Not just a box of tricks

An Introduction to Geographical Information Systems. First Edition - Principles of Geographical Information Systems. First Edition - Geographical Information Systems for Ecology
May 28, 1999

Geographical information systems (GIS) have been in use since the 1960s, but it is only in the 1990s that they have become one of the staples of university teaching. Some academics still denigrate GIS as just another box of numerical tricks, but this is a technology that is being widely used in central and local government, the utilities, commerce and academic research. An understanding of GIS will help undergraduates in their careers, and it brings many postgraduates back to college. There is clearly a market for good GIS textbooks at reasonable prices.

Principles of Geographical Information Systems is the largest and most expensive. It derives from the 1986 publication Principles of Geographical Information Systems for Land Resource Assessment , a much-read, widely cited classic. This new publication is up to date and provides comprehensive coverage of virtually all aspects of GIS. It is clearly written and technical where appropriate. Most users of GIS and not a few who teach the subject know far less than this book contains. It would frighten many undergraduates as an introductory textbook, but it should be recommended for postgraduate courses and for all teachers of GIS.

As an undergraduate text, An Introduction to Geographical Information Systems , is more approachable. You get the feeling that the very readable text has been through many revisions (as indeed it has). The approach is very different from Principles . Using a cartoon of a Martian who is trying to find out what a car is, and, by analogy, what a GIS is, the authors explain that the Martian would rather go for a drive and have the functions of a car demonstrated than to watch mechanics take it apart and explain what the components do. An Introduction takes us on a drive through GIS land; Principles prefers to stay in the garage.

Geographical Information Systems for Ecology restricts itself to more specific, although important, ecological applications, and the many ecologists using GIS will find this book useful. It does not have the depth or authority of the other titles, hailing as it does from a research institute rather than a university, and it could be characterised as "this is how we solve ecological problems using GIS". A worthy addition to the library and suitable for ecology students.

David Walker is a senior lecturer in the geography department, Loughborough University.

An Introduction to Geographical Information Systems. First Edition

Author - Ian Heywood, Sarah Cornelius and Steve Carver
ISBN - 0 582 08940 9
Publisher - Longman
Price - £21.99
Pages - 9

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