Cover of The Human Body
Book 51 Biology 1963
The Genetic Code Fifty Short Science Fiction Tales
3 spaceships-and-suns
Asimov fan
3 spaceships-and-suns
Target reader

Bones, muscles, organs, skin

—what we are inside and out—is described in exact and lucid detail by a famous scientist-writer. Isaac Asimov explains the structure and operation of the human body from the basic skeleton to the mysterious and awesome reproductive system. The Human Body is a superbly up-to-date and informative study of our anatomy and physiology—a work that makes science understandable and exciting to the layman. Illustrative drawings by the noted artist Anthony Ravielli highlight the text.

“This author is one of the few scientists I know who has the gift of being able to simplify the complex.…Aided by the superior line drawings of Anthony Ravielli, he makes it as easy to understand the workings of the human body as of, say, an automobile engine.…Absorbing.”

This has proven to be one of Asimov’s most endurable non-fiction books, remaining in print through the 1960’s and beyond. In fact, new copies are still readily available as of the time of writing (2010), although it appears to be officially “out of print.”

It is, in fact, one of Asimov’s better efforts. (Perhaps the fact that he had it proofed by his former colleagues at Boston University’s medical school helped. One of them, for example, noted the fact that he’d put the spleen on the wrong side of the body and never let him live it down.) It doesn’t substitute for a real physiology text, of course, but as a general introduction to the human body for the average lay reader it is excellent.

Strangely, the illustrations are the book’s only real weakness. I say “strangely” because they are, in fact, themselves excellent. They do not, however, mesh well with the text, and they do not provide a detailed view of some of the information Asimov provides. For example, there is no diagram of the human skeleton with the names of the bones to the side and arrows connecting things up.

Asimov was, of course, a wordsmith and himself not very visually minded and not inclined to take the time to lavishly illustrate his books. He preferred to leave such matters to the publisher as much as possible (as opposed to indexes, which he absolutely insisted on doing himself). The result here is a relatively minor flaw in an otherwise virtually flawless work.

And the text is, indeed, virtually flawless. Its age shows a bit in some of the off-hand remarks Asimov makes about women, but the text is complete, clear, smooth and flowing—Asimov at the top of his form. One is not inclined to refer to a book on human physiology as a page-turner, but this one is, and one ends with a breathless realization of just how much one has learned while reading it.

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