The new edition of The Dictionary of Physical Geography , edited by David Thomas and Andrew Goudie, has more than 2,000 definitions provided by a team of 34 expert contributors. To fit so many items (even more than the comprehensive second edition) within a finite number of pages is a task that few would dare to try. To make it readable is even more challenging.
Thomas and Goudie have succeeded on both counts. To help clarify complex issues, they have even incorporated discussions such as Barbara Kennedy's critique of systems and Chris Clark's clear and unbiased account of the conflicting deforming-bed and mel****er models for drumlin formation.
The limitations of space means that no term can be defined and discussed at length, and some are shorter than might be wished. An example is the entry for "salt marsh", which is shorter than that for "Schmidt hammer" - both deserve mention but perhaps an important physical feature merits more words than a particular tool.
Specialists may take issue with a few definitions - for example, the description of "diapir" as an "anticlinal fold" does not represent the true nature of these features - but most are clearly expressed. Presentation quality is generally good, although some of the black-and-white photographs are not clearly reproduced - a shame for a major dictionary in a very visual subject. The ever-increasing diversity of physical geography has undoubtedly made the production of such a useable resource a huge achievement.
If the editors are bold enough to think of doing a fourth edition, it may be time to consider abandoning the printed format and move to multimedia.
But until that happens, this dictionary will remain a useful resource for undergraduates and an invaluable one for hard-pressed lecturers.
Philip Collins is lecturer in physical geography, Brunel University.
The Dictionary of Physical Geography
Author - David S. G. Thomas and Andrew Goudie
ISBN - 0 631 20473 3
Publisher - Blackwell
Price - £24.99
Pages - 610