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Key Topics in Gastroenterology. Edited by Anderson SHC, Davies G, Dalton HR. (Pp 286; £21.95.) Oxford: Bios Scientific Publishers, 1999. ISBN 1859962815.
Simon Anderson has put a lot of work into this book. He writes clearly, concisely and well. But, does the world need another handbook on gastroenterology?
What is the role of professional books, large or small, nowadays? Down at your local bookshop, Delia Smith will tell you how to make an omelette, Charlie Dimmock how to build that water feature; there's no real alternative. So, in the hospital who will tell you about haemachromatosis? The professional book has always held pride of place as the font of all knowledge. Owning such book gave peace of mind, but this was at a hefty price and that has always been the problem. How often will people keep paying the ransom for the latest edition, or the newest series? It is not surprising that cutting edge books on cimetidine still adorn many bookshelves. Time to mention the “I” word.
If anything, the problem currently for professional books is that knowledge is cheap, plentiful and easily obtained. Case reviews, subject overviews and clinical slides are painfully easy to obtain through the Internet. They are free and bang up to date. A 1999 review on haemachromatosis can be found and printed off within 15 minutes. Game set and match to the Internet, Woolworth vouchers to the poor runner up, books. Not quite. Whereas books are concise, tidy, handy, and look good, the Internet is disparate and its out-pourings are a mess. Books have editors, the Internet doesn't. Today, to be worth buying, a book must address either a very specialised audience or a very broad one. A book must gather together information that is difficult to obtain elsewhere in a coherent form (e.g. clinical classifications and research scoring systems, etc.), or that is timeless (clinical manifestations). The Key Topics series does reflect some of these qualities, though weakly.
The stated church for Key Topics in Gastroenterology is senior house officers (SHO) and registrars preparing for the MRCP and all doctors wishing to keep up to date—the usual publishers' non-specific audience of anyone that can walk upright, do joined up writing and has a medical degree. The format is lists of key points, many of which are expanded to short paragraphs. Topics are presented alphabetically which leads to a strange contents page with Nausea and vomiting coming before Neuroendocrine tumours and after Menetrier's disease, but that is a quirk of theKey Topics series and of little importance. All the major areas of gastroenterology are covered and although I wouldn't agree with several of the statements made, these areas are covered well. The section on small bowel transplantation lacks any great substance, however, though it does at least serve to highlight the fact that such work is being carried out. So, who should buy it?
Dr Anderson has used up to date references throughout, but as he and his collaborators point out, this book is not intended to be a complete textbook on gastroenterology. If you need a reference book, gastroenterologist or general physician alike, this is not for you. Go and look it up on the Internet. If you are a gastroenterology house-officer, SHO or registrar consider it, although you should look around first, particularly at the Little Brown series. If you are a non-GI SHO you're probably better off buying a cardiology or neurology book. The case for buying this book would be stronger if it provided more definite clinical paradigms for how to approach the GI patient. £21 is still a lot of money for something that doesn't provide immediate gratification; however, in these days when even theSun is buying books for schools, if pharmaceutical companies changed their mission from “chicken korma for all by 2000” to something of more tangible benefit, perhaps this book would reach a wider audience as it should.
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