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on 21 August 2015
Inside the front cover of these books it says "a very good idea these Very Short Introductions". But what exactly IS the idea? These books seem to fall into two camps - half of them teach what they purport to teach (e.g. Game Theory or Microbiology) and the other half are, shall I say, "meta", in other words, they are not about the subject, they are about the methodological angst of the university faculties that teach the subject (e.g. Ethnomusicology or Geography). Both approaches are acceptable, but they are both operating on different levels, hence my question, what exactly is the idea?

If a woman or a gay gets attacked in a park, it's the concern of geographers, the book asserts. That is interesting, but it would be better to manage the economy, educate, police the parks and stop women and gays from getting attacked than simply study the phenomenon in more and more university faculties! I'm a Classicist curious about ancient economics, agriculture and animal husbandry, and the most interesting page for me was the captioned photo of a village in Central Wales, but to be fair, it has introduced me to the subject of Cultural Geography, which may be what I'm looking for.
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Oxford University Press describes its "Very Short Introduction Series" as intended "for anyone wanting a stimulating and accessible way into a new subject." "What better way to get older", I thought, "than by learning something new". I wasn't prepared to try, say, particle physics; but I wanted to read on a subject relatively new for me and manageable. I found this Very Short Introduction to Geography (2008) by John A Matthews and David T. Herbert. Matthews is Professor of Physical Geography and the University of Wales, Swansea, while Herbert is Emeritus Professor of Geography and Honorary Fellow at the same institution. The authors earlier collaborated on a book, "Unifying Geography: Common Heritage, Shared Future" (2004); and the title suggests a good deal of the theme of their very short introduction.

Geography is a broad, diverse discipline, and most lay readers will have only a general idea of its scope. The authors quote a number of definitions and offer the readers the following simple explanation. "The subject matter of geography is the Earth's surface, including the envelope of atmosphere immediately above it, the structures that lie immediately below it, and the social and cultural environments contributed by the people who occupy it." The authors identify and explain the three "core concepts" of geography: space, place, and environment.

The most interesting part of the book is the authors' frequent discussion about whether geography is one study or several. The study is at the cusp of physical science and human culture. It divides broadly into the fields of physical geography and cultural geography. There is room for doubt about the extent of the ties that hold the fields together. In addition each of the two broad fields seem to fold in with other sciences or studies. The authors discuss at length the difficulty of integrating the study of geography, but they are convinced the effort is important and worthwhile. In discussing the future of the discipline, they urge an effort to integrate its various components at their center.

The book develops the science of physical geography, its subdivisions, and the relationship of the field to other sciences. They stress the quantitative, empirical character that the discipline shares with other sciences.

Cultural geography is highly different from the physical science. It has moved over the years from an attempt to be quantitative and empirical to a search for meaning. In so doing, it has followed trends in the humanities and philosophy. The authors discuss subjects including deconstruction and feminism to show how the different ways people have developed to look at and understand the physical space they inhabit has changed the ways many cultural geographers view their subject. I was interested in learning how philosophy, which I have studied, has become important in the way in which at least some geographers view their discipline.

The book discusses the tools and methodologies geographers bring to their tasks. Here again, the subject is frustratingly broad with the authors mentioning a range of studies from advanced mathematics and statistical theory on the one hand to T.S. Elliot's poem "Little Gidding" to Jacques Derrida on the other hand. The difficulty is to find the precise "space" (pun intended) for the discipline. The authors discuss the many ways in which geographers team to work with others, both in the sciences and the humanities.

In reading this very short introduction, I thought of an example of the use of geography from my own recent reading. The Victorian novelist George Gissing's novel "Thyrza", named for its heroine, is set in the Lambeth area of London and in the outlying areas of London in the 1880s. I have no familiarity with Lambeth in its current state much less in the late 19th Century. A new edition of "Thyrza" Thyrza includes an appendix, "Thyrza's Geography" Richard Dennis, Professor of Human Geography at University College, London describing in detail the physical environment of the London areas in which Gissing sets in his novel. Dennis' article was valuable in helping to understand the Lambeth that Gissing describes with care.

The authors maintain that the study of geography may function as a bridge between the sciences and the humanities. If so, it would be a valuable thing to do. I enjoyed learning something new and outside my usual reading in this book, and I also enjoyed getting a very short introduction to the study of geography.

Robin Friedman
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 November 2014
This is a terrific series of books that are consistently interesting and well written. They all manage to combine being highly readable yet at the same time with academic content. Matthews and Herbert's introduction to geography is nicely written. Geography has long had something of an identity crisis about what it is supposed to be and this book explores the history of the subject and explains how the difficulties arise. Matthews and Herbert are both strong advocates of a holistic or integrated approach to the subject - combining physical and human geography - and not surprisingly they are at their most convincing and energised when on this aspect. As a result the book gets better towards the end.

The book is logically laid out and one particular nice touch is the attempt to identifying unifying traits of methodology or approaches. The historic analysis is interesting although I have seen other commentators write more concisely about it. The detail of the physical and human chapters can be a little dry to the casual reader. But towards the end, when they discuss the importance of an integrated approach, their energy seems to lift and the book is totally excellent.

As a general introduction to the subject it is a good start. The early pages might be a bit dry for some tastes but certainly if you are on your way to an undergraduate interview for a geography course, you could do a lot worse than read this on your journey. The real beauty of these books for me is that they are a good launching point for further investigation - the references section is always well written and annotated. I have already purchased one of the books mentioned for further investigation.
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on 15 June 2013
Perfect - read it before my interview at a prestigious university and gave me some great background knowledge about the subject. Would recommend to those applying for geography for sure. BUT is is quite theory based and is about the history and development of the subject, and if that isn't your thing then you might not enjoy it. I thought it was great though!
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on 26 December 2012
I read this before I went in to teacher training to become a Geography teacher, after my Geography degree - it is a great little book to give you the basics. I would love to read all the others in the series.
It would be perfect for anyone interested in or studying Geography.
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on 12 December 2016
Not that useful. Rather lifeless and dull as a read, so much so I'm struggling to pen a horrendously over verbose review of it.
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on 21 May 2016
great product
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on 8 January 2014
A good series of books that gives enough information to get you started or help with revision. Small enough to carry in a pocket and not feel overwhelming to open.
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on 10 October 2014
Short and condensed text, what geography is. I can recommend for everybody who wants to stady the science.
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on 14 May 2015
Good revision facts
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