Highlights from NUS Libraries’ collection – The Fabric of the Human Body

One of the prized possessions of the NUS Medical library is the, The Fabric of the Human Body, an annotated translation the 16th century book, De humani corporis fabrica by Andreas Vesalius.

The original was published in Latin 500 years ago when Vesalius, considered the father of modern anatomy, was just 28 years old. It was the most detailed and accurately illustrated atlas of the human body of its time because very few physicians dissected human bodies before the late 15th century.

It is extolled as “probably the most influential of all medical works” by The Oxford Medical Companion and “the greatest medical work ever printed by Sir William Osler.

In today’s era of highly precise medical illustrations and digital cadavers, this book still resonates with readers in the 21st century for many reasons.

It is now available in English for the very first time so knowledge of Latin is no longer required. The translation of the book is hailed as a scholarly achievement in itself and is largely a result of twenty years of painstaking work by Northwestern University Professors Emeritus Daniel H. Garrison and Malcolm H. Hast.

Vesalius was a courageous and unconventional man who obtained bodies of executed criminals and robbed graves for dissection. He questioned the authority on anatomy then, Galen, whose text was largely based on the dissection of animals. The dialogue and footnotes in the translation preserves Vesalius’ account and captures the tensions inherent in describing science in 16th century Renaissance when scientific advances were made in many fields.

The illustrations provided by the more than 200 woodcuts in the original are now available in the new book as high-resolution digital scans which have unprecedented clarity.

The book looks like a modern textbook with easy referencing to previous chapters and editions and has explanation for all its diagrams. Weighing a massive 16 kg, this two-volume tome is the heaviest book in the Medical Library collection.

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The frontispiece On the Fabric of the Human Body: Dissection by Vesalius as his students observed.

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The 2014 edition in English with annotation is in two volumes and weighs 16kg.

The fabric of the human body: an annotated translation of the 1543 and 1555 editions / by Daniel H. Garrison, Malcolm H. Hast is available at Medical Reference 7 Call No: QM25 Ves 2014

R Sukanya Naidu

Medical Resource Librarian

NUS Libraries 110C team

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