By Des Barrow
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So You Think You Know About Britain?

This article is over 10 years, 7 months old
Issue 384

Since I have been teaching geography in East London for over 15 years, it is not surprising that I have chosen a book by a geographer: Danny Dorling’s So You Think You Know About Britain?

Danny Dorling has spent the last ten years or so turning out books and maps that analyse and present data that describes and demonstrates inequality on a global and national scale.

The Worldmapper project, for example, presents distorted maps of the globe to show inequalities in wealth, health and education. Dorling’s Inequality is also an academic book well worth a look.

This particular book is a highly accessible portrait of the nature and shape of inequality today. The data is used to smash numerous myths, inform us about Britain’s growing inequalities and encourages the reader to be angry about the state of the country.

A thread running throughout the book is a challenge to the media’s myths about immigration and multiculturalism. Dorling shows how the so called quality press reported the population rising above 65 million on three different occasions and points out how unreliable the data collection methods, and so the data itself, is.

Dorling demonstrates how limited the term immigrant is by pointing out that a high incidence of German born children in an area could be used as an indicator of poverty from 2001 census data.

He notes that the borough with the highest number of immigrant children in school is in fact posh Kensington and Chelsea and the immigrant children come from the United States.

If you ever thought Migration Watch might be charlatans, Dorling shows how they have distorted and then lied about population densities.

He notes that Malta, one of the most densely populated parts of the EU, is full of migrants from… you guessed it, “overcrowded” Britain.

Dorling suggests that how we organise urban space is more important than the overall level of population density. Why don’t Amsterdam and Barcelona feel as crowded as London, even though they are more densely populated? Could it be their superior public transport systems?

Various other myths and totems get the statistical and graphical Dorling treatment. Did you know that you are more likely to be shot dead in the countryside than in an inner city area? Did you know that Muslims are more likely to “marry out” than Christians?

Other statistical quirks get detailed explanations. Why are there more women than men in London, and why is the gap growing? In part it can be explained by the rise of the super rich and their demand for nannies, au pairs and other traditionally female jobs ‘in service’. And why are a lot more girls born in Glasgow, and Fallujah, than boys?

The book is funny, angry and full of statistics with which to win a myriad of arguments. Dorling may not have a recipe for changing society, but he gives us all the ammunition we need to show that society must be changed.

So You Think You Know About Britain? by Danny Dorling, is published by Constable Paperback.

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