Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Move Over, Igor! Dr. Frankenstein's Human Body Book by Richard Walker

Subtitled The Monstrous Truth about How Your Body Works, Dorling-Kindersley's Dr. Frankenstein's Human Body Book mines the Dr. Frankenstein, er, vein as a hook to entice middle readers into a fascinating exploration of the human body. Bound in a big, poofy blood-red binding with a three-dimensional cutaway of the heart in the center, the entire book purports to be the notebook of Viktor Frankenstein for the edification of his new young assistant (just ignore Igor) in his latest, er, "body building" exercise.

In actuality, the volume is a clever junior anatomy guide, illustrated with clear color photos and drawings (as well as MRIs, angiograms, bone scans, SPECT [single photon emission computed tomography] scans, and other high technology images), conventionally presented by systems--skeletal, muscular, digestive, vascular, urinary, and central nervous systems, to name a few--with each broken down into appropriate organs, tissues, cells, organelles, and DNA molecules. Displayed in large-format, double-paged spreads printed on sturdy stock similar to that used for board books, the illustrations are sharp and detailed, with many cutaways to show the workings of organs such as the stomach, kidney, and brain. Text is straight-forward and not too technical, with major terms recurring in the glossary, but scientific terms are used where appropriate, such as the Latin names of the bones and muscles. Inset illustrations and text boxes, in the familiar Dorling Kindersley style, are used to good effect to point up important information, all set off in headings done up in an appropriate Gothic font.

In the midst of the technical information, body humor is also abundant, in the form of notebook entries written by the mad scientist himself, who apparently is crazed enough to enjoy the occasional surgical use of wordplay. Here's his note for Day 12, during the assembly of their creature's ears:

There's something in the air. I've been picking up the vibrations. Assistant has fine-tuned the hair cells, tightened the eardrum, and oiled the ossicles. Says everything's balanced. Hear! Hear!

All in all, Dr. Frankenstein's Human Body Book does a monstrously good job of presenting the awe-inspiring structure and workings of the human body, right down to the macrophages which scour our alveoli to keep us respirating, expirating, and being inspired by the wonder of everything working together to form a living, thinking being. Or as Dr. Viktor himself might put it (if he were the publisher's pitchman), this is an electrifying presentation of anatomy and physiology for the middle reader at a monstrously reasonable price that won't frighten young creatures away.

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