The Dictionary of Human Geography

February 25, 2010

Editors: Derek Gregory, Ron Johnston, Geraldine Pratt, Michael J. Watts and Sarah Whatmore

Edition: Fifth

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell

Pages: 1,072

Price: £65.00 and £24.99

ISBN 9781405132879 and 2886

Every field has its bible. Cricket has the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack and horseracing the Timeform Black Book. The Dictionary of Human Geography should undoubtedly assume similar status among undergraduate human geographers. Now in its fifth edition, this volume, first published in 1981, continues to grow and evolve with the subject.

The current edition is significantly bigger than the dog-eared second edition that I purchased as an undergraduate in 1987, which still sits on my shelf. Indeed, the evolution of the Dictionary since its first appearance can be read as a kind of archive of the subject. Its size, now weighing in at an impressive 1.9 kg, reflects the ongoing plurality and richness of human geography; the coverage within the volume and its changing teams of contributors indicate shifts in the subject's boundaries, the influence of sub-disciplines, the work of individuals and areas of interest.

If human geography students were to buy only one book during their time at university, they would be well advised to make it this one. The Dictionary of Human Geography remains unrivalled in the breadth of its coverage, combining weighty discussions of all key aspects of the discipline with pithier notes on more specialised areas.

The longer entries run to several pages and, at their best, go beyond the introductory and offer definitive takes on certain issues. Typically they combine discussions of history, key theoretical debates and numerous examples. The suggested reading sections that accompany almost every entry are always well chosen. The entries offer an essential basis from which students can explore topics in more detail and build effective essays, reports and projects. If only more academic writing were as clear-eyed, concise and helpful as this.

The shorter entries are treated equally seriously and provide a wealth of valuable detail. I am particularly pleased that my favourite, "pork barrel" (as in politics), remains in the current edition.

The editors have done a fantastic job in co-ordinating the contributions of the 111 academics who have written for the volume. Given the number of contributors, the writing style is remarkably consistent and accessible throughout. Although the illustrations are relatively few, they are always effective and, with such a wealth of visual materials now available in other textbooks and online, this is not a problem.

In its presentation, The Dictionary of Human Geography has changed very little in the almost 30 years since it first appeared. This is testament to how effective the original was.

Some may argue that there is something old fashioned about brick-like academic dictionaries such as this. However, in an age where all information appears to have to be bite-sized, its niche remains assured.

Who is it for? Human geography undergraduates at all levels will find it essential.

Presentation: Clear, concise and accessible.

Would you recommend it? A vital purchase for anyone studying human geography at university level.

Recommended

Urban Geography

Author: Michael Pacione

Edition: Third

Publisher: Routledge

Pages: 736

Price: £110.00 and £31.99

ISBN 9780415462013 and 2020

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