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:
"So the continents, made of the lightest rocks (solid or molten) on Earth, ride like rafts on the mobile, heavier plates below." (p. 55) This is either highly misleading, or else flatly wrong. Rafts themselves move around on the water, but the continents do not move around in relation to the tectonic plates they are part of. Instead, parts of some of the plates are what constitute the continents.
"As we noted, when plates converge and collide, the lighter continental plate overrides the heavier oceanic plate... That is happening now along North America's west coast, where spectacular coastal scenery bears witness to the forces at work." This at least implies (falsely) that continents are always single plates. In addition, the subduction of the Juan de Fuca plate in the Oregon-Washington area only accounts for part of the west coast; there has been no subduction along most of California for many millions of years. And the spectacular scenery of the Big Sur area, for example, is not due to subduction.
While discussing the evolution of the great apes, de Blij pushes his pet theory (and rather dubious one at that) that the forebears of the orangutan did not arise in Africa. In connection with this he says: "the orangutan does not share a hominid ancestry and is the end of its line" (p. 67). While this is true, it falsely implies that the other great apes such as gorillas and chimpanzees do share a hominid ancestry with humans. (While all the great apes are indeed closely related, the hominid line which includes humans is a separate branch.)
De Blij goes way off the track on the question of global warming. Instead of backing up the rising scientific alarms being rung over the very bad consequences of human-caused global warming, his entire focus is in exactly the opposite direction, worrying as he does about the catastrophic return of another ice age! (Chapter 4.) It is true, as he says, that we are presently in an interglacial period (the Holocene). But one of his own charts (e.g., fig. 4-2) shows that it is a matter of only a change of a few degrees between a glacial period and an interglacial period. Since humanity has already proven that it is capable of changing the world temperature by several degrees, we obviously have it within our power to ward off any new ice age similar to the last one (the "Wisconsinian"). Thus his claim that "We will never be able to control climate change" (p. 86) is complete bunk. And his effort to deflect the present rising concern about human-caused global warming serves the right-wing capitalist agenda.
The chapter on China is filled with errors and betrays his superficial knowledge of the country and its recent past. He says, for example, that the Soviet economic advisors in China during the 1950s were "simply sent home, not punished for their despised 'revisionism'" (p. 125). Actually, the Soviet advisors were not "sent home", but were recalled by Khrushchev with no advance warning in the summer of 1960, and in some cases even took the blueprints of new factories still under construction with them.
On the next page (126) de Blij says that Mao feared that China had become "contaminated by Soviet 'deviationism'". This again shows his political ignorance, since "deviationism" in the Marxist vocabulary means someone who is a Marxist, but getting off the right track in some way. Mao viewed the Soviets as revisionists (having abandoned Marxism), not as "deviationists". Scott mentions small and irrefutable things like this only because the much more fundamental fact of de Blij's whole bourgeois outlook is a more contentious subject which the book club cannot agree on.
"By the turn of the century it [China] was a nuclear power..." (p. 127) China actually exploded its first atomic bomb in 1964 and its first H-bomb in 1967, and tested its first nuclear missile in 1966. So it became a nuclear power long before the turn of the century. Similarly, de Blij's attempt to credit Deng Xiaoping with all the other technical and economic advances over the past half century ignores the fact that most of it began during the Mao era, which certainly created the basis for it all.
Speaking of China's population growth, de Blij claims that things were out of control during the Mao era (Mao died in late 1976). He then adds: "When Deng Xiaoping's pragmatists took over following Mao's death, one of their priorities was to get this [population] spiral under control, and they instituted their infamous 'One Child Only' policy to achieve this." Actually, the 'One Child Only' policy was instituted in 1979; but by then there had already been a huge drop in China's fertility rate (from 34 live births per 1000 people in 1970 to just 18 per 1000 people in 1979). Experts in this field now recognize that "the impact of the one-child policy has been minimal".
The chapter on "terrorism" is just as error-filled and wrong-headed. He claims, for example, that unlike other current and historical examples of political terrorism, "Islam-inspired violence" does not have the same "geographic clarity" (p. 152), or, in other words, is not based on the efforts to expell U.S. imperialism and other foreign powers from the Middle East and other Muslim lands. Much of his own discussion shows just the opposite however.
"Taliban-ruled Afghanistan continued to produce more than 70 percent of the world's heroin." (P. 159) This may or may not be true; but it is definitely one-sided and misleading. The Taliban regime, for all its other faults, actually did try to suppress poppy production, and was even granted substantial financial awards by the U.S. government because of its progress in this area! Meanwhile, since the U.S. invasion, overthrow of the Taliban, and continued occupation of Afghanistan by U.S. and allied military forces, poppy production has enormously increased, and is now by far the major export of the country.
"Disrupting the coordination among the nodes and cells in the [terrorist] network is the key to security in the years ahead." (p. 161) Nonsense! This is the "logic" of the Bush regime. The real key to future security is to change social conditions so that new terrorists are not being generated at a faster pace than they are being killed or captured. But this approach is unacceptable to Bush and those who think like him, because it requires the abandonment of U.S. control of Muslim regions and their oil.
On p. 166 de Blij claims that there is "no violent dimension" to Christian fundamentalism in the U.S. Hasn't he heard of the bombings of abortion clinics and the like? Is he completely ignorant of Christian fascists like Pat Robertson, and the wars, violence and assassinations that they support and call for?
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.
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