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Book ClubBooks for A&P Professors

The A&P Professor Book Club is a collection of books useful and interesting to teachers of human anatomy & physiology curated by Kevin Patton.

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The Gift of Pain

by Paul Brand & Philip Yancey

Originally titled The Gift Nobody Wants, this book is the story of Dr. Paul Brand. Brand grew up in a family of British medical missionaries in India, then went to London for medical school. There, he became fascinated with the sense of pain—and was surprised how little science knew about it. His story, then, is a life-long quest to understand the physiological, clinical, and human aspects of pain.

The title is based on Brand’s realization that pain is an important alarm mechanism that protects us. It’s annoying—sometimes anguishingly so—to get our attention and hold it when we are sick our injured. Pain thus alerts to injury so that we can avoid additional injury and so that we can avoid disrupting the healing process. Brand’s life work with leprosy patients (and later, diabetic patients) who feel little or no pain in areas of their body helped him understand that the lack of pain can be a curse—thereby casting pain as truly a gift.

Besides the interesting life story of Dr. Brand and his fascinating exploration of the vital function of pain, this book is an inspiration to any health professional (or health professional in training). Brand again and again emphasizes the importance of recognizing the humanity of any sick or injured person we care for by embracing our own humanity moment by moment.

I think any A&P teacher or A&P student can benefit by reading The Gift of Pain. In fact, I’ve assigned this to my own students for reading in the past.

This recommendation was made in the Preview to Episode 39 of The A&P Professor podcast.

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Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning

by James Lang

Research into how we learn has opened the door for using cognitive theory—that is, what I usually call learning science—to facilitate better student learning. But that’s easier said than done.  A lot of books about cognitive theory introduce radical but impractical theories, failing to make the connection to the classroom. In Small Teaching, James Lang presents a strategy for improving student learning with a series of modest but powerful changes that make a big difference—many of which can be put into practice in a single class period. These strategies are designed to bridge the chasm between primary research and the classroom environment in a way that can be implemented by any faculty in any discipline, and even integrated into pre-existing teaching techniques. Learn, for example:

  • How does one become good at retrieving knowledge from memory?
  • How does making predictions now help us learn in the future?
  • How do instructors instill fixed or growth mindsets in their students?

Each chapter introduces a basic concept in cognitive theory, explains when and how it should be employed, and provides firm examples of how the intervention has been or could be used in a variety of disciplines. Small teaching techniques include brief classroom or online learning activities, one-time interventions, and small modifications in course design or communication with students.

I like the fact that this book is a quick and easy read, explaining important ideas very clearly. A&P professors get a lot of practical tips for making small changes to our courses that can powerful effects on student success.

This recommendation was made in the Preview to Episode 38 of The A&P Professor podcast.

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Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk

by Massimo Pigliucci

More and more parents are refusing to vaccinate their children for fear it causes autism, though this link can been consistently disproved. And about 40 percent of Americans believe that the threat of global warming is exaggerated, despite almost universal consensus in the scientific community that manmade climate change is real.

Why do people believe bunk? And what causes them to embrace such pseudoscientific beliefs and practices? Noted skeptic Massimo Pigliucci separates the fact from the fantasy in a really entertaining exploration of the nature of science, the borderlands of fringe science, and—borrowing a famous phrase from philosopher Jeremy Bentham—the nonsense on stilts.

Presenting case studies on a number of controversial topics, Pigliucci cuts through the ambiguity surrounding science to look more closely at how science is conducted, how it is disseminated, how it is interpreted, and what it means to our society. The result is in many ways a “taxonomy of bunk” that explores how science and culture intersect. As I’ve mentioned in previous episodes, such intersections of science and culture are brought up in my own teaching of human anatomy & physiology. So this book is especially helpful for clarifying how that can be done effectively.

No one—not the public intellectuals in the culture wars between defenders and detractors of science nor the believers of pseudoscience themselves—is spared Pigliucci’s cutting and thorough analysis.

In a nutshell, Nonsense on Stilts is a timely reminder of the need to maintain a line between expertise and assumption. Yeah, it’s timely—even though it was first published almost a decade ago!

This recommendation was made in the Preview to Episode 37 of The A&P Professor podcast.

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The Core Concepts of Physiology: A New Paradigm for Teaching Physiology

by Joel Michael, William Cliff, Jenny McFarland, Harold Modell, Ann Wright

This book offers physiology teachers a new approach to teaching their subject that will lead to increased student understanding and retention of the most important ideas. By integrating the core concepts of physiology into individual courses and across the entire curriculum, it provides students with tools that will help them learn more easily and fully understand the physiology content they are asked to learn.

The authors present examples of how the core concepts can be used to teach individual topics, design learning resources, assess student understanding, and structure a physiology curriculum.

Although focusing specifically on physiology, I think it’s useful for those of us teaching combined anatomy and physiology. Besides giving a good foundation of concepts to be used in the physiology parts of the A&P course, it lays out the principles of teaching in a concept-based approach.

This recommendation was made in the Preview to Episode 35 of The A&P Professor podcast.

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Members of the American Physiological Society click here for a free digital copy of this book.

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The Physician

by Noah Gordon

Although this is a work of historical fiction, it contains a lot of factual information about what was known (or not known) about human structure, function, pathology, and health care during the European Dark Ages / Islamic Golden Age. So it will be of great interest to most A&P professors, I think. Even if you’re not reading it for the science history, it’s a great story.

An orphan leaves Dark Ages London to study medicine in Persia in this “rich” and “vivid” historical novel from a New York Times–bestselling author (The New York Times).

A child holds the hand of his dying mother and is terrified, aware something is taking her. Orphaned and given to an itinerant barber-surgeon, Rob Cole becomes a fast-talking swindler, peddling a worthless medicine. But as he matures, his strange gift—an acute sensitivity to impending death—never leaves him, and he yearns to become a healer.

Arab madrassas are the only authentic medical schools, and he makes his perilous way to Persia. Christians are barred from Muslim schools, but claiming he is a Jew, he studies under the world’s most renowned physician, Avicenna (Ibn Sina). How the woman who is his great love struggles against her only rival—medicine—makes a riveting modern classic.

This recommendation was made in the Preview to Episode 34 of The A&P Professor podcast.

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Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution

by Jonathan B. Losos

A friend from my long-ago zoo-keeping days, Jonathan Losos has produced a major new book overturning our assumptions about how evolution works.

Earth’s natural history is full of fascinating instances of convergence: phenomena like eyes and wings and tree-climbing lizards that have evolved independently, multiple times. But evolutionary biologists also point out many examples of contingency, cases where the tiniest change—a random mutation or an ancient butterfly sneeze—caused evolution to take a completely different course. What role does each force really play in the constantly changing natural world? Are the plants and animals that exist today, and we humans ourselves, inevitabilities or evolutionary flukes? And what does that say about life on other planets?

Jonathan Losos reveals what the latest breakthroughs in evolutionary biology can tell us about one of the greatest ongoing debates in science. He takes us around the globe to meet the researchers who are solving the deepest mysteries of life on Earth through their work in experimental evolutionary science. Losos himself is one of the leaders in this exciting new field, and he illustrates how experiments with guppies, fruit flies, bacteria, foxes, and field mice, along with his own work with anole lizards on Caribbean islands, are rewinding the tape of life to reveal just how rapid and predictable evolution can be.

Improbable Destinies will change the way we think and talk about evolution. Losos’s insights into natural selection and evolutionary change have far-reaching applications for protecting ecosystems, securing our food supply, and fighting off harmful viruses and bacteria. This compelling narrative offers a new understanding of ourselves and our role in the natural world and the cosmos.

I think we A&P professors should be up to date in the current and emerging thinking in evolution to be fully informed about human biology.

This recommendation was made in the Preview to Episode 33 of The A&P Professor podcast. It’s a story (really, a series of stories) well told by a guy who has always been a great storyteller.

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The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell

by Rachel Herz

Why do some people like a certain aroma and others hate it? Is smell personal or cultural? How does it affect our choices and our actions?

The Scent of Desire is the definitive psychological study of the importance of smell in our lives, from nourishment to procreation to our relationships with other people and the world at large. Located in the same part of the brain that processes emotion, memory, and motivation, this most essential of senses is imperative to our physical and emotional well-being. It was crucial to our ancestors’ existence and it remains so today, profoundly shaping our emotional, physical, and even sexual lives.

One of the world’s leading experts on the psychology of smell, Rachel Herz investigates how smell functions, what purpose it serves, and how inextricably it is linked to our survival in this compelling, surprising, delightfully informative appreciation of the wonders of this sadly neglected sense.

This recommendation was made in the Preview to Episode 31 of The A&P Professor podcast. It’s one of my favorite books related to A&P. It has a lot of interesting biology of smell and olfactory perception and is a fun read!

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by Richard Restak

What if there were a pill that could change you from an introvert to the exuberant extrovert you always wanted to be? A capsule to make you more assertive, creative, or intelligent? What is you could “design” your own brain? Who would you be? Only a few years ago such possibilities seemed the stuff of science fiction, but in today’s laboratory remarkable new advances in brain research are making such transformations a reality.

In Receptors, famed neuropsychiatrist Richard Restek leads us on an exhilarating–and sometimes disquieting–scientific adventure into this bold new frontier. He shows us how break-through discoveries are enabling neuroscientists to decode the mysteries of the human brain, holding out the exciting possibility of relieving, and ultimately even curing, conditions such as memory loss, depression, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, and even Alzheimer’s disease. He documents the likelihood that in the very near future, it will be possible to alter our own brains, to choose the personality we want. How we cope with such godlike power is one of the fascinating questions he poses in this challenging and thought-provoking book.

From the levitating ointments of medieval “witches” to the magic mushrooms of southern Mexico, from the LSD of the psychedelic age to the latest discoveries of today’s psychopharmacologists, Dr. Restak provides a vivid and lucid account of humanity’s unceasing effort to understand and harness the powers of the mind–and the possibility that solutions to some of the brain’s deepest mysteries may be close at hand.

This recommendation was made in the Preview to Episode 31 of The A&P Professor podcast. Also, listen to Episode 29 for Kevin’s update in how receptors are involved in forming memories. I used to require my A&P students to read this book—and they loved it! You will, too!

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The Silent Teacher: The Gift of Body Donation

by Dr. Claire Smith

One single body donation could affect the lives of around ten million patients. Body donation is an amazing gift which enables doctors and healthcare professionals to understand the human body. Surgeons can refine existing surgical skills and develop new procedures to create better treatment for you. Dr Claire Smith goes through every aspect of donating a body, clearly describing what happens to a body once it has been donated, how it is used, how bodies are reassembled and then placed in coffins before cremation.

My first thought in reading this book is how my family may learn how the bodies of some of our loved ones—who were human body donors—were part of medical science and education. And to better understand the decision I’ve made to become a human body donor. But as I read the book, I couldn’t help but think how valuable this would be to A&P teachers, whether do human dissection or not, to help their students understand how anatomy is investigated and how medical and other health professionals are trained in some institutions. I think it’s also beneficial for A&P students, especially those looking forward to their first experience with a human body donor.

This recommendation was made in the Preview to Episode 30 of The A&P Professor podcast. Also, listen to Episode 29 for Kevin’s conversation with Aaron Fried, in which Fried discusses human body donors as our silent teachers.

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot


Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance. This phenomenal New York Times bestseller tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew.

This book was recommended by Aaron Fried in Episode 30 of The A&P Professor podcast.

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The Anatomist

by Bill Hayes

The classic medical text known as Gray’s Anatomy is one of the most famous books ever created. And is well known to most A&P teachers.

In this adept work of creative nonfiction, Bill Hayes uncovers the extraordinary lives of the seminal volume’s author and illustrator while providing a “scalpel’s-eye” view into the ingenuity of the human body. It’s a story that many A&P teachers will enjoy—and find that it deepens their appreciation of anatomical illustration in general. It certainly will give context and background that can be shared with A&P students.

I was most fascinated with the story of the Henry Vandyke Carter, the illustrator of Gray’s Anatomy. That story gave me even greater appreciation of the amazing quality and accuracy of the images in the original book.

This book has been around for a while, but its a timeless story that does not lose its value. Listen to Episode 29 of The A&P Professor podcast for Kevin’s conversation with Aaron Fried, in which Fried discusses this book in the context of human body donors and anatomical illustrations made from human specimens.

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Internet Surf and Turf-Revealed: The Essential Guide to Copyright, Fair Use, and Finding Media

by Barbara Waxer and Marsha Baum

Make sure you and your students understand whose turf they are on when they surf the Internet for media! This one-of-a kind book provides important, easy-to-understand information on copyright laws and the fair use doctrine as they relate to Internet media. You and your students will also learn how to search for public domain media.

Over the years, I’ve used this book time and again to make sure I’m doing things properly and to help my own students develop skills informed by academic integrity.

This book has been around for a while, but its lessons remain valuable  Listen to Episode 28 of The A&P Professor podcast for Kevin’s conversation with author Barbara Waxer, in which she answers questions about using media such as illustrations, videos, and other content specifically in A&P courses.

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Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide

by Yana Weinstein  Megan SumerackiOliver Caviglioli

Educational practice does not, for the most part, rely on research findings. Instead, there’s a preference for relying on our intuitions about what’s best for learning. But relying on intuition may be a bad idea for teachers and learners alike.

This accessible guide helps A&P teachers to integrate effective, research-backed strategies for learning into their classroom practice. The book explores exactly what constitutes good evidence for effective learning and teaching strategies, how to make evidence-based judgments instead of relying on intuition, and how to apply findings from cognitive psychology directly to the classroom.

Including real-life examples and case studies, FAQs, and a wealth of engaging illustrations to explain complex concepts and emphasize key points, the book is divided into four parts:

  • Evidence-based education and the science of learning
  • Basics of human cognitive processes
  • Strategies for effective learning
  • Tips for students and teachers.

Written by “The Learning Scientists” and fully illustrated by Oliver Caviglioli, Understanding How We Learn is a rejuvenating and fresh examination of cognitive psychology’s application to education. This is an essential read for all A&P professors, designed to convey the concepts of research to the reality of a teacher’s classroom.

Although general in scope—aimed at students and teachers of all levels and disciplines—this book’s advice is directly and easily applicable to the anatomy and/or physiology course. Listen to Episode 27 of The A&P Professor podcast for Kevin’s conversation with the book’s authors!

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Last updated: March 6, 2019 at 20:18 pm

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