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The Wisdom of the Eye

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    The Wisdom of the Eye. By David Miller. Pp 169; £29.95. San Diego: Academic Press, 2000. ISBN0-12-496860-0.

    This relatively short single authored book states that its aim is to “survey the major concepts underlying many of the findings of the basic sciences relating to the human eye and visual brain”. The justification for this is given that the explosion of information in the field of basic eye and vision research prevents eye clinicians, students, and scientists from other fields being aware of them. The author is quite clear that he intends to use everyday language to describe theoretical and laboratory concepts. The book is divided into two major parts, the first is entitled “The Eye”, in which the subchapters are The Young Eye, The Image Of The Adult Human Eye, Eyes Of Different Animals, The Healing Eye, Refractive Errors Of The Human Eye: A Sociologic Viewpoint, and Eye Communication. The second section is devoted to the visual brain with chapters entitled Creating Visual Stories and Illusions Around The Retinal Image, Brain Sharpening Of The Retinal Image, Coloring The Retinal Image And Awareness Of The Retinal Image. Does this book succeed in its stated goal? Without any question I believe it does not. First and foremost, no book that fails to discuss molecular biology and the current state of genetics as it applies to ophthalmology can be seen as a serious effort to communicate with other physicians, students, and scientists with regard to vision research findings. Moreover, the brevity of the book does not allow the author to go into any great detail about many topics; indeed, some topics are described in such short detail that they are badly misrepresented. For example, on page 162 the description of blind sight experiments consists of just a few sentences and leaves the reader to believe that a significant number of patients with damage to the visual cortex can consistently identify objects from the so called blind field. This grossly misrepresents an area of research that has occupied hundreds of investigators over the past decade or so. Similar is the statement that the visual cortex is plastic enough that patients who have been congenitally blind use neurons in the visual cortex for the sense of touch. This is presented as a single sentence and the citation to justify this point of view is not a primary scientific publication. Finally, and in my mind, most seriously, most of the references to be found at the end of the chapters of this book are older than five years. Considering how short the half life is of new information in the field of vision research no serious attempt to present an overview of vision research could depend on so many references that are clearly outdated.

    Having stated the above, however, I want to recommend that this is a book that every ophthalmologist, medical student, and vision scientist can thoroughly enjoy. It is an absolutely good read. It should be viewed not as the author views it as a review of basic eye and vision research but as a relatively straightforward description of the phenomenology of the eye, vision, and the visual brain. It is clearly written and in most cases beautifully illustrated. Regrettably, some of the black and white illustrations, particularly those taken from a secondary source, are unclear. If the author does revise the textbook, one hopes that these illustrations will be improved in subsequent editions. This is a book that can be easily read in a single sitting and, at the end of doing so, the reader is left with a renewed awe for the visual system. The author is to be commended for producing a book that is just plain fun to read.

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