WE ASKED SIX EXPERTS TO SURVEY THE BEST RECENT BOOKS ON GEOGRAPHY.
Neil Smith, professor of geography at Rutgers University and author of The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City (Routledge, 1996).
"For nearly three decades, geographers have been reworking their approach to the environment and to nature. Some of the most interesting work now appears in a collection titled Remaking Reality: Nature at the Millennium (Routledge, 1998), edited by Bruce Braun and Noel Castree. Combining geography and social theory has produced a discipline that is virtually unrecognizable to those with musty recollections of grade-school geography. Given the prevalence of Marxist theory in this scholarship, it is surprising that questions involving labor have received so little attention. That oversight is rectified by a new generation of labor geographers like Andrew Herod. His Organizing the Landscape: Geographical Perspectives on Labor Unionism (Minnesota, 1998) successfully advances the discussion from a straightforward account of the spatial dimensions of labor organizing to a more nuanced understanding of how labor struggles and agreements contribute to the transformation of specific landscapes."
Donald Mitchell, professor of geography at Syracuse University and author of Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction (Blackwell, forthcoming).
"The almost obligatory use of spatial metaphors in current humanities and social science scholarship has ironically led to a decreased interest in actual geographical space. Only rarely do theoretical works connect spatial metaphors to existing places. Two recent books by geographers do just that. George Hendersons California and the Fictions of Capital (Oxford, 1998) is one. Scott Kirschs Experiments in Progress: The AECs Project Plowshare and the Geography of Science and Technology (California, forthcoming) examines the controversy that attended the Atomic Energy Commissions plan for the peaceful use of nuclear explosives in California, Nevada, and Colorado. Project Plowshare, established in 1957, depended on conducting earth-moving experiments in places outside the Nevada test site. Due to opposition from local residents and AEC-funded scientists, this never happened. Kirsch shows that the AECs attempt at geographical engineering foundered because the commission could not control the politics of place."
Dianne Rocheleau, professor of geography at Clark University and co-editor of Feminist Political Ecology: Global Issues and Local Experiences (Routledge, 1996).
"Sandra Steingrabers Living Downstream: A Scientists Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment (Vintage, 1998) is a haunting and informative odyssey. Steingraber traverses the ecologies of several constrasting landscapes of the East Coast and the Midwest. In doing so, she reveals the very prevalence of reckless toxic endangerment, which turns peoples bodies and homes into sites of environmental distress, often resulting in disfigurement, disability, or death. While the book takes us from hospital rooms to beaches to city landfills, Steingrabers voice remains unmistakably rooted in the daily grit of farm life and the basic mechanics of living bodies. All flesh is grass, says the Book of Isaiah. So too for Steingraber."
John Pickles, professor of geography at the University of Kentucky and editor of Ground Truth : The Social Implications of Geographic Information Systems (Guilford, 1995).
"A decade ago, the late Brian Harley, a founder and director of the University of Wisconsins History of Cartography Project, challenged geographers and cartographers to recognize that power relations were embedded in the maps they produced and used. Since then, a virtual industry has sprung up around power talk and the effort to denaturalize spatial representations. In recent years, the social contexts within which maps do their work have become much clearer to us. Matthew Edneys Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 17651843 (Chicago, 1999) is the finest in this lineage. It reveals the impact of new technologies (such as triangulation) and the institutional practices of the East India Company on the emergence of modern cartography. Edney meticulously documents the politics of mapping, and what becomes clear as a result are the fissures dividing the Enlightenment ideals of modern cartography, the desire of the British to use mapmaking to exercise political control, and the cartographies they actually produced."
Cindi Katz, professor of geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and co-editor of Full Circles: Geographies of Women Over the Life Course (Routledge, 1993).
"Laura Pulidos Environmentalism and Economic Justice: Two Chicano Struggles in the Southwest (Arizona, 1996) confronts the ways in which domination, oppression, and inequality are played out through particular productions of nature and space. Her analyses of specific incidents, like the United Farm Workers anti-pesticides campaign and a grazing conflict in New Mexico, reveal important struggles over space, place, nature, and identity. These battles lie at the heart of a reinvigorated and politically potent notion of environmental justice. Donald Mitchells The Lie of the Land: Migrant Workers and the California Landscape (Minnesota, 1996) breathes new life into the literature on landscape, a genre of writing that tends to be over-aestheticized and detached from any concern with how landscapes are produced. Eschewing noir interpretations of land development in California, Mitchell examines not only the large-scale productions of place but also how ordinary Californians, in their everyday lives, work and rework the landscape."
John OLoughlin, professor of geography at the University of Colorado at Boulder and editor of the journal Political Geography.
"Peter Dickens Global Shift: Transforming the World Economy (3rd ed.; Guilford, 1998) is by far the best and most readable account of the past three decades of economic globalization. Replete with maps, graphs, and tables, the book offers the clearest and most complete exposition of the scale and depth of the transformation currently affecting all societies. A Solution to the Ecological Inference Problem: Reconstructing Individual Behavior from Aggregate Data (Princeton, 1997), by the political scientist Gary King, could revitalize quantitative geography, since it offers a statistical method for using information such as voting returns and census data to make inferences about individual behavior. Kings approach has rendered obsolete a method long favored by geographers and social scientiststhe analysis of aggregate data based on spatial units. Moreover, the book suggests new ways to confirm or refute the claim of geographers that location matters when humans make decisions. A big plus is that the books research is closely linked to Kings Web site (http://gking.harvard.edu) which contains numerous sample data sets and the statistical software to work with them."
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.