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Geographical design : spatial cognition and geographical information science (2nd ed.)
Hirtle S., Morgan&Claypool Publishers, San Rafael, CA, 2019. 86 pp.  Type: Book (978-1-681735-73-3)
Date Reviewed: Sep 17 2020

A very brief but possibly useful book/booklet/pamphlet (I am not sure how to best characterize it), Geographical design has some strangeness and some faults; but other than that, it appears to be something that may interest a broader audience than might be expected.

First the strangeness. The physical publication is 88 pages, but the actual net text is only 52 pages. The publisher also chose a strange, out-of-the-ordinary page size (19 by 23.5 centimeters). This means that on a practical basis, the pages flop if you try to hold the book in one hand--perhaps I am old-fashioned, but I love books and I love to hold them in my hand. The book must either lie flat on a desk or be held in both hands to read. Inconvenient and rather silly. I am not a professional publisher, but I perceive no reason why Geographical design was printed in this manner.

Some years ago, Microsoft published a book with similar dimensions on a different but related subject, but solved the aforementioned problem by printing on thicker and stiffer paper [1]. The book was convenient and comfortable to hold and reading was quite a pleasure.

The second and more significant issue is content. The book has a very extensive bibliography, some 15 pages long. This is certainly impressive. As a matter of fact, anyone interested in geographic information systems (GIS) would find just this aspect of high value.

Now here is the rub, or rather the first of two. This book convinced me that this is indeed the leading edge of this very important technology, and anyone today knows that this technology is of critical importance for the 21st century. Perhaps I am unduly influenced by that massive bibliography, but I frankly do not think so. The booklet feels that it is driving the technological edge--I’ll explain why I phrase that peculiarly. I was for many years an editor-in-chief of a known scientific journal. I had one overriding criterion for rejection: the language of the article (English) must be readable by any educated reader. In other words, I absolutely forbade the publishing of unreadable text. This booklet has probably more grammatical errors than I have ever seen. It is exceedingly difficult to read, and I very much wished to read it from cover to cover because the subject is fascinating. It was an awful chore. Practically, I find this inexcusable. In parallel, I am totally nonplussed at this level of writing in a second edition. I cannot even imagine what the first must have looked like.

The second catch to this book is a more difficult one. More than half a century ago, in basic training in the Israeli Army, I was taught how to deal with some of the problems that this booklet advances or describes. Even before that, the US Army Air Command (the air arm of the US Army before there was an Air Force) published Map and aerial photograph reading for dealing with some issues of geographical/spatial information. It was a superb guide, particularly for its time.

I spoke with a friend and former student, an expert user and professional practitioner of GIS. There seems to be a fascinating conundrum here with the technology. There seems to be a very large gap between the theoreticians and the professionals in the field. As a matter of fact, many of the “challenges” presented by this author as highly difficult have been addressed by the Israeli Air Force in a very constructive and original manner. For example, soldiers on the autism spectrum have successfully interpreted many very difficult issues of aerial (including satellite/space-based) photography.

This conundrum is highly disconcerting. If, as I believe the author has convinced me, this booklet is a significant advance in the technology, the theorists need to do a great deal more fieldwork and perhaps look a bit less at general theory.

Reviewer:  Mordechai Ben-Menachem Review #: CR147063 (2102-0023)
1) Harper, R.; Rodden, T.; Rogers, Y.; Sellen, A. Being human: human-computer interaction in the year 2020. Microsoft, 2008, .
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