BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 16 January 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:201
  1. Christopher Martyn
  1. BMJ
    • The partial pressure of oxygen at the top of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe but a molehill by Himalayan standards, is only half that at sea level. So it's hardly surprising that mountain climbing is physiologically challenging. The High Altitude Medicine Handbook (Radcliffe Medical Press, £17.95, ISBN 1 857752147) gives a clear account of acute mountain sickness and its complications, pulmonary and cerebral oedema, and is required reading for expedition doctors or anyone else planning to go trekking in a high altitude area.

    • Adrian Desmond's much praised Huxley: The Devil's Disciple is now available in paperback (Penguin Books, £10.99, ISBN 0 140173099). If, like me, you knew little more of T H Huxley than his reputation as Darwin's bulldog, this biography will reveal an energetic and complicated man who played a pivotal role in Victorian science.

    • American student texts often seem to present information in a more attractive and imaginative way than their British equivalents. Understanding Acid-Base (Williams and Wilkins, £19.95, ISBN 0 683182722) is a good example. The chapters are short, illustrated with many simple diagrams, and each contains a brief summary of the main ideas. All of the five sections end with a self assessment quiz. It's strongly clinically oriented, but there is a substantial appendix for anyone wanting to go deeper into understanding the chemistry.

    • Among the darker secrets of medical research are the experiments performed in the Holmesberg prison in Philadelphia from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s. Acres of Skin (Routledge, £18.99, ISBN 0 415919908) tells how hundreds of prisoners were used as guinea pigs to test the biological effects of chemicals, drugs, and ionising radiation. It's much more than a horror story. The book explores why prisoners acquiesced in their own exploitation and how medical colleagues either conspired not to notice what was going on or developed a disturbing willingness to experiment on some of society's most vulnerable members.

    • In Henry IV, Shakespeare described sleep as nature's soft nurse. But the frequency with which people whinge about sleeping poorly suggests that this perception is far from universal. The medical treatment of sleep disorders is developing rapidly. Sleep disorders: Diagnosis and Treatment (Humana Press, £55, ISBN 0 896035271) deals with the common complaint of insomnia as well as the rarer conditions of obstructive sleep apnoea, narcolepsy, and nocturnal myoclonus.

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