THOUGH it should be stressed that this is not a book for the squeamish, nor is it the mere catalogue of grotesqueries its name might suggest.

Instead it treats mutations from the extreme (conjoined twins) to the mildly beneficial (a double row of eyelashes) as a magnifying lens through which we learn how human life develops. We all know in a vague sense how each human life begins but most of us are rather hazy on the details.

Having read this book, it makes a lot more sense, as do the processes of growth, life and ageing. While it is recommended to any connoisseur of the freakish - of lobster boys, bearded ladies and supernumerary breasts - it also addresses questions of more general interest.

The style is masterful: wry but not without compassion; learned but not obscure; accessible and engaging without condescension. Though it is to be lamented that there are no X-Men, Strontium Dogs or indeed anyone capable of firing energy beams from their eyes, that's a weakness of our world, not Leroi's book.

Mutants: On the Form, Varieties and Errors of the Human Body by Armand Marie Leroi is published by Harper Collins, priced £20.