When reviewing the 11th edition of Adler's Physiology of the Eye, memories of reading a previous edition as an optometry student trying to unravel the mysteries behind ocular physiology and eye movements come to mind. The text is well known with the first edition published in 1950. Countless eye practitioners and vision scientists have no doubt spent time among its pages and have also been witness to each new edition (mean time between editions: ∼6 years). In some instances, readers can often go numb after yet another iteration of a textbook (or a new version of your favorite software for instance) because of less than meaningful changes. Most recently, however, the 10th edition introduced new editors and contributors from recent prior editions and now the 11th edition is entirely new in its format. The 11th edition organizes the material from the physiology and function perspective instead of the anatomic structure organization that had been used previously.
The intended audience, although not clearly specified in this edition, presumably is the same as it always has been: students seeking a broad introduction to the visual system as well as scientists and clinicians looking for a single comprehensive reference from which to launch further investigation.
The book is presented by nearly 70 contributors in 11 sections and 41 chapters in about 800 pages, nearly 100 pages shorter than the previous edition and only about 50 pages longer than the 9th edition that had a mere 24 chapters with 21 contributors. The list of contributors is impressive as most are recognized experts (if not the expert) in their respective topical areas.
The topics covered in the book are extensive and include optics, accommodation, “optical media,” eye movements, tear film, sensory innervation, retinal physiology, cortical physiology, visual perception, and vision development and deprivation.
Given that I read the book cover to cover, quite an unnatural experience that I wouldn't expect many readers to do, I can say I read every page of the book (but not necessarily every word). There are a few typos, abnormally stretched figures, and unlabeled graph axes, but these are so few they will likely be unnoticed. All chapters have well-prepared introductions, but not all chapters have concluding or summary remarks, which would improve the uniformity of each chapter and aid in keeping the reader's perspective.
A nice organizational feature in the book is that every page has a header that shows the current chapter in the top left and a brief statement about the topic/section on the top right. This is helpful for readers to keep their frame of reference when reading a chapter from beginning to end or merely trying to find a specific section.
Another helpful aspect of the book is the use of boxes interspersed in the chapters. Sometimes these boxes summarize material being discussed in the text, but sometimes they discuss new material not presented in the text. Both purposes are important and helpful to the reader, but perhaps the different types of boxes could be delineated in some way.
With so many contributors and chapters, there is expected overlap and redundancy in some of the content. One example where the reader gets potentially confused by this overlap would be the content pertaining to the eye's ability to operate over a very large light range (three different chapters give three different values for that range). In addition, very few instances of directing the reader to other chapters in the book for background or additional information occur within a chapter. Chapter 18 appears to be the first to do this. One example where this would be helpful would be in chapter 34 on color vision. The reader would be well rewarded while reading chapter 34 to be referred to chapter 21 that covers additional and relevant color vision physiology.
Overall, the book is well written with great color tables and figures. It is updated with our most recent understandings of vision and the visual system and the content is delivered, for the most part, in a clear and concise manner. The new approach to organizing the textbook, based on function rather than structure, resulted in an extensive updating of the book that is a major accomplishment in and of itself. In many ways one could say Adler's Physiology of the Eye has reinvented itself with the release of this edition, allowing it to continue its long tradition as a classic text for future generations of clinicians and scientists.
Jason S. Ng