Ye Olde Natural Philosophy Discussion Group

Reviews and comments on
Harm de Blij:
Why Geography Matters [2005]

      Of the 7 readers of this volume in our book club 5 gave it quite high ratings of 7 or 8 (on a scale of 0 to 10), one person gave it a very luke-warm rating of 5, and one person didn't like the book at all and gave it just a 2.

      Most people enjoyed the book, appreciated all the facts, and also the many maps. Kevin S. said that given the low level of geographic knowledge of Americans this would be an important and worthwhile textbook in high schools. Several others agreed with that.

      John said he enjoyed the book immensely, and mentioned the material about climate change and global warming in particular. He felt that de Blij (whose name, by the way, is pronounced "duh blay") did demonstrate that the current global warming is part natural and part human caused. Rich said he found the book interesting, and that we haven't read much of this sort of material. Kirby said that it was an easy read, which others agreed with. And Ron, who also liked the book a lot, said he felt the author did prove that "geography matters".

      Rosie said she was very disappointed with the book, and considered it to be like a boring text book (and therefore not a good choice for a high school text). She thought the Iraq stuff was good, and some of the later chapters fairly good, but that basically she was disappointed overall.

      Scott had a variety of criticisms on several levels. First of all, he views de Blij (and many other "geographers") as dilettantes who dabble in many other fields (climatology, geophysics, anthropology, history, politics, etc.) but who actually don't know all that much about these different subjects. Does calling yourself a "geographer" give you the right to spout off about things you really don't know much more about than the man or woman in the street? As partial proof of this Scott pointed to a number of errors and erroneous implications (in addition to the numerous lesser examples) such as:

      Scott says he could point to dozens of other erroneous claims and examples of twisted and screwed up analysis in de Blij's book. Even some of the maps have significant errors, he says, such as the map on p. 70 which shows six Great Lakes in the American mid-west. And sometimes even de Blij's comments which are literally true are downright bizarre. In talking about the Mars-sized object that crashed into the Earth and from which the Moon was formed from some of the debris in Earth orbit, he says "Even a thick, protective atmosphere would not have cushioned the Earth against the devastating impact". The question is, who would think otherwise?!

      Well, we'll cut Scott off at that point, since he's had more than his share to say! Most people in our group did agree with the two more critical people that there were a number of typos and similar minor errors in the book, and that a spellchecker and some better editing would have been appreciated. But most of our group disagreed with the broader criticisms by Scott or Rosie and still consider this to be a fine book.


1   Like most of de Blij's other errors, this can easily be checked on the Internet, such as at:

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