Key texts in human geography

February 26, 2009

Editors: Phil Hubbard, Rob Kitchin and Gill Valentine

Edition: First

Publisher: Sage

Pages: 256

Price: £65.00 and £22.99

ISBN 9781412922609 and 2616

A book that will delight students on third-year history and philosophy of geography courses everywhere, Key Texts in Human Geography is a primer of 26 interpretative essays designed to open up the subject's landmark monographs of the past 50 years to critical interpretation. The commissioned essays aim to assess the impacts, responses, significance and legacies of the books they discuss while evaluating their key arguments and providing a guide to how they should be read. In this sense, the book is brilliantly successful. The essays are uniformly excellent and the enthusiasm of the authors for the project shines through in the text.

A book such as this, though, will inevitably provoke debate and controversy. Part of this will concern the choices the editors made and part will be about the way the book will be used by students. For those students who would have engaged with the original texts anyway, this will be an invaluable companion; for many others, it will be an invaluable crib sheet. The editors anticipate the majority of these responses in their lively introduction. Like a list of 100 best movies, not everyone will agree with the choices but, for my money, this is as good a list as any and one that accurately reflects the curricula of the courses for which it is designed.

This is both the book's strength and its weakness. While it will find itself at the top of a thousand module handouts, this book, like others that retell the history of the discipline and the courses they serve, perpetuates a distanced, clinical story of the development of human geography, shorn of the messiness and hence the richness of what really happened. It is as if there were only generals and no foot soldiers, or at least the foot soldiers blindly followed the generals' lead, incapable of making their own histories. Of course it was nothing like this. Ask almost anyone who worked through the quantitative revolution and they will tell you it wasn't like it said in Geography and Geographers.

The basis of a more interesting history of the discipline lies in fragments such as James Sidaway's discussion of the production of British geography in the mid 1990s published in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers in 1997 and in Alan Jenkins and Andrew Ward's oral history of a geography department from the Journal of Geography in Higher Education (2001).

I loved reading this book, I really did. In what it set out to do it succeeds superbly, but it is firmly located within a discourse that covers only about 5 per cent of the history of human geography. Hopefully soon someone will get round to writing the history of the other 95 per cent.

Who is it for? Upper-level geography undergraduates.

Presentation: The content is accessible and engaging and extols the benefits of reading the original texts.

Would you recommend it? Absolutely. It is a perfect companion to the history of human geography. Perhaps our conceptions of the subject need to be rethought, however.

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