Handbook of Obstetric Anesthesia. By Mark C. Norris. Philadelphia, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000. Pages: 592. Price: $39.95.

In a world of complex, multiauthored textbooks about obstetric anesthesia, where readers require the physique of a body builder to pick up the tome and a sturdy and voluminous bookshelf for its storage, Mark Norris has produced a rather different text. This is a handbook, light in weight and designed for easy carriage in the hand or the pocket. It doubles as both a ready reference and a textbook, suitable for those needing immediate information but also for those with recourse to a comfortable armchair for later reflection.

Although in part an abridgment of the author’s large textbook of similar name, Dr. Norris focuses on topics of practical relevance and modifies management recommendations based on his personal opinion and practice. The handbook broadly covers preoperative assessment (physiology and considerations for various diseases), intraoperative management (practical anesthesia and analgesia applied to surgery in pregnancy, labor, and cesarean delivery), and topics after delivery. Thirty three chapters provide a comprehensive overview of care of the parturient.

I assumed that this handbook would provide mainly basic information in an easily digestible format. The latter preconception was met, because the book contains a useful index, has clear headings with text in sequential point format, and is complimented by many tables and the occasional drawing or graphic. What proved unexpected and astonishing was the amount of information and its quality, a testament to the knowledge and experience of the author. The material is comprehensive and up-to-date, being sourced from pivotal and recent studies, making it a suitable educational reference, as well as a “how to” manual. The practical recommendations or instructions for techniques are by nature often didactic or reflect a personal approach, but are nevertheless sensible and consistent with consensus views.

What is there to criticize? Not a great deal. If you are looking for a balanced discussion of the merits of combined spinal–epidural versus  epidural analgesia in labor, the current role of epidural clonidine, or the etiology of preeclampsia, there are better alternatives. The point style lends itself well to most topics (e.g. , instructions, pharmacology) but not all (e.g. , pathophysiology). I found it frustrating trying to read the staccato style for any lengthy period and the referencing is esoteric, spasmodic, and limited.

In summary, this book fulfills a niche role for the subspecialty and is good value for its price. It offers a little for everyone. Early trainees looking for facts and the occasional obstetric anesthesiologist wanting to check the current approach to general anesthesia or the implications of dealing with maternal diabetes will find it useful, as may the specialist wanting a comprehensive summary in a ready reference format.