Rodney White and Mental Maps

I was sad to learn that Professor Rodney White, a geographer of great range and depth, died last week after a short illness. His many accomplishments included books on carbon finance, urban planning and climate change; he also conducted fieldwork all over the world.

White is arguably best known for Mental Maps which he wrote with the late Peter Gould in 1974 – one of the few books to successfully communicate human geography research (in this case, spatial science of the late 1960s) to a wider audience. It was published within the Pelican imprint.

There are not many geographers these days who translate their theoretical work for a lay audience, at least not with the clarity of Gould and White. And few contemporary academic geographers would consider writing for a trade publisher (Jared Diamond doesn’t count, sorry).

A friend once took me to lunch with Rodney White in 1996. When I asked him about the success of Mental Maps he admitted that it still sold well enough, even after twenty years, that he and his family had one night of very fine dining every year on the royalties. This image remained with me, though it also left me oddly curious about what Peter Gould did with his share.

Mental Maps is always worth picking up second-hand, not least for its wonderful cartographic cover. It prompts a number of navigational questions, not least: how best to safely ascend a nose?