Book Review: Oregon Divided: A Regional Geography

Oregon Divided: A Regional Geography, by Samuel N. Dicken & Emily F. Dicken

For those who do not know what regional geography is, this book provides a worthwhile examination of it with data from the 1980 census that is sufficiently out of date so that the approach taken by the book and its discussion of historical trends is far more worthwhile than the actual data that is in the book. In fact, knowing the future allows one to look at this book and see that it makes notable mistakes—such as assuming that Oregon’s past historical rates of growth will continue into the future rather than slow down, or that infrastructure will keep pace with the demands placed on them by people, neither of which are necessarily the most accurate of assumptions. That said, there is a lot to like about regional geography, in that it looks at places based on the characteristics that set them apart, which can theoretically be any sort of quality, from political boundaries to terrain to rainfall to voting habits to forest cover, to any other sort of qualities that are expected to vary in a spatial fashion. As someone who enjoys reading and thinking about geography on a regular basis [1], I am surprised that I had never come across regional geography before, but I do know that thanks to this book, I will deliberately seek it out a lot more often.

The contents of this book are straightforward and very intriguing, even if the data is hopelessly obsolete, being older than I am. Nine chapters cover about 160 generously sized pages, many of which are filled with maps and explanatory material of great interest, as well as plane-based photos of interest as well. The first chapter introduces the regions of Oregon by terrain, discussing the cultural diversity of Oregon’s counties and regions based on politics, population, land ownership, manufacturing, communications (including transportation infrastructure), and recreation. The next seven chapters after this include various regions, containing whole counties, and examining their most salient physical features, as well as questions of land ownership and communication and transportation routes, agriculture, forestry, manufacturing, fishing, recreation, population density, water supply, climate, vegetation, and soils, among other qualities. The resulting analysis divides Oregon into the following six regions: the Northwest Coast, the Willamette Basin (which gets two chapters, fitting given the way it dominates the population of the state), Southwestern Oregon, the Deschutes-Umatilla Plateau, the Blue Mountains, and Southeastern Oregon (which contains Bend-Redmond and a bunch of nearly empty counties to the south and east). The book then concludes with a very gloomy and fretful prognostication about the year 2000, including concerns about energy and transportation and the extraction of natural resources.

Despite the fact that the information in this book is older than the trees (if younger than the mountains), it makes for an entertaining read, as the book contains useful commentary on the history of different settlements, points out the trade centers, the way that populations are distributed, the tendency of rivers in the Willamette valley to run parallel to the Willamette rather than quickly join up, and photos of lovely lakes with their courses blocked by terminal moraines. It is a book that manages to combine an interest in geology, topography, as well as human geography, with a strong interest in history. The result is a book that manages to demonstrate both how our geography affects the way we live, by presenting us with various constraints, and how we affect our geography through the places we choose to live and build up and connect with other places. The book is one that leads the reader to think about the choices we make when we gather together where we do, and the reasons why we choose certain places to live and not others, or choose different places for a short time and not for generations.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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7 Responses to Book Review: Oregon Divided: A Regional Geography

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