The book-of-the-TV-series is generally a pretty uninspiring genre, but Robert Winston and Lori Oliwenstein's Superhuman is a notable exception. Based on the BBC production of the same name, the book explores in considerable depth and clarity the response of the human body to various ills, and the science behind medical efforts to intervene when our bodies go wrong. Like the series, the book deals with six major themes: trauma, transplantation, regeneration, cancer, infection and fertility. (The last may seem a little out of place given the preceding five---and, indeed, it comes across as such in the book--but fertility is the subject for which Winston has rightly gained international renown, so this last chapter is an authoritative and welcome bonus). Superhuman is challenging and thought provoking throughout, but also enjoyably critical and controversial in places. For example, what would your reaction be if paramedics refused you blankets and intravenous fluids after a serious accident? In the context of current standard medical practice, such behaviour would constitute dereliction of duty, but given the known dangers of artificially inflating a trauma victim's blood-pressure and the demonstrated benefits of a low body temperature in certain circumstances, cautious neglect may sometimes be the best treatment. In fact, there are doctors in the UK who say they would sue if a paramedic even attempted to give them fluids after an accident. Still happy to put your life in their hands?
Superhuman is so interesting and such a delight to read that one hesitates to criticise, but the good professor should stick to the species he knows. For example: "The further down the evolutionary hierarchy we go, towards the reptiles, amphibians and worms, the more widespread ... regenerative talent appears to be". So much hard public-relations work by evolutionary scientists, so easily undone. Read Winston for fascinating insights into Homo sapiens, but read Stephen Jay Gould's Life's Grandeur for a rather more balanced assessment of the other 30 million species on Earth. --Chris Lavers