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Gray’s anatomy, probably the most famous medical textbook in the world, has been continuously in print for 150 years. Dr Ruth Richardson was invited to write the historical introduction to the 150th anniversary edition, following which she has written this fascinating book, in which she sets out to describe how the first edition of Gray’s was produced “from gestation to reviews”. As one would expect from this author, she does much more than this.
We are given a taste of her enthusiasm for her subject in the introduction, where she describes the dedication page of a first edition, lovingly inscribed and decorated by its owner, John Fawthrop MRCS. She then introduces a theme that recurs throughout the book; that although Gray’s is generally considered to be the work of one man, it could not have been written without the illustrations by Henry Vandyke Carter who should be, but never has been, given as much credit as Gray.
There are 10 chapters, each with a single word as the main title, the latter five also dated, clearly indicating the progress of the story within.
“Words” brings to life a picture of St George’s Hospital, with Kinnerton Street Medical School and the surrounding Victorian London. Very little personal biographical detail concerning Gray has survived, possibly as his death from confluent smallpox would have meant that all his effects would have been burnt, but Dr Richardson has made the very best of what is available, taking him through medical school, winning prizes and publishing his book The spleen. …