Best Human Anatomy Textbooks
Are you confused about what books to use when you're teaching or learning anatomy? Keep reading ...
Are you a student who is learning anatomy for the first time? Maybe an undergraduate student taking a course in human anatomy or a medical, dental, nursing, or PA student taking human gross anatomy? Or, are you a professor or instructor who needs to decide which books to use in your human anatomy or human gross anatomy course? For many of you, the book you use will be determined for you by a teacher, professor(s), or the last person to teach the course, but, for others, the choice of text will be one of the most important decisions you will need to make. If you are an instructor or professor, this page will help you decide the strengths and weaknesses of each book. If you are a student, you can check how other books measure up to the one you are using, and decide if another book will help you to better learn the material.
Why you should read this page
I've done all the hard work for you! When I accepted a new position at Benedictine University in Lisle, IL (where I am currently an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences) I needed to review textbooks for a Human Anatomy course. Many years ago when I took Human Gross Anatomy we used Keith Moore's Clinically Oriented Anatomy, Netter's Atlas, and Grant's Dissector, a classic combination. I remember Moore's book as being really good but not always entirely clear, with so-so illustrations and WAY too much detail for an undergraduate course in human anatomy. Therefore, I set about reviewing human anatomy books. This page is a report on what I found.
The Main Textbook
First, you will need a main book that you will read and refer to throughout the semester. The four textbooks listed below are the ones most often used in human anatomy courses.
A Modern Classic ...
A New Classic?
Now that you have your main textbook, you will notice that, although it is illustrated throughout, there are not consistent views for all of the regions of the body, and you will need to spend a lot of time going through and picking out the illustrations you need. You will want to get an anatomy atlas, which shows you all the relevant anatomy for each region of the body. When I took gross anatomy, most students preferred Netter's Atlas, where the illustrations are beautiful and color-coded (i.e., arteries are red, veins blue, nerves yellow, lymphatics green), but I preferred Grant's Atlas, which illustrated structures a bit less idealistically. Half-way through the semester, our dissection table discovered Rohen's atlas, which was a revelation since it included cadaver pictures which helped us with the practical part of the course. Rohen's atlas quickly became our favorite study aid, although we still supplemented with Netter or Grant's atlas. Grant's Atlas shares many illustrations with Moore's Clinically Oriented Anatomy, and Gray's Atlas is a companion to Gray's Anatomy for Students, so these atlases should be considered for courses which use one or the other of these books as their main text. I was introduced to Thieme's Atlas by students in my fall 2012 undergraduate course, and at this point it is by far my favorite - the illustrations are outstanding and exhibit more of a modern sensibility.
Anatomy Dissectors and Prosectors
For many Gross Anatomy courses, you will need an embryology book. There are several possibilities.
It is becoming increasingly important to understand anatomical relationships on medical images, including computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. Many gross anatomy labs require students to identify structures on scans, and so it is important to have an atlas that includes lots of images from multiple imaging modalities.
Finally, if you continue as an anatomist or in a health profession where you will constantly have to refresh your memory about very nitpicky details, you may want to invest in a reference work.
Now you are ready - good luck!
If at this point you are thinking that there are a ton of books you need to teach or learn human anatomy, don't panic! It is true that anatomy is a very exacting field and graduate students and medical professionals needs to know an enormous amount of material to understand how the human body works, but it is doable! At a minimum, you will want to get one of the main textbooks and, maybe, an atlas. You may want to get more than one atlas, since a few of them have complementary strengths and weaknesses (I would suggest combining either Netter's, Gray's, or Thieme's atlas with Rohen's atlas). If you are teaching or taking gross anatomy then you will need to get a good dissector. Many gross anatomy courses will require you to have an embryology textbook and a medical imaging atlas. Don't even think about getting the complete 41st edition of Gray's Anatomy until you have completed the course! (and lay off the unabridged Running Press 1918 facsimile edition unless you plan on being a historian of medical anatomy). Now that you know what books you'll need, all you need to do is focus on identifying structures, making connections, and understanding form/function relationships - good luck!
Let me know if you like an anatomy book that is not listed here - I'm always looking for new resources!
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2020 Robert McCarthy