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“Of the making of many books there is no end and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” We spend too much time reading—or rather we are expected to take in vast volumes of information from text. Not just the written word in books but from journals and more and more directly from the screen. Few of us have time to sit down to read systematically, and most of us scan contents pages, chapter titles, and abstracts. We take in “new knowledge” more by accident than design, and all forms of the written word compete with each other.
Books have a historical advantage over what we still regard as more ephemeral sources of information—journals and the Internet. Books are portable and we like to think that the effort that goes into writing them is a measure of the quality and authority of their contents. But how confident can we be that this is the case?
Peer review has become the test of quality of original articles, and we take most notice of papers published in journals that are most rigorous in this respect. Books on the other hand rely for their credibility on the reputation of their authors. Things are not so clear when it comes to new multiauthor compilations, such as Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition in Clinical Practice. Collecting together and publishing papers and reviews from international conferences must be commercially profitable for some publishers, and worthwhile for many authors, even though the price of such books is often extraordinary. This book is not the result of a meeting but brings together chapters from a variety of eminent paediatric gastroenterologists from around the world. Its editor intends it to present a “clear and useful summary of the most relevant new facts in molecular biology and genetics, as well as recently acquired information, in conjunction with a practical approach to pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition”.
At first sight the book has no structure, containing 33 chapters with titles as diverse as “New knowledge about protein” and “Microorganisms administered for the benefit of the host” (sounds like a good way to poison your enemies at the Christmas party), alongside more familiar titles such as “Short bowel syndromes”, “Celiac disease” and “Food allergy”. It seems to fall somewhere between a textbook and a multiauthor collection; it not suitable for undergraduates and it is not the book to reach for when faced with a difficult clinical problem. Its layout and contents assume a basic understanding of the subject, and a familiarity with areas that are topical. It is most likely to be of value to specialists in paediatric gastroenterology and nutrition who wish to keep up to date.
At 854 pages, assuming a reading speed of a page per minute, this book represents 14.2 hours of CPD. In a perfect world I should read it before I pass judgement. Even though I am keen to clock up maximum CPD points, I admit that I have not read this book from cover to cover. However, I would not go as far as Sydney Smith, cleric and wit, who confessed that “he never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so!”
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