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Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy - Review


Once upon a time, 1984 to be exact, a reviewer quite knowledgeably stated in the journal of ‘Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery’ about ‘Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy’:

‘When I first undertook to review Sobotta, I believed my task would be a simple one. I would praise the lively plates and fine detail and toss in a minor complaint or two in order to maintain status as a critic. Instead, a more complex situation unfolded.’

Oh, and how complex it has become, indeed! This atlas was over seventy years old at the time, so quite far from its infancy. However, anatomy teaching methods and especially atlases, were slowly becoming antiquated. They failed to keep up with the modern requirement of the approaching 21st-century student. As a result, they have improved a great deal since the time of our health science predecessors. Take as an example Sobotta’s latest atlas; it has become more digitized, portable, versatile, illustrative, and explanatory compared to previous editions.

Pros and Cons of Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy
Pros Illustrations accompanied by detailed explanations; clinical boxes; key-facts tables; chapter introductions containing an overview, main objectives, and a clinical case; app and online resources
Cons Three volume textbook; expensive; scarce 'standard' resources common to anatomy learning resources; inconsistent explanations; mix and match of Latin and English without directly corresponding translations

But has it improved enough to meet current demands? As you’ve seen above, reviewing classic anatomy teaching resources is much more complex nowadays due to advances in technology and student expectations. This article will explain the pros and cons of the ‘Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy’ in the light of the 21st-century anatomy learning market. Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Continue reading to find more and draw up your own conclusions if this resource is right for you.

Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy 16th Edition English/Latin

Resources

The birth of this atlas was at the beginning of the 20th century, between 1904 and 1907, with the publication of the first edition by Elsevier/Churchill Livingstone in Munich, Germany. As time passed, authors realized that ‘just as fashions change on a regular basis, so do students’ reading and studying habits’, a phenomenon propelled by ‘the ubiquitousness of multimedia and the ready availability of information’. As a result, the current 24th and 16th editions in German and English/Latin respectively came into being, with the aim to abandon ‘detailed textbooks claiming to be completely comprehensive in favour of textbooks that [...] cover the contents of [students’] courses and exams’.

Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy - Cover

Two latest editions and three completely different languages are only scratching the surface of this atlas’ global outreach. It is available in 18 different languages, all of which are translations of the latest and original German edition. It is perhaps the most widely translated anatomy atlas worldwide, so words like ‘muscle’, ‘mišić’, ‘muscolo’, ‘músculo’, ‘izom’, and so on have got nothing on it.

One particular feature of Sobotta’s atlas compared to its competitors is the layout of information across three volumes:

  • Volume 1: General Anatomy and Musculoskeletal System
  • Volume 2: Internal Organ
  • Volume 3: Head, Neck and Neuroanatomy

In fact, one can argue that it is quite a brave undertaking to publish a resource as thick as a coffee cup nowadays, especially for a subject like anatomy. However, every cloud has a silver lining so this strategy does have one major advantage that we’ll see later. In addition, every chapter across all three volumes has a particular structure:

  • Topography or surface anatomy
  • Development
  • Skeleton or internal organs
  • Imaging methods
  • Muscles
  • Neovasculature
  • Cross-sectional images

Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy - Contents page

So far so good, but this structure is standard across all anatomy atlases, so how does Sobotta’s resource stand out from the rest? By effectively including summary tables beside their respective topics rather than clumping them at the end of sections or chapters, like in Netter’s Atlas, and by dotting clinical boxes throughout. In addition, explanatory texts rather than mere illustration legends together with chapter overviews containing objectives and clinical cases also place ‘Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy’ in pole position for success. All of these might sound banal, but every little helps when faced with the task of learning  thousands of anatomical structures.

Versions

In terms of embracing and jumping on the multi-media bandwagon, this atlas has scored quite a few brownie points. For hardcore enthusiasts, nothing beats the tactile feedback of laminated pages and the smell of a freshly printed book. Therefore, Elsevier/Churchill Livingstone can provide them with paperback or hardback versions at a price of approximately $125 USD for all three volumes. 

However, the 21st-century student places heavy emphasis on portability and studying on varying electronic devices while doing various activities, like walking in the park, commuting, and many more. As a result, this atlas can also be acquired as an eBook, ready to suit the needs of time management champions, or perhaps to help you become one.

Resources

So far so good, but how can Sobotta rise to the top and beat the competition? After all, almost every anatomy atlas is available in both physical and electronic formats, including Grant’s, Gray’s, Rohen’s, and a multitude of others. However, Sobotta has some tricks up its sleeve. For a small extra fee, you can get your hands on a flashcard set that fits the atlas like a glove and even a standalone app for iOS/Android devices with a handful of even more additional features. We’ll dive into the details in the next section, but they can definitely help your anatomy learning and make your life slightly easier. 

If you’re unwilling to pay the extra cash, you automatically receive certain resources included with your atlas purchase such as labelling quizzes and dissection figures. This definitely sounds better than continuously staring at atlas illustrations for hours, right?

Pros

  • Explanations - The minute you start flipping through ‘Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy 16th Edition’, you realize that it’s not an ordinary atlas. It’s full of illustrations that twist and turn every anatomical structure known to mankind in various directions and they all contain legends indeed. However, the cherry on top is provided by explanatory paragraphs that flesh out many structures even more. For example, there is a huge difference between simply showing the articulations of the hand and including some sentences describing the types of joints, their movement capabilities, and range of movements in addition to the legends. It certainly adds more context to the hand, making it far more attractive than just a pile of meat and bones. You also don’t want your anatomy knowledge to feel like that, right?

Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy - Sample page

  • Clinical boxes - The above explanations give you book smarts, while real-life experience give you street smarts. However, in the health science industry the leap between the two is wider than the Grand Canyon, so you need a bridge. This atlas has a solution in the form of clinical information. They are nowhere near the breadth and depth of the explanations, but they are sufficient to add the much needed spice to an otherwise dry subject. Titled ‘Clinical remarks’, they discuss topics ranging from infections, to degenerative conditions and interventional procedures, to anything in between.
  • Tables - They are probably the most exploited feature by atlas editors, and Sobotta is no different. Tables are a lifeline for anatomy students because they are short, to the point, and contain high yield information - no ‘ifs’, ‘buts’, or ‘whys’. For example, they might list all the branches of nerves or arteries, or the attachment points of muscles together with their innervation and actions. Professors love testing your knowledge about such aspects, so pay particular attention to these tables during your review sessions.

Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy - Sample table

  • Chapter introductions - Another distinction feature of this atlas is provided by the chapter introductions. They are divided into three components: a chapter overview, main objectives, and a clinical case that underlines the relevance of the upcoming chapter. Two of these features are beneficial, but they are not uncommon. However, the objectives presented in bullet point format are the money makers. They can be excellent essays or short question topics to test your knowledge and help you review. Also, sentences like ‘describe the basic structure of the skull, its bones and their positional relationship to each other’ definitely sounds like a question that can crop up in any of your exams about the head and neck. If you can answer all of the ones included in the chapter introductions, you are definitely on your way to anatomy mastery.

Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy - Chapter introduction sample

  • Sobotta Anatomy App and freebies - Last but not least, ‘Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy’ comes equipped with accompanying resources. Some of them are free of additional charges following the purchase, such as labelling quizzes together with dissection figures that can show how to access that pesky brachial plexus that you’ve been searching for on the cadaver for the past hour. The app itself comes at an additional price and includes labelling tests, provides you with notes about the structures, and can teach you about certain body parts in a logical way using its ‘Training’ tool. Not to mention that all the illustrations from the atlas are present in there and many more, as well as three language choices: English, Latin, and German. Let’s just say the app will not revolutionize anatomy learning any time soon, but it can prove a nice little addition.

Cons

  • Three volumes - Atlases of hundreds of pages spanning one volume are already daunting, but one that comes as three volumes spread throughout 1300 pages or so is downright petrifying! To put it into perspective, an anatomy textbook consists of over 1000 pages and we all know how wordy they can be. Including more information and dividing it into three large books that are easier to carry sounds like a good plan, right? Wrong! It might work for your first month or region, but anatomy courses take a minimum of one year to complete. By the way, we didn’t even mention the surgery modules during the clinical years which require even more anatomy refreshing. Once revision kicks in after the first few months and professors will begin to link information from different parts of the course, you will end up carrying three books with you and require an entire room just to spread out all your resources. You will end up in a similar situation if your school teaches anatomy according to systems rather than regions. It certainly doesn’t sound appealing…
  • Expensive - This aspect can be quite subjective, but a payment of $125 USD upfront is not petty cash that every student can dish out at a moment’s notice. In addition, another $70 USD for an application that leaves a lot to be desired might also raise some suspicious eyebrows. It might include over 1600 illustrations, but the ones in the atlas can be accessed for free online with the book purchase. In all honesty, the price range is not sufficiently justified by the app’s resources. What about the labelling quizzes? Those can easily be replaced by using your hand to physically cover the labels in the atlas and reciting or writing down the names before finally correcting them. Or indeed, by using the free anatomy labelling quizzes from Kenhub! It’s much faster, doesn’t need another gadget, and is completely free of charge!  
  • Inconsistencies and resource scarcity - The true power of a learning resource stands in its consistency between versions and editions, as well as across various platforms. Remember that we’ve previously mentioned explanations as advantages of this atlas. They are indeed, but not all of illustrations contain them. In fact, some contain barely any while others have none at all. They are even scarcer in the application, raising another red flag about its usefulness. In addition, there are scant imaging illustrations like X-rays and CTs that a lot of other atlases nowadays have embraced and included almost to the point of exaggeration. 
  • Latin language - Do you know what’s drier than your humerus bone? Learning anatomy. Unfortunately, it is even more challenging when language is inconsistent and illogically used. No-one is criticizing the use of Latin, it is an extremely useful language to learn anatomy in, but only with accompanying English terms provided side-by-side. Every single term in Sobotta's atlas is provided in Latin, while the explanations and descriptions are in English. Unfortunately, a lot of students learning anatomy in English must learn the terms in the same language as well, so studying them in Latin only creates confusion. It might not sound like a big deal, but anatomy is already a handful to deal with without having to worry about translating it, too.

Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy vs. Kenhub

Therefore, is this atlas good enough to occupy a spot in your library? It depends on your aims and your study methods. It is definitely not a run of the mill resource, scoring some brownie points with the explanations, chapter introductions, and tables. However, it also has some drawbacks such as an exaggerated length, price, scarce resources, and above all, a heavy focus on Latin terms while being aimed at an English market.

So, what can you do? Before deciding and creating a hole in your pocket, search around for different resources. An example would be Kenhub, a constantly growing online learning platform that has helped a million users so far to tackle anatomy in the simplest way possible. Here’s a direct comparison between the two resources:

Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy vs. Kenhub

As you can see, no matter how you slice it, Kenhub always has your back. By the way, there is no backache involved because the information is not spread over thick volumes of endless pages. In fact, it is the opposite - everything fits in the palm of your hand on any of your electronic devices. And everything automatically adapts to the display format, so you won’t distinguish any differences when changing from your phone to your laptop, or vice versa. It works like magic!

We at Kenhub understand that learning anatomy can be as dry as a bone. Although we cannot dispel all your difficulties (it is anatomy after all), our anatomy geeks can certainly simplify this subject and who knows, maybe even inject some joy into it! If you are drowning in a sea of anatomical information, you can take a look at the learning strategy section and pick up some tricks of the trade that can help you stay afloat. Also, remember that variety is the spice of life (and the sanity when learning anatomy). How can you incorporate it in your studies? By changing your learning methods every once in a while - according to your preferences, of course! 

Kenhub quiz on a tablet

Once you get tired of reading an article about a certain topic and your gluteus maximus is numb, you can play the corresponding topic video and change your environment. For example, you can sit back, kick your feet up and enjoy a nice cup of tea or coffee while simultaneously learning. Does your brain start to feel foggy and groggy after a couple of hours doing that? Pick up your phone, go to a nearby park and start walking around while doing a quiz that tests your newly acquired knowledge. You can custom build it according to your desires and there is a wide variety, from MCQs to fill-in-the blanks. We also have an atlas waiting at your disposal, so what are you debating about? Go ahead, register for free and see for yourself!

However, it all comes down to you. There is no perfect resource that can suit every single need or satisfy every anatomy student on this planet. Kenhub is constantly improving its scope and quality of content, and there’s still several features we’re working on bringing you to make your learning even easier.  Until we reach perfection, we firmly believe it can still make your life a little bit easier and your frustrations less frequent. As you’ve seen, atlases also have their problems so weigh the pros and cons extremely carefully before diving into any resource. We hope this article has clarified some of your questions about ‘Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy 16th Edition’. Good luck, and happy studying!

Summary

Strengths of 'Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy':

  • Illustrations are accompanied by explanations and descriptions that provide details about structures.
  • Clinical boxes that make the concepts more tangible by placing them in a clinical context.
  • Tables that summarise key facts that you need to master.
  • Chapter overviews containing listed topics can be used as essay topics that can help you learn the material.
  • An app and online resources full of labelling quizzes and dissection figures.

Weaknesses of 'Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy':

  • The atlas consists of three heavy books, so it's not fun carrying them around.
  • The expensive price of the atlas and especially of the app is not justified by the provided resources.
  • Explanations are inconsistent and are not included for every illustration.
  • Standard resources, such as CTs and X-rays, that have been embraced by competitors are quite lacking from this atlas.
  • Terms are in Latin without a corresponding English interpretation, while the explanations are in English. This mismatch makes anatomy learning quite difficult because structures and their descriptions are taught/learned in the same language.
Show references

Article, Review, Layout:

  • Adrian Rad
  • Molly Smith

Illustrators:

  • 'Sobotta Atlas of Human Anatomy vs. Kenhub' table - Sami Dai

Extras:

  • Reviewed edition: 16th
  • Review date: 21/03/2019
© Unless stated otherwise, all content, including illustrations are exclusive property of Kenhub GmbH, and are protected by German and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.

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