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What is Gray's Anatomy?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body is a medical textbook used by students worldwide. The book has become a classic of anatomical reference, and includes 1,247 detailed engravings of areas of anatomical interest. Medical students have been using Gray's Anatomy for over one hundred years, and the book is considered an exhaustive reference of the topic, along with an invaluable guide to medical students of all ages and levels of experience. Most doctors keep a copy of Gray's Anatomy in the office to consult when needed and use to assist in patient education.

Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body was originally published in England in 1858 as Anatomy Medical and Surgical by Henry Gray and Henry Vandyke Carter. Gray felt that the medical curriculum lacked a comprehensive and useful textbook, setting forth to fill the gap. Most anatomical texts of the period were pocket books, designed to appeal to students with limited space. However, these small books also had very small illustrations, and Gray felt that a detailed larger format anatomy book would serve students more effectively. In 1859, an edition was published in the United States as well, where the book became a runaway success.

The anatomical drawings in the first edition were created by Henry Vandyke Carter, who was given public recognition for his work although he received no royalties for it, but rather a single payment at the time of publication. He left for India after the plates had been delivered to the publisher, interested in exploring what was then a British Colony. Henry Gray died in 1861, causing fears that the anatomy book would not survive, with Carter adventuring in India. Gray's colleagues took up the torch and edited the next edition of Gray's Anatomy, ultimately securing a stable publisher as well.

While Gray wrote the foundation edition of Gray's Anatomy, many others contributed writing and drawings over the years. Gray's Anatomy has gone through a number of editors, and most of the text has been substantially reworked to reflect progress in the medical field. In 1938, the title Gray's Anatomy became official at the publisher as well as in common nomenclature, although the other contributors are listed within.

As of 2005, Gray's Anatomy had gone through 39 editions in the United States and Britain, two of which (1905 and 1973) represented substantial revisions to the text. Gray's Anatomy has expanded greatly since the first edition, including many more illustrations and incorporating new technologies such as x-ray plates. The test book continues to serve students well, and is regarded as a requirement for any good medical library.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By BigBloom — On Feb 15, 2011

Through an intricate knowledge of the chemicals produced by the pancreas and the brain, we are beginning to recognize the importance of gluten-free diets and certain limitations on what we ingest on a daily basis. Gray's anatomy was an important start to a modern recognition of the vast potential of the human body, as well as its fragility. Our body and mind interact in such an intricate way that we need to be careful about what we eat. This is why I favor vegetarianism.

By hangugeo112 — On Feb 14, 2011

Understanding the human body is one of the most compendious studies on earth. Medical students go through rigorous processes of testing, memorization, and implementation, to become trustworthy practitioners. Yet even with our compendious knowledge of the human physique and chemicals, we are still only beginning to tap the depths of understanding ourselves and how humans work. Humans studying humanity are undergoing an immensely complex and infinite task.

By anon76474 — On Apr 10, 2010

Are the plates copyrighted?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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