Micro triptych

Biology. First Edition - Biology. Fifth Edition - Biology. Fifth Edition

February 25, 2000

These three books are very similar in form and style. All are lengthy tomes and cover more or less the same subject areas but they differ in the emphasis given to specific aspects of biology. In all cases the authors have attempted to overcome one of the major difficulties in the production of texts of this type in that they integrate aspects of animal and plant biology with microbiology. In many cases topics are dealt with in ways that give the reader a holistic and comparative view of the subject while delving more deeply into specialised areas. Each starts effectively from a biochemical/molecular perspective, where integration is most easily achieved, with progression through plant and animal structure and function relationships including sections or chapters on evolutionary biology and ecology. There are self-assessment exercises and glossary and evolutionary and classification information.

Neil Campbell, Jane Reece and Lawrence Mitchell's text is well established, now in its fifth edition, and has become a standard work. This edition is illustrated more extensively than previous ones, with many clear diagrams and photographs, each supplementing the text very effectively. Of the three books, this one has achieved the most apparent integration of the different aspects of biology: for example in chapter 21, "The genetic basis of development". Selected topics are emphasised, in particular molecular biology and genetics, which are covered in a very comprehensive manner with topical aspects being discussed within a well-established framework of information. Human physiology is addressed effectively and extensively.

Each unit is enhanced at its start by the inclusion of an interview report with a noted authority on the subject, giving the book a more personal feel. This edition includes an interactive CD with a 12-month prepaid subscription to internet-based learning and online services. Relevant website links are provided.

References to internet links are also made in the book by Peter Raven and George Johnson but without the aid of a CD. This text, also in its fifth edition, covers essentially the same subject areas as the previous book but because of the way topics are grouped it has a more traditional feel with slightly less integration of the subject matter. The organismal sections are discussed within more distinct taxonomic parameters and boundaries of microbes, plants and animals, although the inclusion of sections specifically on members of the former grouping is to be welcomed. This approach is not applied uniformly, since molecular biology is given extensive integrated coverage that is enhanced markedly by the inclusion of a series of excellent diagrams. Of particular note is the consideration given to mitosis and meiosis. Overall, emphasis is focused on the functional aspects of organisms, with ecology being discussed in terms of behaviour rather than through a consideration of ecosystems. The human body is again used to illustrate physiological principles. Each major topic is introduced and concluded with a short section on concepts and principles covered in the text, but the self-assessment question sections are short and restricted.

This limitation is not a feature of the text by Burton Guttman, where the end-of-chapter review question section is very extensive. This book is the newcomer of the trio. In the presentation of illustrative material there is less reliance on photographs and more on diagrams, particularly in the description of biochemical pathways where the more traditional format of structural formulae is used quite effectively. Reference to human physiology is more limited but organismal biology is described comparatively from a functional evolutionary perspective.

The text has the advantage of being broken into discrete components, which, as the author states, allows presentation of a point "without burying the idea in unnecessary information". This approach is supplemented by the use of boxed information/concept sections and short exercises with a reference to a single website at the end of each chapter. The book has been designed successfully as a learning aid as well as a reference work.

There is very little to choose between these three comprehensive and informative texts that address well the breadth and diversity of the subject. Each would be suitable for A-level biology students through to first-year undergraduates and would provide background information on higher-level courses. The choice of which book to use would probably be dictated by the emphasis within the particular course being followed.

Alan Pearson is lecturer in biological sciences, University of Durham.

Biology. First Edition

Author - Burton S. Guttman
ISBN - 0 697 22366 3
Publisher - McGraw-Hill
Price - £26.99
Pages - 1,100

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