cover image Why in the World

Why in the World

George J. Demko. Anchor Books, $14.95 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-385-26629-1

Much of this book consists of interesting, if disconnected, mini-essays by Demko, former director of the U.S. Office of the Geographer. He argues convincingly that geography--the analysis of events and processes over space--is linked to and vital to history, even though it has been devalued. Demko's muse ranges over territorial conflicts, cultural geography, wacky claims for national recognition, the art of maps, weather, migration and the geography of water. He offers a chapter on the geographic puzzle of the former Soviet Union, his specialty, as well as some autobiography and advice to would-be geographers. However, the book is padded by more than a third with profiles of the world's 173 countries. Such profiles belong in a reference work; moreover, these are marred by cliches (Austria ``has hills alive with the sound of music''), inconsistencies (why give the capital of Sweden but not Norway?) and errors (it was the Land Act, not the Group Areas Act, as Demko has it, that reserved 87 percent of South Africa's land for whites). Agel and Boe are coauthors of Test Your Word Power . Maps and illustrations not seen by PW. (May)