I have not yet come across the perfect Geographical textbook during my time at university. Often my tutors won’t mention a relevant textbook at all, instead recommending various academic books or articles which are available through the uni library online. Only one course in my first year was taught from a textbook (read what I thought of it here: http://blogs.sussex.ac.uk/sagestudents/2014/05/17/revision-time/) but I have now sold that book to a first year geography student!
So, as I didn’t have much experience of textbooks, I decided to ask other students from various disciplines what they think a perfect textbook would look like. Some gave idealistic answers such as: everything on the syllabus, whilst others look for something which gives them a good general overview of the module they are taking. A history student likes general textbooks which have a narrative running throughout, although he has found that he now needs to use books with much more detail for his dissertation. He also remarked that a clear bibliography at the end of each chapter is useful too. I always find this useful in books I use for essays to write down references as I go.
Talking to two fellow geography students I found that they disagreed on whether the text-boxes in textbooks were useless or not. One rarely read them as they felt they were patronising and pointless but the other viewed them as a way of not having to read the whole text. I like text-boxes when they offer a key fact or definition that adds something to the main body of text.
Students I asked commented that they liked textbooks to present information in a concise way. A psychology student said that simple diagrams to explain the facts helps a lot and a physical geography student agreed. The physical geography student mentioned The Very Short Introductions series (Oxford University Press) as a great way of beginning to understand more complex themes (I’ve used these books too during my studies to get a grasp on economics and certain philosophies). She said that she was willing to buy books which she could actually understand and helped with the course but had not bought textbooks in third year as she needed more detailed readings on specific topics.
All students I talked to wanted more visual and simplified textbooks as they found them much easier to understand and also more engaging. Some also mentioned that they like a level of interactivity such as lots of sample questions to recap on what they had just read. Students (including myself) seemed to use textbooks more if they had exams to prepare for as a general reference guide and less for a more detailed piece of coursework or their dissertation.
Unfortunately only 1 out of 19 modules I have taken so far has been taught from a textbook. The majority of my degree has been spent searching for my own resources and books relevant to each course or simply using those recommended by tutors. I have however, learnt a great deal through this process and read a variety of books, geographical theories and styles of writing. Thus I do not believe one book can be perfect or contain everything you need, it can only be used as a starting point of knowledge to build upon.