Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Earlier this week, I received a preview copy of the latest book by Danny Dorling and Carl Lee.
The book is called ‘Geography’.
Published by Profile books, this is the latest in a series of books which explore topics, in a similar (but completely different) style to the successful ‘Very Short Introduction’ series, and have previously explored ‘Politics’ and ‘Social Theory’ for example.
Geography is of course impossible to pin down easily in one small book, as it has an ambition which is ‘absurdly vast’, as Alastair Bonnett said in his own book on the subject, but Danny and Carl give it a good go.
The introduction sets the scene for the story to come, exploring the rapidly changing world which geographers try to explore, and tell the story of through their work. In my teaching, I am always looking for the compelling narrative that will draw learners in, and provide opportunities for them to reach their own informed conclusions.
The first chapter in the book: ‘Tradition’ explores the development of geographical thinking, and introduces some of the key ideas that lie behind the subject, and provide the distinctive nature of what it means to use a ‘geographical lens’ to examine the world. It takes the reader on interesting diversions to Damascus, DNA trails, the contested introduction of the term ‘Anthropocene’, Potosí, Sir Joseph Banks and the sad decline of British coal mining.

Geographical questions are never stand-alone. All the questions we ask lead to other questions. Often the answers are elusive. Geography is about joining up the dots that help make up the big picture. Connections are everywhere. The distinction between human and physical geography is often a false schism: they are intimately connected, the unifying factor being the energy that flows through all that we do, see and know.

The book is structured around a series of chapters exploring some key geographical ideas which, when connected, help to explain a lot of the world’s functioning.
Globalisation, Equality and Sustainability are these three big ideas, and there are plenty of brief vignettes to help illustrate each of them in the chapters that follow. These provide food for thought, and prompts for investigations with students (this would be a perfect summer reading book for those about to embark on a course of geographical study – perhaps Year 11s who are about to start one of the new ‘A’ level specifications in September).

There are some similarities in themes to Carl’s previous book ‘Everything is connected to everything else’, which was arguably even more ambitious and sprawling, and is available online here. (I recommend you check out the website if you haven't already seen it)

The book ends with a chapter called ‘Mapping the future’, which connects with one of the other strengths of geography. It is a subject which connects with the future, as well the past and present. It explores themes of environmental protection, global population growth and other challenges (and opportunities) facing the planet.

The book has a few black and white images but, as with all Danny Dorling’s books there are plenty of supporting web resources. These include links to large versions of the new maps that Ben Hennig has produced for the books, including one which is very useful for those exploring globalization as it shows the route of ships from Dalian in China to the ports of Europe.

There's also a section of useful weblinks, which I'm pleased to say gives a mention to this very blog.... and puts me in esteemed company too...

Thanks to Carl for sending me a copy in advance. It was a swift and enjoyable read, which opened up some nice avenues to explore further, and I’ve passed it on to my colleague to enjoy. Definitely one for the geography library for your department, or for your shelves at home.