Pocket landscapes

17th June 2005 at 01:00
Rex Walford reviews study guides and an A-level textbook

Access to Geography series Weathering, Slopes and Landforms by David Atkinson pound;7.25

Economic Activity and Change by Paul Sheppard pound;7.25

Development by Garrett Nagle pound;7.99 Series editor Michael Hill Hodder Murray

Physical Geography: a Human Perspective by Richard Huggett, Sarah Lindley, Helen Gavin and Kate Richardson Hodder Arnold pound;24.99

The Access to Geography series continues to impress, with three new titles - and a further three planned for later this year.

These are small, almost pocket-sized books, dense in text, but, with 128 pages, packing a quite heavy intellectual punch on particular key topics in A-level syllabuses.

Besides offering a general introduction to the basic principles of the topic, each book provides case-studies, summaries and exercises, in a style in which plentiful (though sometimes overly simple) sketch maps, subheadings and bullet points help easy navigation.

However, the series would benefit from short biographies of the authors (to identify their experience and credentials) and from listing other series titles on the back cover.

David Atkinson relegates landforms and landscape to the junior of its title components, though these (in 54 pages) are the essential preliminary studies to considering (in another 56 pages) mass movements, slopes and weathering processes. The book overlooks the need to provide an easy-reference geological column for general clarity, but is otherwise admirably comprehensive.

Economic Activity and Change encompasses economic activity from the 19th century through to the 21st, providing refreshingly up-to-date examples from the local to the global as well as a clear introduction to theories and ideas.

As usual, a book by Garrett Nagle provides a lucid introduction to the topic in question. Some of the case-studies in Development are usefully un-hackneyed, though others, only a paragraph long, do not deserve the name.

A-level teachers looking for a major book which goes beyond the safe mainstream might find it in the 516-page Physical Geography: a human perspective for which Richard Huggett collaborated with three younger colleagues. Huggett, a Manchester University academic who has also been a classroom practitioner in his time, already has several excellent teaching books to his credit.

The book has the ambitious aim of sketching out a "new physical geography" which bases itself on the unifying effect of studying major global and environmental topics.

Their "new definition" gives a glimpse of style and purpose: "Physical geography is the study of the form and function of the human sphere (or anthroposphere) which is the zone of interaction between the mental sphere and the ecosphere."

Admirable in intention, the book sometimes looks crowded and does not hold back on using unfamiliar technical language and terminology. It is complemented by an interactive website. The cumulative effect, at least for some A-level students, may be bewildering rather than edifying. But it is a book which points to some fascinating new directions in physical geography and is well worth a place in the departmental library so that those chasing high grades and university places may benefit from its postmodern insights.

Rex Walford is a fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge, and formerly directed the geography PGCE course

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