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A coherent text that doesn't quite live up to expectations
on January 25, 2004
Keller's text is a thorough exploration of both facets of environmental geology: natural hazards and the human impact on the environment. The text includes numerous case studies to illustrate the concepts, though most of them are set in the United States (especially the West Coast). Keller presents, in chapter one, four principles that are supposedly woven throughout the text. At the end of each chapter, he includes "Critical Thinking Questions", which I hoped would lead to vibrant in-class discussions. The other aspect of this book that led me to select it for undergraduate class was the CD-ROM, which promised to provide students with simulations of real-world environmental problem solving.
Alas, the book does not live up to its promises. My greatest disappointment is that the text is rather dry, and the Critical Thinking Questions rarely moved beyond synthesizing material from the chapter. I am also concerned that students explore environmental issues at both the local (for me, northeastern US) and global scales. Apart from a fairly thorough coverage of global warming and an occasional photo of an earthquake or volcano overseas, Keller seems content to focus on the US, especially his own home state, California. His only nod to Earth Systems Science is a few paragraphs crammed into the first chapter, along with mention of Gaia. The CD-ROM was less exciting for students than I had anticipated, and my class found the written part of the CD assignments difficult, and many answers were based upon previous ones, so if they got one wrong, they would get several wrong and do poorly as a result. Finally, I was disappointed by Keller'ss uninspired philosophical assertion in the final chapter, in which he insisted that "sustainable development" is possible and ought to be pursued. In a class discussion, the students all concluded that development and sustainability are mutually exclusive things.
The text is thorough and fairly accessable, but fails to move beyond being "like most other textbooks" despite the numerous ways it appears to do so at first glance.