Top critical review
Difficult to use and riddled with editorial errors
on May 8, 2000
Robert Beverly Hale of Columbia University not only edited, but translated this work by Dr. Paul Richer, which was apparently advanced for its time. The same cannot be said today, even though the human body has not changed much in 100 years.
I used this book as my text in a formal class on artistic anatomy, in which we could select one or more of several artistic anatomy texts. Without the class to correct the confusion caused by the book, I would have been lost.
Although I was able to glean most of the necessary information from the text and illustrations, I was frequently confused by mislabeled diagrams and inconsistent translation of technical terms. A sharp-eyed editor would have caught most of these errors, including text that referred to the wrong plate numbers or the wrong figures within the plates. That a book could still be in print after 30 years -- Hale's translation is copyrighted 1971 -- without ever cleaning up such a mess in later editions is unconscionable.
Some of the problems, such as plate numbers mis-referenced in the text, could be bypassed to a large degree if the modern version of the book were not constrained by the format of the original. In the 1890s, technical constraints often led illustrations and typeset text to be printed on different presses, and thus to be grouped separately in the final book. Modern printing technology (as Edward Tufte has pointed out) is not so constrained, so the convention of sticking all the plates in the back is nothing more than an impediment to use. I found myself reading Richer/Hale with my left index finger as a live bookmark in the text section, and my right on the plate being referenced. Awkward to say the least.
Richer also omits illustrating several bones in the skeletal section, either showing them later when describing the muscles, as for the hyoid bone in the throat, or mentioning them only in the text, as for the smallest bones on the undersides of the thumb and big toe. Richer's illustrations of the bones and muscles of the hand are of insufficient integration and detail. Hale, reverent as always towards Richer's plates, did not see fit to address any of these shortcomings by adding any new illustrations of his own.
Finally, readers sensitive to how racial differences in the human body were regarded by late 19th century Europeans might want to either avoid Richer, or view his remarks as an unscientific historical curiosity. Stephen Jay Gould has written on "The Mismeasure of Man," and in Richer we see an example of this mindset, the obsession with measuring the human body with an eye to racial categorization. How long is the Negro humerus -- when you don't account for regional differences within the category of "Negro"?