Musings and observations of a literature professor with a penchant for things medical as he follows a group of first-year med students taking human anatomy, a course that includes dissecting cadavers. Carter (Eckerd College), a bioethicist who volunteers in an emergency-room trauma unit, has a lively curiosity about the human body and how it works. To satisfy this, to learn more about the mysteries of life and death, and most important, to discover what happens to a body donated to science (his father had willed his body to medical research some years before), he spent 16 weeks with students in the human anatomy lab at Emory University in Atlanta. Two of the students gave him permission to follow them closely as they thoroughly explored an embalmed human body, and Carter at times became somewhat more than a mere observer, getting to poke his fingers into a heart and hold a lung in his hands. While no great insights about life's mysteries or the meaning of death are to be found here, the sights and smells of the lab, the sheer hard work of dissection, as well as the emotions of the student are all forcefully presented. What Carter notes about the respect with which cadavers are treated, and thus how his father's body was probably handled, is so comforting to him that he decides at the end to donate his own body to an anatomy lab. Interspersed throughout the text are 29 strangely beautiful anatomical illustrations from De humani corporis fabrica by Andreas Vesalius (1543), to which Carter has added his own explanatory captions. Although its author seems to have had a grander purpose in mind, the book's real value is in its clear depiction of what medical students must do to learn human anatomy.
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