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Basic Geography Books

Dateline: 02/02/98

With the recent publication of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Geography by Thomas E. Sherer, Jr., I decided to compare this book with other recently published books aimed at erasing the geographic illiteracy of America. Other mass market books over the past few years have included Harm de Blij's Geography Book by Harm de Blij, Why in the World: Adventures in Geography by George J. Demko, and Don't Know Much About Geography by Kenneth C. Davis.

Overall, I found de Blij and Demko's books to be the best. De Blij has excellent maps which illustrate his discussions of world issues. Demko uses a nice, clear map for each region he discusses. Unfortunately, Davis uses no maps. Sherer ought not to use any at all but he does.

Sherer and Davis are colloquial and don't provide the reader with consistent information about places. For instance, one of Sherer's side-bars exclaims "Do you know why the Scottish national game is called golf? All the other four letter words are taken." (82). Humorous - maybe; appropriate - no! I can understand Davis' tangents which describe the solar system and speculate on the location of the Garden of Eden since he's not a geographer, he's just the author of the popular Don't Know Much About History. Davis' book is sort of an agglomeration of basics about earth and space sciences; there is little discussions of regions. Sherer is a geographer and while he does coherently describe key geographical concepts, his attempt at being lighthearted and cute could only be appropriate for an "idiot" who reads his book.

De Blij and Demko are also both geographers. De Blij had the upper hand for his book because he was able to use similar themes and cartography as in Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts (coauthored with Peter O. Muller). In de Blij's Geography Book he first focuses on geographic concepts (including cartography, continental drift, urban geography, and political geography) and the latter half covers several regions of the world. Demko has a similar approach but he does include at least a paragraph about every country. Demko's book was published in 1992 so it is unable to provide the reader with as much analysis about the former Soviet Union and other world situations as de Blij's 1995 book does.

Sherer's cartography was disturbing, unclear and so difficult to decipher that I was forced to have an atlas at my side while reading his book. He uses gray triangles to represent hills and mountains with no indication of elevation. On many maps of regions, the names of neighboring countries are missing. In fact, on a few maps, regions such as Southeast Asia are shown as an island, with gray ocean surrounding the region from Myanmar to Vietnam (289). Other places are not labeled at all; Iceland is on the map but there's no label. If you see the Idiot's book in a bookstore, take a look at the maps and you'll see what I mean.

So, if you're going to buy a geography book for a friend who needs to brush up on their concepts and regions, pick de Blij or Demko and your friend will be geographically literate in no time.


Bibliography

As a result of a commercial relationship between The Mining Company, its Guides and Amazon.com online booksellers, these titles can be purchased directly from Amazon.com by following the links below.

Davis, Kenneth C. Don't Know Much About Geography.

De Blij, Harm. Harm De Blij's Geography Book.

Demko, George. Why in the World: Adventures in Geography.

Sherer, Thomas E. Jr. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Geography.

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