In my last post, I wrote about my search for the perfect GIS textbook and the fact that I have not yet found one (and likely never will). Today I thought I would mention some books that I particularly like – I am not pretending to give any of them a full, rigorous review, but did want to discuss some elements that I think work well. To go along with this continuing discussion of GIS textbooks, I have added a list of GIS textbooks to this site. For now, I will mainly limit my comments to books I have used as required reading in one or more courses, but will also mention some that I just admire.
There are two introductory books I have used in the past, Fundamentals of Geographic Information Systems by Michael N. DeMers, and An Introduction to Geographical Information Systems by Heywood, Cornelius, and Carver (see my book list for full references). I would put both of these books in the “lighter” category, meaning that they don’t have an abundance of technical information in them. They are clearly geared towards the absolute beginner, and both are very well written for that audience, including great figures that help illustrate concepts in an accessible way. Over the years, I have tried using both in my introductory course, but eventually abandoned them for the same reason – namely, that I felt they were a little too light and that I often had to fill in additional information to cover the content I felt was necessary. This is not to take anything away from either book though, as I think they both accomplish their intended purpose, but I just didn’t feel they meshed with my own course objectives.
There are two books that I have also tried that I would describe as much more technical and densely written: Concepts and Techniques of Geographic Information Systems by Lo and Yeung, and Introduction to Geographic Information Systems by Chang. I used Lo and Yeung for several years in my introductory, intermediate, and advanced courses. I liked it because it had (among other things) good discussions of coordinate systems, map projections, and levels of model abstraction and basic database design. Alas, I received a number of complaints from students over the years, particularly in the introductory course, who felt it was hard to understand. I really like the content in this book, but I do find that their writing at times is a bit too technical, or makes assumptions about the audience, that made me eventually decide to move to Chang. I am currently using Chang in all three of my undergraduate courses. If you are thinking that using either Lo and Yeung or Chang in three different courses seems odd, I did this because I had thought that, since no book would cover everything I was looking for, and I would have to fill in other material anyway, why not try it. Beyond that, the costs of the books were so high that I thought I would try to give students a break if they took two or three of my courses. I find that Chang is well written and makes a lot of explicit references to ArcGIS, which I use for my courses. However, the sections for each topic are surprisingly brief, and the overall length of the book is fairly short, especially for the price. I think students could benefit from more detailed explanations and examples in order to really understand certain concepts.
A third book I used a few years ago that I would also put in the “advanced” and “densely written” category is Principles of Geographic Information Systems by Burrough and McDonnell. This book has some great content, some of which is still hard to find elsewhere, such as good coverage of errors, fuzzy sets, and a good amount on raster analysis. For me, the biggest downfall of this book is the writing style. Granted, I think it is geared towards a more experienced and advanced GIS student, but there were times in lectures where I would literally put quotes from the book on a PowerPoint slide, and then go through it, line by line, deconstructing and translating each passage into plain language.
Regarding writing style, there are some titles I’d like to mention that I have not used in courses before, but that I have always admired. While it’s quite old now, one of the first GIS textbooks I ever read was Geographic Information Systems: A Management Perspective by Stan Aronoff. It was a great way to get started, as it was written in a straightforward, easily understandable style. I also really like Geographic Information Analysis by O’Sullivan and Unwin. Even though they cover more challenging topics, particularly spatial statistics, I find that their writing makes these topics much easier to understand.
Some other titles that are not only well written, but beautifully illustrated, are The ESRI Guide to Geodatabase Concepts and Modeling Our World, both by Michael Zeiler, and The ESRI Guide to GIS Analysis, Vols. 1 and 2. I love looking through as well as reading all of these books. The figures have been painstakingly thought out and the use of full colour is really effective.
These are just some thoughts I wanted to share on some of the books I have used and/or admired. There are many I haven’t mentioned, but hopefully will discuss in future posts. If you have any favorite GIS textbooks, I would love to hear about them.