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Burton J, Rutty R, eds. (£55.00.) Arnold, 2001. ISBN 0 340 76420 1.
Didactic information in a textbook cannot substitute for practical experience in gaining skill and dexterity in the performance of autopsies. However, the editors have produced a commendable syllabus, making the most of the potential of a textbook in this area. This text is almost unique in this respect; it should be of major interest to trainees, but also presents useful reference material for established practitioners.
The first five chapters cover essential preparatory information for the autopsy, starting with the history and comments on the future of where autopsies are going. Autopsies and the law are then covered, in up to date and comprehensive detail (although the detail is likely to be UK specific). The ethical and religious aspects of autopsies are adequately covered. There then follows a valuable chapter on biological safety, which links through to a following chapter on autopsy suite design and construction.
The group of chapters that follow (5–8) cover the practical conduct of routine autopsies, which are well described and illustrated.
The next group of chapters (9–12) cover specialist dissection and circumstances, such as examination of the nervous system, and fetal, perinatal, infant, and maternal autopsies.
There then follows a group of chapters (13-15) that are a very valuable source of information on ancillary investigations such as toxicology, microbiology, and even immunological analyses.
The final group of chapters (16–18) round off the syllabus by discussing clinical demonstration, autopsy report formulation and teaching, reconstruction of the body, and the role of the autopsy in clinical audit. It might have been slightly more logical if reconstruction of the body had been included with the routine autopsy techniques.
Allowing for the limitations that a textbook cannot teach practical technique, that chapters on autopsy and the law are jurisdiction specific, and that information on autopsy consent procedures is liable to become out of date as the regulatory environment moves on, it is difficult to conceive of a better syllabus within a textbook of this size. I warmly commend it as a bench book in all histopathology departments, whether trainees are present or not. Even for experienced practitioners, there is useful information on ancillary investigations, and advice on autopsy suite design of the calibre presented here is difficult to find elsewhere in any single source.