Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Don't Know Much About Geography

Don't Know Much about Geography: Everything You Need to Know about the World But Never Learned
© 1992 Kenneth C. Davis
384 pages



I've taken several geography courses as part of my university education, a tribute perhaps to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel -- which made me regard geography as an essential part of understanding human history and behavior. The subject remains of interest to me, so Don't Know Much about Geography seemed fair game. Written for a lay audience and replete with joking references,  it tends more toward light trivia than a thorough introduction, even one written for newcomers to the subject like myself. Davis organizes the book topically, although the first two chapters have unclear general subjects. The latter four focus on oceans, political history, meteorology, and astronomy. Each section of the book consists of a general statement or question -- "What is a butte?", "Where is the world's most populous city?", and "Major Historical Earthquake Disasters" are three examples.  He makes frequent uses of timelines and bullet lists, as well as direct quotations from historic documents like Lewis and Clark's account of their expedition or Charles Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle. Davis writes primarily for American readers: the first of his appendices includes information on the names and nicknames of the American states.

Don't Know Much about Geography is a casual read brimming with interesting trivia, though it may be too casual for serious students. Someone claiming to be Robert Adler (author of Science Firsts, which I read two years back) has taken issue with the book's scientific trivia. Regardless of his identity, the page quotes he identifies and their issues appear to be valid, indicating more thorough factchecking might've been in order. The book, published in 1992, is also dated, which may mitigate its use for some readers. It's also amusing to read of the booming Japanese economy on the cusp of the "Lost Decade". The date also causes a slight inconsistency in the matter of Yugoslavia: it began disintegrating in 1991, and at times Davis refers to it as still in existence and at times as a defunct state.

I don't particularly regret having read it, as it provided me with information I did not know, but I will continue to look for a better general introduction to the field written for a larger audience. It's a fun book, but limited. Although I doubt I will be able to take any more geography courses,  it is a field that will remain of interest to me.

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