THE press release accompanying the book states that "[The Shorter Encyclopedia] … is a comprehensive reference book on real estate—a dictionary, a thesaurus and an Encyclopaedia, rolled into one". It is clear that, even at 975 pages, this is a shorter version of The Encyclopedia of Real Estate Terms first published in 1987 and with a second edition in 2000. The overarching style which suggested strong American presence and influence was such that the reader approached the text wondering what use it could be to lawyers in England and Wales in general or; in particular, to students. A valid use for those who were involved at any level in transactions in interests in land on either side of the Atlantic could be supposed, but little more apart from true "academic" interest.
It was thus as something of a revelation and surprise that dipping in to the text was a very stimulating and rewarding experience, and the idea of "just looking at a few terms" very quickly became a regular reading of one explanation of a term after another, each being led out from the last. It truly did do what it said "on the label"—it was a dictionary, a thesaurus and an encyclopaedia rolled into one!
Opening the text at random proved the truth of the claim that material from the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (and indeed beyond) was included. A heading of "native title" provided an informative discussion and cross reference of the situation of native peoples in a number of jurisdictions. "Natural rights" followed and soon the reader was into "nec vi, nec clam, nec precario" which reminded him both of his days as a Latin scholar and as a first year law student when the essential elements for establishing a right over land by prescription were explained to him.
The heading "real burden" is tagged to note it is a term from Scotland and "real covenant" one from the United States, so that an unwary reader with knowledge of a similar term should not be misinformed about the jurisdiction they are referring to. It was almost compulsive to look up obscure terms and find they were in the Encyclopedia and were explained, in the most part, with clarity. On reflection, the clarity was not just present for a "thirty year lawyer" but for any lawyer, student or practitioner, or indeed, any lay person dealing in interests in land who has a little common sense and patience with seeing how the cross references will help their understanding.
The entry entitled "land registration" was fascinating as it referred the reader on to a discussion of "recording" of land in the United States on the precious page, and then dealt with land registration in England and Wales with reference to the Land Registration Act 2002, showing that the work is more pleasingly up to date than some cross jurisdictional tomes that have been encountered in the past.
The appendices provide some useful addresses, websites and formulae and the impression is given that in any of the jurisdictions covered, this will be a well regarded work for reference and international cross reference. This work is so comprehensive, in that it gives insights where it cannot give explanations, that the writer wonders how long the full Encyclopedia is in terms of pages. Possibly as long as a series of, degree courses and the explanations of the course materials given in tutorials as well as a whole string of other points. If it may not know where to stop, then it is felt the Shorter Encyclopedia does, striking a sensible balance between "headline" information and background which alerts the reader to the need to look elsewhere for detail and learned discussion.
In short, this is a splendid piece of work and worth every penny of its cost. It is a "must" for law libraries and, indeed, for a well-stocked general reference library, as well as practitioners who have any interest at all "cross jurisdiction". It is doubtful, however, whether even the most avid university student of property law could legitimately be asked to buy it for any reasons other than interest or general pursuit of legal knowledge. In these days of shorter "key point" texts and the apparent need to pare the book budget to the bone, this would indeed be a luxury-the general law dictionary seems to be the province of the library and not the individual these days and this, more specialised, text would seem even less likely to grace individual bookshelves or even booklists. This may well be a shame, but a reality of contemporary legal education it is.