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Surgery of the Anus, Rectum and Colon

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Surgery of the Anus, Rectum and Colon. 2nd ed. Vol 1 & 2. Edited by Keighley MRB, Williams NS. (Pp 2872; illustrated; £285.) United Kingdom: Harcourt Brace, 1999. ISBN 0 70202 335 3.

The last dinosaur disappeared from Earth over 66 million years ago, wiped out in some cataclysm that changed the world and its climate for ever.

Mankind gradually evolved, competing in a hostile environment, winning because of brain and hands. Knowledge and writing gave power; mankind strode on, erect, dignified. The pinnacle of hand–eye coordination, thoughtful and wise, stepped forth the surgeon.

Evolution continued, specialising, improving, learning, until from the chrysalis emerged the ultimate epiphany, a colorectal surgeon. Hungry, needing to learn, to understand the background, the proud evolution, the way of the tribe.

How to learn? Vast, illuminated, biblical scroll, or virtual, instant, ephemeral quantum world? Wonderful, musky smell, comforting weight, swishing flick of page, light low, old knowledge enters old eyes, stimulates old satisfaction, reveals new comprehension. But taut skin, restless energy, young ambition seeks flickering screen, a virtual world. A conundrum.

I am old, and thinning; a user of computers, but no bedfellow. At the frontier, I use journals and the library; for reading, smaller books, concise, portable, incisive. However, for reference, to support an opinion, pursue a prejudice, grind an axe, to gainsay, then a large, lovingly written, luxuriously arranged book—a book and a half (indeed, two books); beautiful, admired, essential—just such books as these.

But I feel a gulf. I sit on the written side of that gulf, but close by I see a new generation, turning away, evolving further. Will they want such a book? There is no CD-ROM. Will they use other ways?

Although science changes rapidly, society and culture take much longer to adjust. Reading and book owning are as much cultural as they are efficient means of imparting knowledge, pleasantly, savouringly, to be admired also on the shelf. I am confident they will read, they will own books, big books, books such as these books—fascinating, informative, a congratulation, and not the last dinosaur.