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Edited by David Snashall and Dipti Patel (pp vii + 124, £19.95), 2003. London: BMJ Books.
What is an ABC? I think it is usually taken to be a simple introductory text, suitable for those contemplating learning more about the subject, and therefore I read this book with the needs of such people in mind. They might be medical students, general practitioners or non-medical occupational health trainees, the sort of people I have taught over the years. How far does it go towards serving this purpose?
No fewer than 21 people have contributed, which must be close to a record for such a short book. This means that most of the chapters are written by people who have extensive practical knowledge of their subjects, and the editors have made a good effort to see that the specialist contributors have covered the occupational medical issues and vice versa. The format is of brief textual descriptions supplemented by many tables, boxes, and illustrations. This does not make for fluent reading since these interrupt each other to fit the size of the page rather than the logic of the argument. The 20 chapters vary in length and detail but are up-to-date and accurate in the facts provided; the tables in particular are a fund of useful information. However, the level of information does vary and some chapters serve the prospective reader very well as an introduction while others will bewilder with detail. In terms of an interesting read (which in my old fashioned way I always hope for in a book), the last four chapters on genetic and environmental matters are the most thought provoking. The lists of recommendations for further reading, including a good number of websites, are useful.
In my view it does not serve as an introduction to the subject, which purpose requires more explanation and less information. I think a tyro reading it would not really get a balanced understanding of what the practice of occupational and environmental medicine is about, and might even find it a bit daunting. It does however have plenty in it for a postgraduate revising for examinations (but does not replace more detailed textbooks), and such trainees will certainly find it useful, as will most specialists for a bit of personal CMD. And I shall also find the tables and references useful for the next few years. For the price, it is good value for anyone training in or practising occupational medicine.