Gray's anatomy

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


An illustration from the 1918 edition

Henry Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body (or Gray's Anatomy as it has commonly been shortened) is an English-language human anatomy textbook widely regarded as a classic work on the subject.

The book was first published under the title Gray's Anatomy: Descriptive and Surgical in the United Kingdom in 1858, and the following year in the United States. While studying the anatomical effects of infectious diseases, Gray contracted smallpox from his dying nephew and died shortly after the publication of the 1860 second edition, at the age of 34. Work on his much-praised book was continued by others and on November 24, 2004, the 39th British edition was released.

Origins of Gray's Anatomy

Henry Gray

The British anatomist Henry Gray was born in 1827. He studied the development of the endocrine glands and spleen and in 1853 was appointed Lecturer on Anatomy at St. George's Hospital Medical School in London. In 1855 he approached his colleague Dr Henry Vandyke Carter with his idea to produce an anatomy text book for medical students. His death came just 3 years after the publication of his Anatomy Descriptive and Surgical.

British and United States editions

Between 1860 and 1880, seven editions of the text book were published in Great Britain, with the 9th edition published in 1880. It was during this period that development of the book appears to have branched with the publishing of the first dedicated U.S. edition of the book, possibly in 1878 (details on this are scarce and hard to come by). While development of the British edition of the text continued (and new British editions continued to appear), different U.S. editions were also published.

The 1878 U.S. edition appears to have started edition numbering afresh (despite the British version's prior publication in the U.S.). This "first" U.S. edition roughly corresponded to the eighth British edition, with consecutively numbered further U.S. editions appearing thereafter. This led to the existence, for many years, of two main "flavours" or "branches" of Gray's Anatomy: the U.S. and the British one. This can easily cause misunderstandings and confusion, especially when quoting from or trying to purchase a certain edition.

Most recent available editions

An illustration from the 1918 edition.

As of September 2007, the latest edition of Gray's Anatomy is the 39th edition, published on November 25, 2004 in the UK and November 24, 2004 in the U.S., which is also available in CD-ROM format. The publisher is Churchill Livingstone in the UK while it is C.V. Mosby in the U.S., and is published in New York City. The two books are almost identical, with minor changes made to take into account differences in British and American terminology (e.g. Adrenaline vs Epinephrine).

According to the publisher's website, the 40th edition is due for release in August 2008. http://www.intl.elsevierhealth.com/catalogue/title.cfm?ISBN=9780443066832

A version of Gray's Anatomy called Gray's Anatomy for Students has also been published. It was published on October 5, 2004 in the United Kingdom and October 15, 2004 in the United States, by Churchill Livingstone. However, it should be noted that this is an entirely new book, written from scratch, sharing only the name of the classic.

Older editions of the book continue to be reprinted and sold. On the World Wide Web, there are many offers for what seem to be reprints of the 1901 (probably U.S.) edition. Although such prints may serve artistic uses because their companion illustrations and anatomical cross sections are renowned for their rustic and often haunting presentation, they no longer represent up-to-date anatomical knowledge.

Henry Gray wrote the original version of Gray's Anatomy with an audience of medical students and physicians in mind, especially surgeons. For many decades however, precisely because Gray's textbook became such a classic, successive editors made major efforts to preserve its position as possibly the most authoritative text on the subject in the English language. Toward this end, a long term strategy appears to have been to have the book contain a fully comprehensive account of the anatomical and medical knowledge available at the time of publication of each edition. The senior editor of the latest edition of Gray's Anatomy is Professor Susan Standring, who is Head of the Department of Anatomy and Human Sciences at King's College London.

Given the explosion of medical knowledge in the 20th century, it is easily appreciated that this led to a vast expansion of the book, which threatened to collapse under its own weight in a metaphorical and physical sense. From the 35th edition onward, increased efforts have been made to reverse this trend and keep the book readable by students. Nevertheless, the 38th edition contained 2092 pages in large format. This edition still might best serve as an "ultimate reference" and has been described as the Bible of anatomy.

Newer editions of Gray's Anatomy (and even several older ones) are (still) considered to be about the most comprehensive and detailed books of such type on the subject.

Cultural impact

The television medical drama Grey's Anatomy name is a play on the textbook. Another work to have its title derived from the book is Spalding Gray's 1996 film Gray's Anatomy, which was directed by Steven Soderbergh and covered alternative medicine.

See also

External links and references

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