Life in relief along with death, too

Human Geography of the UK. First edition
May 27, 2005

This book aims to provide for beginner undergraduates “a simple, crude, true, describable, explainable human geography of Britain”.

Maps are used to display the peaks and troughs of living here. These mainly take the form of schematic maps displaying census data for 85 areas that were drawn up for, but never used in, the 1999 European elections. After an introduction on how to read these maps, we are taken on a rapid tour of access to higher education, qualifications, identity (labelling of places), politics (the mismatch between votes and seats), inequality, health (largely equated with mortality), work (sectors of the economy) and home (including tenure and car ownership). Two final chapters set the UK in a global context by looking at deprivation of children and speculate on future UK geographies. Throughout the book, poverty, mobility and migration are seen as producing a country that is increasingly socially and spatially segregated.

Written without pretension (we learn that the author has difficulty in spelling and making deadlines), it is accurately targeted to engage the 18-year-old educated elite. Much of the text will bring them up short; this is explicitly not “an objective account”. The maps are often thought-provoking, such as death by fire, and poverty in Britain by UN definitions. Danny Dorling is even stimulating when giving just bare statistics such as comparing the financial and manufacturing sectors; the former is now the bigger employer. Most chapters include a set of exercises that considerably enliven the text; many of them take the form of physical games.

There are also many disappointments. I remain to be convinced that the maps are on the single spatial scale (each area is roughly 500,000 people) to resolve UK geography when the areas are so internally diverse (area 74 requires averaging the Rhondda Valleys and the Vale of Glamorgan, among other diverse places).

The maps are difficult to read, and the black-and-white reproduction gives them little impact. At times, the text goes from being a polemic to a rant, with no alternative viewpoints even hinted at. Many of the explanations employ differential migration, but this is often by assertion. The biggest problem is that there are no pointers to other people’s work and no academic bibliography.

We are told that entering the book’s title into Google generates more than 1 million pages. This is a problem not a solution. This book is best suited to enliven seminar discussions alongside more comprehensive material.

Kelvyn Jones is professor of quantitative human geography, Bristol University.

Human Geography of the UK. First edition

Author - Danny Dorling
Publisher - Sage
Pages - 200
Price - £50.00 and £15.99
ISBN - 0 7619 4135 5 and 4136 3

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