One of the most prominent features of vertebrate evolution is the formation of the skeletal system, which consists of cartilage and/or bone. The skeletal system is essential to all vertebrate species; it provides the body with shape and form, supports it, protects the internal organs, allows body movement, houses blood stem cells, stores minerals and even acts as an endocrine organ to regulate general metabolism and homeostasis. However, for some time, the biology of the skeletal system escaped most people's attention because it was viewed as not being quite so ‘alive’ as other tissues and because the high mineral content of the skeleton led people to believe that it consists largely of ‘pieces of rock’. Thanks to the recent application of genetic, molecular and cellular tools to the study of the skeletal system, the past two decades have seen a tremendous explosion of seminal discoveries about this biological system. Now one can never deny that the vertebrate skeleton is just as important, complex and, of course, as scientifically interesting as any of the other organs. As such The Skeletal System edited by Olivier Pourquié is published at a good time and offers both global and detailed views of our current understanding of skeletal evolution, development and biology at the molecular level.

It is my recommendation that every principal investigator in the skeletal biology field, whether the research is basic or clinically oriented, should be armed with a copy of this book

A distinct strength of the book is that it has 11 chapters all written by leaders in their fields. The book provides a broad coverage of skeletal biology but focuses on three major themes: skeletal development, covering skeleton formation in the limb, craniofacial region and spine; cell differentiation and proliferation in the developing and formed skeleton, and their regulation by signaling molecules and transcription factors; and skeletal mineralization and remodeling. The book also contains chapters on the evolution of the vertebrate skeleton and on human genetic diseases that affect the skeletal system.

For someone (such as a graduate student) who has never formally learned the biology of the skeletal system in depth but is interested in it, this book is a good place to start. The chapters of the book are organized in a way that fits the ontogeny of the skeleton, and are hence very easy to follow. The book first covers skeletal evolution, then patterning and cell differentiation. After describing remodeling, mineralization and extracellular matrix regulation, events that occur specifically and extensively during skeletal formation and homeostasis, it ends with a comprehensive and insightful chapter on skeletal diseases that are caused by abnormal regulation of the skeletal system. Thus, the book can be chosen as a textbook by those who teach graduate courses on this topic too.

For senior basic science researchers and clinicians who are thinking about getting into the skeletal field or who already have established careers in the field, this book is also a great reference. The authors of all of the chapters have provided comprehensive and updated overviews of the field, with much of the information presented concisely and critically summarized by schematic graphics. What is more important is that, along the way, the authors offer their unique vision about the significance, history and impact of the particular subjects that they cover. It is provocative to read their views, for example, on the future directions for the field, which are provided in the concluding remarks and perspective of some chapters. These sections, in particular, offer food for thought for other scientists in the skeletal field and will have a positive impact on the future development of skeletal research. It is my recommendation that every principal investigator in the skeletal biology field, whether the research is basic or clinically oriented, should be armed with a copy of this book.

From every aspect, this book is almost perfect for readers at different levels. However, the field of skeletal biology is moving at a very fast pace. In the past two years, rapid advances have been made in understanding the molecular mechanisms that underlie the role of bone as a crucial endocrine organ that regulates body metabolism and bone mass via the central and sympathetic nervous system. Although these new advances have been mentioned in a couple of chapters, there is obviously a need to expand them into a new chapter. I must say that such hindsight is completely beyond editorial control, but the field will be better served if this new chapter is added to any future edition of this book. In addition, the formation and homeostasis of the cartilage and bone, two major components of the skeletal system, are intimately linked at both molecular and cellular levels in most vertebrate species. As such, readers would have been better served if these two components of the skeletal system were not so clearly separated into distinct chapters or if the chapters had been synthesized in a slightly different way to give more emphasis to the connections between bone and cartilage. Along this line, readers might also want to have more discussion of how signaling molecules, as extrinsic factors, and transcription factors, as intrinsic factors, act together in the same context to regulate the skeletal system.

In summary, I highly recommend this book to researchers interested in exploring skeletal biology and diseases: it is an excellent source of information on the molecular and cellular biology of the skeletal system and belongs in every laboratory of skeletal research.