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Aids to Biology


THIS little volume of 142 pages, small octavo, is the second work which has reached us written up to the standard of the first examination of the Conjoint Board of the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons. The information which it contains is transcribed from the best sources available, and the author has woven the excerpts into a very presentable whole, written in good, clear style, and exceptionally free of gross errors. The pages of the volume are enlivened by thirty-nine small woodcuts and a well-chosen epilogue from Broca, and there are added a useful “index glossary,” and a series of “test questions,” largely culled from examination papers of the past. The work is by no means destitute of small incongruities and an occasional misuse of technical terms; and the most serious errors which it contains, contrary to the general rule, involve leading rather than subsidiary topics. The description of "living matter"as existing in the "colloidal condition "and (two pages further on) as "a semi-fluid granular substance... unable to absorb colouring matters when living "; the alleged origin of the coelome of "all animals above the coelenterata "by "the splitting of the mesoblast"; the assumption that the contractile vacuole of the protozoa is a respiratory organ "pumping in oxygenated water,"and "furnishing oxygen to the animal by means of its rhythmical dilatations "; the confusion under the term "paraplasm"between modified portions of the cell-protoplasm and products of its living metabolism, with the correlated description of the protoplasm of the egg cell as a "vitellus, or yolk "; and the description of sclerenchyma as "stony tissue,"are cases in point. We note with satisfaction the prominence given to the physiological and more purely chemical aspects of the subject, too often neglected in minor works on general biology. Conspicuous among leading dogmas formulated is the assertion that with the exception of ascidians and some infusorians the animal "does not contain cellulose,"with the implication that certain animals form chlorophyll. We venture to think that the time has now arrived when the investigations of Beyerinck, Famintzin, Von Graff, and Haberlandt, Ambronn, and others, which have lately revolutionised our knowledge on these vitally important topics, should find expression in the elementary class-book. The author remarks in his preface that "it must be remembered that biology can be learnt in no other way than with the scalpel and the microscope,"and that his volume is intended "simply and solely for the purpose of revising"a practical knowledge which the student has gained under the guidance of his teachers,c especially during the few weeks previous to the time when he intends to cross the threshold of the examination hall."If this line of conduct can be ensured, the work will fulfil a good purpose; but it may be doubted whether the over-taught medical student of to-day will regard the book as anything but a cram one. It has been compiled at considerable pains and with marked success; but as the dispensation which it seeks to further cannot possibly endure, we wish we could congratulate the author upon a devotion to some more permanent and desirable object.

Aids to Biology.

By Joseph W. Williams (London: Baillière, Tindall and Cox.) (Students' Aids Series.)

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Aids to Biology. Nature 48, 26–27 (1893).

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