Book Review: Geography For Nongeographers

Geography For Nongeographers, by Frank R. Spellman

This book was a great disappointment to me for several reasons.  Some of these reasons are related to the slant that this book has when it comes to this material from a political perspective (more on that below), but a great deal of it also comes from the way that the book’s materials slant heavily to physical geography rather than the sort of geography I find a lot more interesting in human geography.  This book could have been a lot worse, but even though it is by no means as bad as it could have been had it been even more politically biased than it is when it came to climate change (which is viewed here in a way that points to a great many causes other than human ones for temperature change on the earth and points to the possibility of global cooling as well as warming, cooling being the worse option), it is impossible to recommend a book like this one for someone who wants to know about geography.  It is, of course, far more helpful in helping the reader figure out what geographers think about their study, especially in an atmosphere where everything is politicized, but that is not nearly so interesting.

This particular volume is over 300 units and is divided into twelve chapters and six parts in a very unbalanced fashion.  After a preface, the book begins with the basics (I), which amounts to an introduction of the broad scope of geography (1).  After that there are seven chapters that take up about 100 pages of material that deal with the subject of physical geography (II) in various specialties, namely landforms (2), weathering (3), running water systems (4), glacial landforms (5), volcanic landforms and plate tectonics (6), wind-eroded landforms (7), and coastal features (8), all of which are filled with a lot of vocabulary to learn by the reader.  The rest of the book consists of larger chapters that deal with a variety of subjects like climate and weather (III, 9), soil (IV, 10), ecology (V, 11), and human and cultural geography (VI, 12).  All but the last are still biased towards physical rather than human geography, showing the general skew of this book.  There are two appendices that follow these chapters, one on worldwide industry and economic development (i), and another that contains the answers to the chapter review questions at the end of every chapter (ii), and then the book ends with an index and some information about the author.

Ultimately, such a book like this does a great deal of disservice to the sort of field it is trying to promote.  Yet it is also a reminder that no field, not even one that deals with physical and human realities relating to the shape of the world, is immune to the mistaken perceptions and the political worldview of human beings.  Even though there is an objective reality, our own understanding and interpretation of that reality inevitably involves is in problems of subjectivity, and where authors feel it necessary to promote their bogus neo-Malthusian mindsets as is the case here, they will hinder the ability of people to perform real studies and will endanger the support of the fields that they wish to promote the understanding of.  There is a lot that one can praise about geography and a great many aspects of geography that are well worth celebrating, but this book does a terrible job in this task because it calls to mind the way that all fields are under threat from the way that politics corrupts and infects everything and makes it increasingly difficult to support institutions whose perspectives appear to be highly politically motivated.

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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2 Responses to Book Review: Geography For Nongeographers

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    I take it that the author did not delve into the tribal, ethnic or cultural boundaries and mainly stuck to the political ones. It that is the case, a great disservice was indeed done. When the prophecy is written that “nation will rise against nation”, the meaning is internal strife. This can be cultural, tribal or ethnic–as well as ideological or religious–warfare within the political lines that form a country. A nation and a country are different. What we call a “country” used to be referred to as a “kingdom”, such as the Kingdom of Israel, which comprised 13 tribes (Joseph had two). This should have been the soul of the book because geography becomes far more interesting when the two intertwine. Why do certain tribes or ethnic groups settle in particular places? It is much better to allow the marvels of history and time tell their own stories but, alas, you are right; people often pen their tomes because they wish to broadcast their own agendas and politics. And that takes away from the wonder of man’s intimate relationship with the earth–one that started when he was formed from it by God Himself.

    • Yes, that’s correct. The author didn’t spend much time at all talking about human geography, which was a pretty shocking omission. There was no time to talk about the larger ethnic or linguistic boundaries as opposed to the political ones.

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