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Edited by H William Taeusch, Roberta A Ballard, Christine A Gleason. Published by Elsevier, 2004, £89.00, hardback, pp 1598. ISBN 0721693474
Avery’s diseases of the newborn has reached its eighth edition with a substantial update of all chapters. In reviewing it like any large textbook, it is necessary to formulate basic questions about its purpose. It is hard to imagine that anyone would read every single word, yet almost all of us have at least one great tome sitting on our shelves, and, in many cases, they are simply gathering dust. Books like this are meant to be used in clinics, on the wards, or at home by our telephone, so that we can refer to them when a chance remark triggers a memory of something last heard of when we revised for the Membership examination! They make a good starting point for presentations when the alternative would be time spent in the library or on the computer (if you can ever get your children off yours!). Books like this will, no doubt, continue to be written and will, no doubt, also continue to be read.
My second thoughts on reviewing this book were “Where does this book sit within UK based neonatal practice?” It is a collaborative work written by over 100 specialists, only one of whom currently works in the UK. The epidemiology, ethics, and whole ethos of this book are, not surprisingly, drawn from largely North American data and experience, and, it could be argued that the book is less relevant than Rennie & Roberton. Nonetheless the book is easily read and well referenced—for example, the chapter “Bacterial sepsis and meningitis” has over 90 references—thus making the book a good starting point for reading for any trainee project.
The delays between the writing of and the publication of large textbooks will always mean that they are almost out of date as soon as they are published, and this textbook is no exception. Newer synthetic surfactants containing proteins or polypeptides were first reported in medical literature as long ago as 1996, with several of these recently reaching the clinical trial stage, yet these developments are condensed to a single paragraph. Likewise discussion of surfactant use in conditions other than respiratory distress syndrome is also brief, with little mention of its use other than in meconium aspiration syndrome and pneumonia. Books such as this are meant to provide the necessary background information to allow the reader to do their own search of a topic, and in this respect Avery’s diseases of the newborn works well.
There are some idiosyncrasies when it comes to the order of the chapters—for example, newborn resuscitation follows chapters on initial evaluation and routine care, and the chapter on surfactant treatment precedes those on respiratory failure in preterm and term infants.
So faced with a choice between this book and Rennie & Roberton, which would I choose? Well if you can ignore the obvious North American bias, this is an excellent and very readable resource, and it is also considerably cheaper. If you do not mind the occasional trip to the library to look at Rennie & Roberton for a UK perspective of epidemiology and ethics, you could buy two copies of this book (one for your office and one for home) and still have change left for another textbook.
This book will certainly find a place on my shelf. I cannot see it gathering as much dust as some “great tomes” despite the fairly minor shortcomings mentioned above. I would recommend it to anyone looking to add a neonatal textbook to either their own personal or unit libraries.