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Book Review: The Reproductive System at a Glance

12 December 2011
Appeared in BioNews 637

The Reproductive System at a Glance

By Professor Linda Heffner and Professor Danny Schust

Published by Wiley-Blackwell

ISBN-10: 1405194529, ISBN-13: 978-1405194525

Buy this book from Amazon UK

'The Reproductive System at a Glance' by Professor Linda Heffner and Professor Danny Schust

As a biomedical research scientist recently returned to university to retrain as a medic, I am very much the target audience for the re-issued academic textbook 'The Reproductive System at a Glance'.

Aimed predominately at medical students or junior doctors, it is organised into two parts, the first covering normal human reproduction and the second providing an overview of human reproductive disorders. Each chapter is presented as a single double-page spread of text, generally combined with one or two diagrams or tables.

The emphasis is on brevity, and as such there is no introduction or overview, which I felt could have been beneficial to readers who are relatively new to the subject or those not familiar with the layout and structure of the 'At a Glance' series. The narrative thus launches directly into Part I's opening chapter on the pituitary gland. Although the chapters are divided in to helpful subsections, I felt that some of these were overlong and could have been made more accessible by further subheadings. This is the case for the chapter for the chapter on secondary amenorrhoea (when women who have had previously normal menstrual cycles stop having periods).

The text itself is detailed, informative and very readable, despite its complex content. Technical terms and the occasional key phrase (for example 'galactorrhoea describes the secretion of breast-milk in states unassociated with nursing') are usefully emphasised using bold text. The language, however, assumes a considerable degree of familiarity with medical and biological terminology, restricting the readership to healthcare or biomedical science undergraduates and professionals.

The information provided on each topic is a detailed summary rather than an in-depth account. For example, the chapter on testicular tumours focuses only on the most common type, germ-cell tumours, providing an outline of the different subtypes and their main characteristics and associated secreted tumour markers. There is a brief discussion of useful parameters for diagnosis in high-risk patients and a short description of the usual treatment course and outcome and short sections follow on epidemiology and molecular biology. There is, however, detail on the histology of these malignancies; staging of tumours; or disease management.

The diagrams are for the most part clear and a helpful addition. The schematic timeline depicting how the stage at which the embryo splits to form twins affects the subsequent development of the twin embryos is particularly well laid-out. However, the diagrams and tables do not have legends and so frequently require careful reading of the accompanying text in order to achieve a thorough understanding of what they are depicting. In some cases, I struggled even after reading the relevant chapter, as abbreviations are sometimes not defined within the chapter. There are also occasions where the diagrams are not even given a title describing what they are depicting (for example, the flow charts in Chapter 30 and 38 are not labelled), which I felt was an unhelpful oversight.

In addition to updating the text to reflect the current state-of-knowledge and extending the scope to cover a greater spectrum of pregnancy complications and breast diseases, the new edition has had the notable addition of a section of multiple-choice questions at the end to provide an additional learning aid. Four questions are provided on the content of each chapter, and those covering Part II often take the form of a case study description for which you are asked to provide the appropriate diagnosis, or questioned on important parameters to consider when making a diagnosis.

I thought this was a helpful tool for reviewing and applying the knowledge gained from what is, overall, a very good revision guide or quick reference book for those with a reasonable existing grasp on the complexities of the human reproductive system.

Buy The Reproductive System at a Glance from Amazon UK.

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