Book Review – GIS A to Z by Sommer and Wade (Eds)

A to Z GIS: An Illustrated Dictionary of Geographic Information Systems by Sommer and Wade (Eds), ESRI Press, 2006

As we quickly covered in the Book Corner in Episode 65 of the podcast, ESRI is the first to market with a GIS specific dictionary of terms with their A to Z GIS. Overall, the text offers a quick introduction to the majority of GIS related terms and concepts. It is surprising the number of terms they include with very little oversight. As a text from ESRI Press, written by ESRI employees, however, it does seem to trend toward definitions that fit well with ESRI software. For example, the definition of topology includes a definition that is explicitly linked to ESRI’s Coverage format (admittedly a great format for handling topology).

Perhaps my only true issue with the text is that an industry specific dictionary such as A to Z GIS should be a ready reference for the neophyte, the unsure, and the person in need of a quick reference. However, the definitions in the book are primarily technical, pulled from their discipline of origin, often Math, Statistics, etc, and do not always offer a spatially specific definition that puts the terms in a GIS context. As I suggested in the podcast review, Johnston, et al offers a great model to follow in The Dictionary of Human Geography where leaders in each area were tapped to provide descriptions of each term, along with key references to help the reader build on the information provided. Admittedly most of the definitions in Johnston et al are more extensive than those needed for the terms in A to Z GIS, but it would be nice to see where the authors obtained their definitions.

That said, I do believe that A to Z GIS offers a good source for reference, especially for those who are just getting into GIS or who have been around long enough to begin to forget terms that they once knew. I think it is safe to say that I am not the target audience, but that my students are, although it’s always nice to have a quick reference guide when you need it.

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Jesse is Instructor in Geography and a PhD candidate in Geography focusing on the integration of phenomenology and geospatial technologies to study prehistoric cultural landscape. He is a GIS Professional and Registered Professional Archaeologist and holds an MA in Geography and a BS in Anthropology with a concentration in archaeology.