Landscapes and geomorphology: a very short introduction by Andrew Goudie and Heather Viles. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2010. No. of pages: x+137. Price: UK£7.99. ISBN 978-0-19-956557-3 (paperback).


I am a fan of the OUP ‘A Very Short Introduction’ series. These volumes are affordable and pocket-sized, and are written by recognised experts on subjects spanning the full spectrum of human knowledge and endeavour. They should be a boon to students in all areas of study. On a recent visit to Manchester, I found that Blackwell's Bookshop was selling all titles at £3.00 off! How could I resist? And I found a little gem, Landscapes and Geomorphology.

The distinguished authors, Goudie and Viles, need no introduction, and their wide experience in geomorphology coupled to their recognised skills as authors and editors has engendered a delightful volume. Their brush has been broad, but I know where to go for information on my own specialist interests. This is a slim book that is writ large, taking me outside my comfort zone, even extending to landscapes beyond the Earth. The structure of Landscapes and Geomorphology is entirely logical, starting with the familiar and historical perspectives, examining the influence of tectonics and climate, seeing the interactions between landscapes and man from more than one perspective, and finally discussing the exotic—the deep ocean floor, Mars and Titan. All this is crammed, in the best possible way, in only about 125 pages of text. The reading list and index appear adequate.

My one criticism of Landscapes and Geomorphology, and a mild one at that, is the brevity of the figure captions. In a book of this sort the reader should expect and receive more explanation of each figure and diagram. For example, Figure 8, ‘Part of the Tibetan Plateau, as seen from space’, cries out for more explanation. And, after years of telling students that they can only sit on an exposure it they can see it through their bottoms, Figure 7 shows a gamma spectrometer in use in the field—with the operator sat on the outcrop! How times change.

My comments on the captions do not extend to the figures, which are clear and detailed, even if needing more background explanation in places. The authors also make good use of text ‘boxes’ to broaden their explanations along interesting pathways outside the main track of the narrative. This reader particularly enjoyed the pocket biographies of notable 19th century geomorphologists in Chapter 2, including Louis Agassiz, G. K. Gilbert and William Morris Davis.

This book deserves to be widely read and is a lively introduction to geomorphology, suitable for anyone with a true interest. I particularly recommend it to young enthusiasts at the start of their careers and interested amateurs, but even this grey-haired scholar was an impatient reader. Congratulations to the authors, to OUP and to us, for having such an entertaining treatment so readily available.