correlate
- A ‘histology 101’ section which provides you with the essential knowledge, similar to a summary
- Several plates, each one containing a labeled histology illustration to help you learn or test yourself
As you can hopefully see, ‘Histology: A Text and Atlas 7th edition’ doesn’t just throw histology jargon at you - it teaches you the subject and helps you make sense out of it. The textbook constructs the knowledge in layers, like an onion. You only need to peel and cut it, one layer at a time, to learn the information (don’t worry, you won’t start crying).
Since we are in the twenty-first century and everything is portable and electronic nowadays, this textbook doesn’t drop the ball either. This edition of ‘Histology: A Text and Atlas’ comes in two flavours: as a paperback, ready to satisfy the needs of any bookhound, and as an eBook, a lovely sight if you are a tech-geek.
So far so good regarding the versions available on the market. However, when it comes to prices, things can get sour quite quickly. If you want to get your hands on a copy of this textbook, you’ll have to reach quite deep into your pockets and pick out anywhere between $60 USD and $90 USD, depending on the state of the book (used or brand new). At the end of the day, that’s quite a hefty price.
To keep ahead of its competitors, every major textbook offers some kind of additional resource, usually an online one, to students. This textbook follows the same principle, offering you a compilation of all the histology plates from the text, but in an interactive format. This allows you to learn and label all those nitty-gritty histological features that look identical to each other, at least in the beginning (remember the frustration during the early days when every slide looked red and blue to you, despite being different tissues or representing different diseases).
- Text & Atlas - If you want to see a textbook example (pun intended) of what it means to kill two birds with one stone, get yourself a copy of ‘Histology: A Text and Atlas’. As its title implies, this book is a combination of a written textbook and a labelled atlas, also seen as the perfect marriage through the eyes of a medical student. It saves you the hassle of moving your head like a typewriter due to studying two textbooks in parallel - not to mention the money.
- Detailed and clearly labeled illustrations - How many times have you studied histology, googled for some image of a histological slide, only to find a blurry one or one where you have no idea about the structures that you’re looking at? Probably way too many times. With this atlas however, this will become a distant nightmare. The ultra HD 8K resolution images allow you to see every cell nucleus and contour, while the beautifully drawn schematics of cell and molecular biology will make concepts sooooo much more tangible. You’ll also know exactly what you are looking at since everything is clearly labeled - and you know how important that is in a subject where everything looks the same…
- ‘Histology 101’ summary boxes - If you put the ‘Histology 101’ boxes one after another and read only those, you will have a clear overview about the topic at hand without having to read every page from the textbook. Those summary, fact-filled boxes provide you with all the essentials without any of the fluff, giving you a crash course in histology. They will not provide you with sufficient knowledge or detail, but they will certainly give you the big picture - a saving grace for any medical student.
- Student friendly format - The minute you open ‘Histology: A Text and Atlas 7th edition’ you realise that Ross and Pawlina wrote it with the students in mind. Filled to the brim with effective illustrations, this textbook has a friendly layout with lots of bullet points, bolding (red for terms, black for bottom line or message of each paragraph), and tables, which is an absolute joy to navigate through. You won’t get a headache before you even start reading histology just from simply trying to decipher the idea (rest assured though, your head will explode at the end of each histology lecture).
- Clinical ‘folders’ - Learning theory in a medical or health related field is definitely good, but it can only bring you so far. You might read that narrowing of the coronary arteries is dangerous and problematic, but applying this to atherosclerosis and a myocardial infarction is a different ball-game. In addition, it makes the subject more fun and relevant (histology is anatomy’s younger brother, so it is as boring as anatomy). In ‘Histology: A Text and Atlas by Ross”, clinical boxes (or folders) appear here-and-there throughout the textbook, whetting your appetite for more.
- Few/inexistent resources - If you’re an optimist you will argue that the seventh edition of ‘Histology: A Text and Atlas’ has a few additional online resources. On the other side, if you are a pessimist, you will think that this textbook has no extra resources. This is because the textbook comes with an online, electronic version of the same histological images (plates) that appear in the book itself. The only difference is that they are interactive, so in the end it is not that big of a deal. You can cover labels in the paperback version just as easily as in the interactive one, so at the end of the day the online resources feel like dust thrown in your eyes. We haven’t even yet covered the materials that can help you actually study, such as quizzes or learning techniques. Well, they are non-existent.
- Too detailed - Have you heard the expression that ‘too much of a good thing can kill you’? That expression is true in the case of ‘Histology: A Text and Atlas by Ross’. At the end of the day you want to learn histology with some supporting knowledge of cell and molecular biology. Notice the word supporting rather than everything. Unfortunately, ‘Histology: A Text and Atlas’ is so detailed in certain parts for the sake of completeness that it can easily drown the student in unnecessary minutiae. It is perfect for a specialist - for instance a pathologist - but if you are a medical student you already feel tired and confused by the time you even get to the histology section: a recipe for disaster with so little study time available.
- Inefficient labels - A few minutes ago we mentioned that illustrations are clearly labelled in this atlas. Well, they are and they aren’t. They are clear in the fact that you know exactly where the label is pointing to, but not what is actually being shown. For instance, every label is abbreviated or written shorthand, so you need to check the legend every - single - time. This can get quite annoying very quickly, especially since the legends are on a different page relative to the labels. If you are using the eBook version, it quickly becomes a game of constant page turning or scrolling.
- Excessive focus on cell and molecular biology - Medical and health science studies are all about balance. You need to get your head around sufficient background knowledge to understand the topic rather than merely memorize it, but not so much that you waste precious study time and drown in details. Unfortunately ‘Histology: A Text and Atlas’ has not found the right balance just yet, and the hose of molecular and cell biology is aimed at you at full blast.
- Textbook - The biggest problem with this resource is the fact that it is a textbook. If you search this word in the dictionary, you will find a lot of synonyms for it like boring, long, exhausting, convoluted, back-breaking, and pricey (not really, but you get the idea). This textbook does not only weigh 2 kg and has about 1000 pages, but it also comes with a hefty price tag too. You’re paying for something that will give you a backache and drain your sanity. This trade doesn’t place you on top any way that you look at it.
Histology: A Text and Atlas vs. Kenhub
As you can see, ‘Histology: A Text and Atlas 7th edition’ definitely comes in a mixed bag. On one side it aims to present histology in a friendly way, making it as visual and as easy to read as possible for the students. After all, it is the world’s most famous and most used histology learning resource for a reason - so it definitely does its job well. However, on the other side, the visuals are far from perfect, at times it can be too detailed and ultimately it is a textbook, which comes with its disadvantages. For example, if you want to learn about the bone marrow, Ross’ book will teach you the topic like this:
This is not the end of the world, but let’s join the modern times where there are a lot more efficient and relaxing resources compared to arching over never-ending pages full of words. All of this could be condensed into an experience where you kick your feet up and have a relaxing cup of tea beside you. In other words, watching a video about the histology of the bone marrow:
Therefore, if preventing boredom but learning efficiently is what you’re after, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try out alternative learning methods to the traditional, textbook oriented approach. A good place to start would be Kenhub, an online platform with the aim to make your learning as easy and enjoyable as possible. Here’s how it compares with ‘Histology: A Text and Atlas’:
As you can see, the old days of staring for hours at a book are grinding to a halt. There are now plenty of ways to spice up your learning, and Kenhub offers you quite a few of them. Are you tired of falling asleep and struggling to concentrate when reading for hours on end? Simply play your desired video and absorb the information without the need for matchsticks to keep your eyes open! Do you want to see a specific anatomical structure from multiple perspectives? Go and check out the atlas! The term pronunciation feature even tells you what you’re looking at and how you can pronounce it properly.
Kenhub also offers you a library of over 1000 articles that you can use to clarify any anatomy or histology questions, together with quizzes that can help you to really cement your knowledge (or learn from scratch!) and review it through the use of spaced repetition. By the way, you receive all the features in one go, automatically adapted to work on all your portable devices - so what are you waiting for?! Go and try it out for free now!
In the end though, the most important thing is that you enjoy the learning resource and learn effectively with it. There are some that are better than others, but it all boils down to you. Do you understand the material that is presented and is it an enjoyable experience, or not? As you can see, nothing is perfect and even histology heavyweights like ‘Histology: A Text and Atlas’ have their advantages and disadvantages. Deciding whether those disadvantages outweigh the advantages is for you to decide. Good luck!
Strengths of 'Histology: A Text and Atlas by Ross':
- It is both a text and an atlas, giving you the means to read and look simultaneously
- Detailed and clearly labeled illustrations help you visualize structures and histology in general
- Summary boxes for high yield information
- Fact-filled and short summary boxes that give you the essential overview
- Student friendly by using bullet points, bolding, and tables
- Clinical folders making everything fun, relevant and interesting
Weaknesses of 'Histology: A Text and Atlas by Ross':
- Very few or insufficient additional resources
- Drowns you in details
- Inefficient labels don't tell you the complete story, especially about what structures they point at
- Exaggerated focus on cell and molecular biology
- Pricey, big, thick, and heavy