Interpreting Our World: 100 Discoveries that Revolutionized Geography. By Joseph J. Kerski. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2016. 386 p. Acid free $71.20 (ISBN: 978-1-61069-918-8). Ebooks available (ISBN: 978-1-61069-920-4), call for pricing.

Advances within the discipline of geography have changed the way that we understand and engage with the world. Joseph J. Kerski’s Interpreting our World: 100 Discoveries that Revolutionized Geography focuses on some of the most important discoveries in geography that have changed the discipline of geography and society’s understanding of the world. Interpreting our World is a single-volume encyclopedia that contains an introduction essay, six regional maps that depict the geographic locations of the volume’s entries, a selected chronology of key events, one hundred alphabetically arranged entries, and an index.

Kerski’s entries highlight how certain discoveries in geography have led to “changes in ways of thinking about the Earth” and to changes “in the way that the Earth is studied” (xii). Interpreting our World explicitly focuses on geography as an applied discipline. Thus, topical and biographical entries emphasize practical discoveries that significantly shaped and reframed the social and earth sciences. Interpreting our World provides readers with concise, yet informative essays ranging from two to three pages in length. All entries end with a useful further readings list. Many entries also contain illustrations or photographs, which prove to be useful for essays such as “Great Trigonometric Survey of India” as the accompanying image of the trigonometric survey shows how the cartographers used triangulations to produce accurate maps. As an encyclopedia of applied geography, its subject entries largely focus on instrumentation and calculation methods and include topics such as “Surveying: Measuring the Earth,” “Eratosthenes: Calculating the Earth’s Circumference,” and “Field Collection Devices: Data Gathering on the Landscape.” The biographical essays focus on people who contributed to technological or quantitative advancements in geography such as William Smith, who created “the world’s first nationwide geologic map” (293).

Interpreting our World provides a thorough introduction into many important advancements in geography. Other related reference works include Reuel R. Hanks’ single-volume Encyclopedia of Geography Terms, Themes, and Concepts (ABC-CLIO, 2011) and Barney Warf’s six-volume Encyclopedia of Geography (Sage, 2010). Kerski’s Interpreting our World offers more in-depth essays than the entries in Hanks’ Encyclopedia of Geography Terms, Themes, and Concepts and is much more focused than the more comprehensive Encyclopedia of Geography. While Interpreting our World is focused on applied geography, it can be forgiven for not including essays on topics related to human geography. However, a few entries focused on the critiques of applied geography would have been a useful addition to the volume. Since Interpreting our World included many entries related to mapping, including essays on radical geography and critical cartography, both of which significantly reframed the discipline’s understanding of maps, would have provided a more well-rounded presentation of applied geography.

Regardless of these omissions, Kerski’s Interpreting our World offers an accessible account of one hundred significant advances and discoveries that framed the discipline of geography and changed how the world viewed the Earth. This volume offers accessible and brief essays that provide well-informed introductions into important topics within geography. Interpreting our World is recommended for high school and public libraries.—Joseph A. Hurley, Data Services and GIS Librarian, Georgia State University Library, Atlanta, Georgia


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