Book review

Media Type: Textbook

Synopsis: Evolution invisibly directs structure and function at every level. The classic textual summaries of ocular evolution by Ida Mann and Gordon Walls have gone by the wayside as scientific publications increasingly redefining normal ocular function and ocular disease in molecular terms. Evolution’s Witness provides a definitive analysis of ocular structure and function as seen through the lens of evolution. This book is replete with phantasmagoric color photographs and graphical descriptions of the scope of evolution of the eye as it relates to different animal species. It came about through the dedicated scholarly effort of an academic who has savored the study of ocular evolution over many years, and who has now managed to exposit and simplify its unifying themes for all to enjoy.

Target Audience: General ophthalmologists

Review: Dr Schwab is a one of the rare ophthalmologists who has cultivated a dedicated interest in ocular evolution. He recently edited the Cover Illustration section of British Journal of Ophthalmology that each month examined the evolutionary attributes of a particular animal eye. In this single-authored text, Dr Schwab assembles the pieces of ocular evolution into a coherent storyline before our eyes. When first opening the book, one is struck by its sheer beauty and high resolution color photographs that impart a sense of wonder at the diversity of the visual system across nature. In reading the book, it quickly becomes clear that its mission is much more ambitious than to provide an color atlas of ocular structures in different animals. Dr Schwab’s goal (or accomplishment) is to impart a new kind of understanding of ophthalmology in the three dimensions of time (millions of years), scope (across species), and function (as it evolved to meet the specific needs of the organism).

Although the general reader may question the heuristic value of this recondite collection, this book textually and pictorially consolidates all aspects of ophthalmology. Dr Schwab integrates embryology, optics, and molecular genetics into the storyline to reactivate the reader’s curiosity in processes such as retinal photoreception. In doing so, he enriches the reader’s understanding of ophthalmology by creating a paradoxical synthesis through diversity.

This book is concise, mechanistic, and highly explanatory. It assembles a wealth of information that no other source will probably come near to reaching. It not only provides extraordinary depth and scope in a concise form but formulates the information to highlight the prevailing forces that have guided ocular evolution. Reading this book leads to the inexorable conclusion that the “primitive” eyes of “lower” animals are anything but primitive, and that these complex sensory organs are exquisitely adapted to the unique needs (past or present) of the organism.

Criticisms of this book are difficult to summon. The topic’s inherent complexity and the book’s encyclopedic scope may leave the reader to feel that he or she cannot retain many of the specific details, but this problem is counterbalanced by a general unification of themes that synthesizes the general concepts and imparts a sense of timeless wisdom.

In summary, Dr Schwab has assembled a colorful museum of authoritative information that is concise but full of insight and wisdom. In doing so, he has created a compendium with all of the attributes of an atlas, an encyclopedia, and a definitive textbook. This book imparts upon the reader a sense of wonder and sheer beauty. Anyone wishing to marvel anew at the evolutionary complexities of ocular evolution and to understand ophthalmology at a deeper level should avail themselves of the wealth of information contained within its pages.

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Jan 12, 2017 | Posted by in OPHTHALMOLOGY | Comments Off on Book review

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