Anatomies: A Cultural History of the Human Body by Hugh Aldersey-Williams

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In Hugh Aldersey-Williams' Anatomies:  A Cultural History of the Human Body (W. W. Norton & Company, 2013), he poses a quasi-cultural, and intentionally un-anatomical, rationale for his constant middle of the night urination troubles: he’s getting old. The book does not offer a detailed glimpse into any specific disease, nor does it follow any individual navigating through a disease process. However, Anatomies allows the reader, regardless of training or background, to enjoy humorous anecdotes that explain how our cultural interpretations of our bodies, and what disease can do to them, have been shaped for centuries.  

Aldersey-Williams makes known his disdain for doctors’ predilection to use overly obtuse medical definitions for body parts, like saying coxa for hip.  He flexes his wit and knowledge on some of the most complex of organs while seamlessly jumping from micro to macro levels of anatomical and cultural understanding.

While tackling the larger questions that researchers continue to disagree upon, such as what constitutes an organ, the author also poses questions mystifying and ridiculous in equal parts, asking how we join many other species in the act of grooming yet we are unique in our development of hairstyles. He allows you to draw from the experiences he has accumulated as a field researcher as he reports drawing limbs and organs from the formaldehyde confines of an anatomy lab, to sketches of live subjects, and onto the assessment of dancers’, and our own, physical limits. 

The book, much like a textbook sitting on the edge of a cadaver tank in the anatomy lab, is broken up by region and body part. When read through continuously, this layout can prove to be a little disjointed, but the separation of topics allows for a seamless re-entry into the text after prolonged periods of interruption. Anatomies will hardly provide direct insight into any one area, but opens avenues of thought into how we perceive ourselves, each other, and the most famous around us.— Salvatore Aiello 

Salvatore Aiello M.S. is a medical student at Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University. After graduating from University of Michigan, he found that his minor in writing had the most lasting utility in both his academic and creative pursuits. Salvatore has several scientific articles published in peer-reviewed journals and has contributed to the blog, In-Training. Beyond his coursework and writing, he is described as the Benevolent-Overlord of the Medical Humanities Club where he works with his colleagues to promotes resiliency in physicians and all healthcare professionals.