on 9 February 2010
The premise for this work is good: of all the world's land surface, who really owns all the various bits of it? Clearly land ownership is not equitably distributed; some own much more than others. This book presents reams of statistics about land ownership in just about every country and territory in the world, and most of these numbers have been well researched and are as good a set of numbers as you are likely to see, given that some countries have almost zero real data collection processes about these matters, and many more are in such a state of inner turmoil that determining who 'owns' what is a frustrating and near-meaningless endeavor.
But this book is marred by a major flaw, that of trying to impose the author's particular feelings on how land ownership should be dealt with, rather than investigating the reasons and history of how it is currently set up, and just how the world economies are very dependent on such distribution. In the first chapter, the author continuously points out that there is plenty of land for everybody, several acres for every man, woman, and child on the planet, and that if only such a equal distribution could be achieved, all the worlds troubles would go away. While it is certainly true that many of the world's wars have been over ownership of particular pieces of land, what this author misses are several facts:
1. Large portions of the world's surface, while technically marginally habitable, in reality will not support any type of heavy-density human presence. Areas such as the Australian outback, the huge Artic tundra areas, large tracts of land around and in the Sahara desert, the many heavily mountainous regions of the world should all be subtracted from the available land area that is available for divvying up amongst the world's population. There are very good reasons why so much of the world's population is concentrated in relative small areas of the planet, but this book does not delve into those reasons.
2. Many areas of the world can be farmed, but the most efficient, greatest yield-producing methods for many of these areas cannot be done in small plots, but rather require large tracts that lend themselves to mechanized farming methods, or have so little vegetation that their only viable use is grazing land at many acres per cow.
3. The best pieces of land are relatively small in comparison to all the rest, and like any item in short supply, there is strong competition for such pieces. Once someone has managed to gain control of such areas, they will normally do all they can to maintain that control. As the author presents no concrete plan for just how his 'equitable' distribution of land could be achieved, his harping about just how much of the world is controlled by so few comes across as a very irritating whine.
This same author viewpoint leads him to make some claims, that while they are 'technically' true, are absurd on their face, such as the claim that Queen Elizabeth II personally holds close to a sixth of world's land. Most of this is actually claimed by the British Crown, not the Queen personally, and if the Crown ever tried to actually invoke that claim (such as all of Australia) and kick all the current inhabitants out, there would be instant and massive opposition. Of much more interest was the author's detailing of what the Queen actually holds in her own name (not the Crown's), and this list is quite impressive, truly showing her to actually be one of largest landholders in the world. If all of this book had been like this one area, it would have truly been a very useful and enlightening look at who really owns the world. As it is, the only really useful items here are the statistics he has compiled on all the various countries listing area, population, and general form of land ownership, as this data is not easily findable all collected in one place.
Note also that this is not a book for casual reading; other than the first chapter the balance is composed of data listings for each country (or, for the US, each state) followed by a short half page set of tidbits about the area, some of which, while interesting, have nothing to do with land ownership.
Recommended only for statistical use.
---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)