1. Richardson, Ruth
  2. Kendall, Alta BSN, RNC-NIC

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Grey's Anatomy, an early 21st-century American television drama and winner of multiple Emmy and Golden Globe awards, is followed weekly and passionately by its devoted fans, many of them nurses and other health care professionals. Interestingly, many are unaware that the show title is actually a play on the title of the classic medical school textbook known as Anatomy, Descriptive and Surgical, or simply, Gray's Anatomy. First published in London in 1858 and in Philadelphia, the United States, in 1859, Gray's Anatomy has been in continuous publication ever since, the longest printing run of any medical textbook. In 2008, British author and professor Ruth Richardson published The Making of Mr Gray's Anatomy, an engaging history of how Henry Gray, Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, came to publish his work, and also how it came to be illustrated by painstakingly created wooden block engravings, the work of Henry Vandyke Carter, MD. That Gray's Anatomy has withstood the test of one and a half centuries speaks for the monumental precision and persistence exhibited in its creation.


In mid-Victorian London, Drs Gray and Carter, both young men having trained at the hospital and remaining not only to practice their craft but also to teach fledgling medical students, were employed at St George's Hospital at Hyde Park. Richardson takes us into the postmortem and dissecting rooms of the day, populated by medical students puzzling over the intricacies of human anatomy, performing their dissections on the remains of the poor procured from hospital dead-houses and "Poor Law" workhouses. It is clear that there was a need for significant numbers of cadavers to fill instructional needs. Indeed, during the 3-year period during which work on the book proceeded, Gray and Carter performed enough dissections to allow Carter to produce more than 360 illustrations.


Richardson also provides sobering glimpses into the culture of London, describing the desperate poverty of the times and the appalling conditions inside hospitals and clinics. She describes the selection of the publishing house, and the process by which the text and drawings came to inhabit the printed page, recounting how Carter learned to hand-carve images on wooden blocks in reverse in order to reserve to himself a high measure of quality control in the appearance of the final product.


Gray's Anatomy, now in its 40th British edition, has grown to more than double the pages of the original version and is augmented by additional content and drawings. In keeping with current electronic information gathering techniques, references to World Wide Web resources are included as well. Still, the original volume is a treasure and Richardson's writing brings Gray's and Carter's work to life, revealing their quest to provide medical students a practical educational tool, yet illustrating and describing the human anatomy with a sense of wonder and respect.