GIS textbooks I have taught with

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.

11 Replies to “GIS textbooks I have taught with”

  1. I’ve gotten a lot of use out of Nicholas Chrisman’s Exploring Geographic Information Systems since getting it for an undergrad course many years ago. The price tag on the back says it was 50.95 from the Cornell Campus Store – I see the newest edition is $122.50!

    Another book I never fail to mention in discussions like this is GIS and Multicriteria Decision Analysis by Jacek Malczewski. It’s only appropriate for an advanced course or a graduate geostatistics or spatial modeling course but I’ve found it invaluable in my work and extremely well written. Though I give you fair warning that the text is technical.

    1. Thanks Gretchen. Chrisman’s book does have some great stuff in it. I have always been puzzled by his method of organizing his book. Figure P-1 (also on the back cover) shows a “nested scheme of rings” that just never made sense to me! He’s an interesting author though, and I’m surprised he hasn’t put out a new edition.

      I haven’t read Jacek’s book, but will pick up a copy. I admit I need to learn more about multicriteria decision analysis. Thanks for the suggestion. -Don

  2. An interesting and useful post that elicits the following:

    When the Burrough book first appeared, and there were not many GIS books available at that time, I went through it and decided that it could not be used as an introductory GIS text. I spoke with Peter about this and we had an interesting conversation. My problem was that the students in my GIS classes were often ill prepared in geographic science as well as in other basic areas such as mathematics and statistics. I would gather from your comment about the book that this may have been a problem for you as well. Peter, on the other hand, told me that he had no such problems and all of his students had adequate backgrounds to deal with the material in the book. Europe vs the U.S.!

    A second comment on your list of books. It does not include Worboys and Duckham’s “GIS: A
    Computing Perspective” (second edition, 2004). Again, not a “teachable” book from the standpoint of most GIS programs in the U.S. due to the general student lack of an adequate background in basic (not advanced) computer science. Should advanced GIS students be able to read and understand this book? My response is a strong yes! One of the reasons for the establishment of the Marble-Boyle undergraduate awards is to encourage individuals and institutions to do more in this area. From the AAG website:
    “These awards aim to recognize excellence in academic performance by undergraduate students from the United States and Canada who are putting forth a strong effort to bridge geographic science and computer science as well as to encourage other students to embark upon similar programs.”

    1. Thanks for your comments Duane. I have had a similar experience with my students, in that many of them have little mathematical or statistical training, and that this certainly does affect my choice of textbook. This doesn’t mean I shy away from math completely, but try to take a more conceptual approach e.g., explaining the idea behind something like inverse distance weighting, and walking through the formula, but without making them complete the calculations themselves. I take a pragmatic approach – I assume that they are going to use commerical software, and that I want them to be able to make educated decisions when choosing a particular function and set of parameters.

      As for your suggestion on the Worboys and Duckham title, there are many books I could have mentioned, but wanted to keep it brief. I certainly intend to discuss more books in the future though! As to whether students should be able to understand that book, I think it depends on the objectives of the course and the students. For example, the majority of the students in my introductory course don’t intend to pursue a career in GIS, but want to learn the basics of map design and analysis. For them, I think Worboys and Duckham would be unnecessary. I do think, though, that students in an advanced course, who are much more likely to continue on with GIS graduate school and/or their careers, should not be afraid of the content in a book of that nature. Thanks again. -Don

  3. Very useful post! I was wondering what the best book(s) for learning how to use most of the ArcGIS functionality were that I could use along with books on the theory of GIS. I know Esri has published several books, including the ones you mentioned here. But do you have other good recommendations for more advanced users? Thank you.

    1. Thanks, I’m glad you found it helpful! There are tons of introductory books, but very few books for more advanced users. The best (and only) ones that come to mind are the two I mentioned in the post: The ESRI Guide to GIS Analysis, Vols. 1 and 2 as well as the newest one, volume 3, which includes topics such as weighted overlay, fuzzy overlay, network analysis, and modeling flow and interaction. There are other “advanced” books, but none that I can think of directly related to ArcGIS. I’m also a big fan of the author, Andy Mitchell, as he has such a clear writing style. You might also be interested in Getting to Know ArcGIS: ModelBuilder by David W. Allen. I hope you find these suggestions useful. -Don

  4. We are a newly established university in South Africa and we are in the process of introducing GIS as one the module to our Bsc geography and environment studies. I am looking for a GIS text book and advise to GIS which I can use to mu students so that can grasp this very difficult module.

    1. You may not need a textbook at all. I haven’t used a textbook for several years, as I rely on online material such as Esri’s online help (I teach with ArcGIS) and The Nature of Geographic Information by David DiBiase. If you prefer a hardcopy book, then it depends a lot on the material and level you are teaching. One of the main reasons I stopped using a textbook is because I could never find one that matched my particular approach, and I didn’t want to change my approach to match the book (see my post here.

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