Megarry & Wade is the authoritative academic textbook on English real property law. I enjoyed reading this book as a law student and carried it with me into practice as a solicitor. The text is rich, detailed and comprehensive, and the writing style is literature in itself, unmatched in its linguistic and technical precision. Having said that, I would strongly recommend that any law student buying this book should also buy a more accessible textbook to accompany it. While Megarry & Wade is a 'must-have' for land law students, it is not the type of textbook that you can or should just pick up and read. You will, initially, hate this book because you won't understand any of it. That's perfectly natural and normal and nothing to worry about: land law is a subject you need to acclimatise to, just like, say, contract and equity & trusts.
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I must confess, I once thought the same. When I did land law at university in 1975, this was the only mainstream textbook. And I hated it. It was in hardback only and cost a bomb. And I used anything but this for my land law: an out-of-date 1969 edition of Hanbury for its chapter on mortgages, Hayton's great little book on registered land for that, and something else (I forget which) for licences. In 1990 (or thereabouts) when the first edition of Gray's Elements of Land Law came out (I was then a practitioner), I read it from cover to cover in a fortnight and thought "great - at last, a decent land law text book".
But some maturity comes with age. I now value Megarry & Wade for its history and gradual evolution. It is narrower than (what is now) Gray and Gray - the latter uses a broader range of Commonwealth and US authorities and adopts a more philosophical tone. For those reasons I do prefer it. But the acid test is judicial references, and they remain predominantly Megarry & Wade, although Gray and Gray is receiving an increasing number. And don't forget: despite what some of us would prefer, registered land is the norm, and Charles Harpum was behind the 2002 Act.
A word for Cheshire. I recently bought a 1927 edition for buttons (about £5 I think), and it's great. The serious student (and I wasn't serious enough) needs to understand what property lawyers thought was being done in the 1925 legislation. And Cheshire himself was a very clear writer. He's very good on the fundamental changes that 1925 made, and I'd recommend anyone to dip into this old edition to get a clear idea of just what the changes did (for example his chapter on mortgages is very helpful). And this is still relevant. For example, what's the difference between an easement for a term of years and a leasehold easement? I don't think the Land Registry knows. And you need to understand your pre- and post-1925 law to get to somewhere approaching an answer.
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I've just gone into my second year of university for a law degree, and this year I'm studying property law as one of my subjects. If you have never done property law before - DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK. Seriously, it's the most ridiculous property law/land law book I've seen. It over-complicates everything, nothing is in order, and is very hard to read and understand as a result. The pages are also so thin that they practically disappear when you look at them side on, leading you to rip them when you attempt to turn the page (or get stressed out because the page you've been reading appears to have suddenly disappeared infront of your eyes).
If you're a hardcore real estate lawyer, by any means go ahead and get this. If you're not, stay well clear and buy a different one.
It's actually kind of hard to put my hate for this book into words. Every time I attempt to read it, I end up wanting to tear out my hair and hurt the people around me. That's not a great thing when you're in a public place such as a library, because they tend to remove you for that kind of thing. And that's about as beneficial to your law degree as reading the book itself. Just don't. Don't put yourself through it. Run away. As fast as you can. And if you see anybody carrying this book around, slap it out of their hands, point at it, shout "SATAN!" and do your best to set fire to it using whatever you can. They'll think you're the weirdest human being they've ever met, but you'll be saving them a lot of hassle later on. And someday they'll thank you for it.