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Edited by Charles Guest Ichiro Kawachi, Ian Lang . Published by Oxford University Press , UK , 2013 ; ISBN 978-0-19-958630-1 ; 656 pages .

Reviewed by Dr Priscilla Robinson

Department of Public Health, School of Public Health and Human Biosciences, La Trobe University, Victoria

This fantastic little handbook has had a group of excellent editors over the previous two editions and this third edition sees four well-known and rather different public health advocates and practitioners – Charles Guest (who has been an editor of this text since its inception), Walter Ricciardi, Ichiro Kawachi and Ian Lang – take over the reins.

The book had undergone some important revisions in this edition. For a start, it is shorter. In seven sections rather than eight and at 629 pages instead of the second edition's 691, what has changed?

As pointed out in the Introduction, the world has changed since the first edition in 2001 with respect to the need to respond and consider public health problems. Thinking is now not just about bioterrorism and major disasters, but includes the broader problems of sustainable development, water conservation, climate change, and health protection of both humans and other animals. This is mirrored in the changing focus of the book. In some ways it also reflects the way the thinking at the World Health Organization has changed, seen in its (almost) annual World Health Report.

As a book designed – both in content and in its almost-pocket-sized-plastic-covered presentation – to accompany public health practitioners in their day-to-day practice, it is hard to spot gaps. Each of the seven parts has, as in previous editions, a set of quite brief chapters. While some are authored by the same people, some are not, and some are dropped altogether. Additions to the previous edition include more examples, and diagrams within the chapters provide plenty of road maps and aides memoires for the user, although sadly, in my copy, some of the figures have lost their y-axis labels.

Some of the sections that have shrunk or vanished are those concerned with health planning strategies and quality in health care, now in a revised section called Health Care Systems, and accounting for much of the reduction in page numbers. This section has been thoroughly reworked and the language updated to reflect current thinking (although not enough to supplant health management textbooks and courses!).

Table 1.  Section (Part) titles in the Oxford Handbook of Public Health Practice's three editions.
3rd edition (2013)2nd edition (2006)1st edition (2001)
Assessment Public Health Assessment
 Options and DecisionsOptions and Decisions
Data and InformationUsing Data and Evidence 
Direct ActionDirect ActionDirect Action
Policy ArenaMaking PolicyPolicy
Health Care SystemsDeveloping Health Systems StrategyHealth Care Assessment
 Improving Quality in Health CareHealth Care Assurance
Personal EffectivenessPersonal EffectivenessPersonal Effectiveness
OrganisationsOrganisational DevelopmentOrganisational Development
  Case Studies

This is not a ‘how-to’, but rather ‘where-to-start-and-why’, book. Necessarily, as the chapter authors come from the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, various parts of Europe and Hong Kong (even reading the contributor list is interesting!), it is not too thick with theory and most examples are internationally applicable. The skill for the 100 or so chapter authors has been in showing the reader the best signposts for find out more; the reference list is appropriate and up to date, while not ignoring some landmark older papers.

For whom would I recommend this book? Just about everybody! All practitioners and students of public health without question (we have had it on our Master of Public Health course book list for many years as it is useful for so many subjects). Do I miss sections from the previous editions? Yes, I have used the case studies from the first edition a good deal and would love to see some updated examples. To some extent these are provided by the examples in the chapters, but the case studies were examples of integrated public health practice, most showing interesting use of policy principles, making them useful teaching materials. Should you update your old edition? Yes, as so many of the chapters have been reworked and updated with current evidence.

My old copies of this book are scruffy and dog-eared and much loved. I can tell that in time this edition will be, too.