The lower secondary geography curriculum remains strongly thematic in design. The steady flow of glossy and colourful information books both caters for this trend and establishes it yet more strongly. Themes, rather than areas, remain the conventional course building-blocks. This series maintains a high standard of presentation, though the pictures are inevitably brighter than the texts, which have to cover a great deal of ground in limited space (48 large pages).
John Baines copes best with this challenge, in an account of the environment which moves smoothly from the historic transformation of the British landscape to the elusive concept of sustainability. Fact boxes and case studies are judiciously deployed in a sequence which shrewdly places energy - its generation, use and impact - at the centre of environmental debate.
Membership of five major environmental voluntary associations increased seven-fold between 1971 and 1990, and the author finds room to acknowledge advances, such as the declining use of chemical fertilisers. As always, explanations are the main casualties of space constraints. Nuclear power scores over fossil fuels in terms of air pollution, but there is only room to add, somewhat enigmatically, "However, there are other potential environmental impacts".
Farming and Industry adopt a similar format - a sequence on major farming systems (dairying, arable, etc) and on major industries. Ewan McLeish's introductory overview reminds us that the service industries account for 73.3 per cent of employment. This still only secures them two pages, mostly devoted to a picture of a supermarket check-out. Industry is still largely seen as extracting resources or making things.
Roy Woodcock's Tourism is rather preoccupied with institutional structures - the elaborate hierarchies of national and regional tourist boards, the relationship of National Heritage to the British Tourist Authority, and so on. Only after the National Trust, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty do mundane commercial activities get a look in, via case studies of Center Parcs, theme parks and PGL holidays.
All the books have large, striking and well-selected pictures; the thematic approach necessarily means that the reader doesn't stop long enough to get to know any particular place. Perhaps a modest come-back for area-based information books is overdue?
School librarians should note that these books look rather more juvenile than they are. The splendid landscapes in Farming, for instance, enliven a text which covers not only crop rotation and farming calendars, but also the Common Agricultural Policy, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and set-aside. There are two other titles to come in this useful set, on cities and the countryside.