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Window Seat: Reading the Landscape from the Air Paperback – March 1, 2004

3.6 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Aiming to educate air passengers about the structures and topography they spot out their windows during flights over North America, Dicum, who chronicled the coffee industry in 1999's Coffee Book, also entertains. Instead of organizing the book by well-traveled routes (New York to L.A., for example), he divides America and Canada into regions (the Great Plains, the Mid-Atlantic) and describes the landforms, water formations and human features endemic to each area, with sidebars on how to spot such entities as urban sprawl, interstate highways and federal land. Satellite images taken miles higher than the typical flight's altitude of 35,000 feet illustrate what readers are likely to see from their window seat. In the chapter on Texas, for example, Dicum uses satellite photos to explain how to identify oil wells, the border with Mexico, and Hill Country towns settled by Germans, who arranged their New World communities just as they had in Europe, with the main street parallel to a river. In an easy, cogent style, Dicum answers questions curious flyers may have wondered but never understood, like why some farmland is arranged in squares and some in perfect circles. He manages to wrest fascinating cultural significance from quotidian details (e.g., the bizarre land shapes in the rural South result from the postâ€"Civil War government's attempts at land redistribution). Compulsively readable, the guidebook is composed of both handy factual information as well as deeper lessons about North America and its inhabitants. 70 color photos, 25 line drawings.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Gregory Dicum is a San Francisco-based writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine , Harper's , HotWired , New York Magazine , Travel & Leisure , and others.

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Product Details

  • Series: Window Seat
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books (March 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811840867
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811840866
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #459,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Elias Baumgarten on June 26, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful and desperately needed book, as evidenced by the fact that passengers are asked to close their window shades when flying over the Rocky Mountains so people can watch an insipid "altered for air travel" movie. And by the fact that most people do in fact close their shades and ignore what until a century ago was denied to all humans, a view of the Earth from miles above.
I did thumb through this book at a bookstore and bought it instantly. The satellite photos along with descriptions seem very helpful for interpreting landscapes from the air although I have not yet taken it on a flight.
It is not a technical book and would be suitable for intelligent teenagers, but unless you can already identify and explain moraines, eskers, drumlins, kettle ponds, and spillways and understand how 100,000 years of glacial action formed the lowland landscapes we see from the air, you will probably find this book educational as well as enjoyable. (The book will of course offer only a first introduction to these and similar matters.) The photos themselves are worth the price of the book.
(If you really love aerial photography, consider also getting a book such as EARTH FROM ABOVE by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, which is beautiful, educational, and more expensive.)
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Format: Paperback
Okey dokey . . . this isn't a collection of low elevation aerial photographs. that's true. Some of the "reviewers" have taken great umbrage at that, as if it is deceitful and naughty of the author to have used the title he did -- at least the part before the colon. But, y'know what? There are windows EVEN in the ISS (a nearly three-foot optically-correct viewing window in the International Space Station), and this book makes incredibly effective use of satellite and high-orbit photographs (many of them technically "images," since they're not on film) to give us a knowing sense of how to analyze the world around us -- from the air.

And what a sublime gift that is! Dicum makes every image fit four or five different uses and purposes. The analysis is both accurate, which is nice, but also inspiring and tempting, which isn't something that can be said of every "overhead" book. The maps and explications are great, and the intelligence that goes into this struck me as inspiring. The perfect combination would be this book and, let's say, Erwin Raisz's fantastic, yet precise, landform maps (still available; try Google), which show the spine and design of the entire North American continent (and, in other sheets, several others). "Reading the Landscape from the Air" is exactly what this book's about, just as the works of JB Jackson or Michael Parfit or Grady Clay are about learning to look and see.

That said, this is kind of how-to guide, worthy on its own, but especially so for students of the land. I'd use it in a class. If you want pretty pictures (gorgeous ones), buy the fat (yet reasonably priced -- and wow, do I mean that!) *Earth From Above: 366 Days* by Arthus-Bertrand, or some of Georg Gerster's mind-blowing books.
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Format: Paperback
I love books that meld several subjects into a coherent whole. Window Seat does just that combining travel writing, geography, geology, with a smattering of history, environmental, and social commentary.

Ostensibly, Dicum wrote this for airplane travellers so they can understand what they're seeing from the window. While I could easily see a first time reader taking it along on a flight, I can't see someone lugging it along repeatedly. However, it's equally good for an armchair traveller seeking to remember (or imagine) what they saw because of the many, many illustrations. The heavy, glossy paper means the pictures are the equivalent quality of what you'd get in National Geographic.

The book's divided into self-contained regional sections like "The Pacific Northwest", so you can easily find where you're travelling to and from or just browse where you're most interested in. The format means you can easily read short bursts anywhere in the book without worrying about continuity. Also included are likely sites near airports and along heavily used flight paths like the FedEx hub, Orlando's Disney World, and SF Bay.

I especially like that he has short analyses of what you're seeing, such as the following excerpt:

..."In 1825, with the opening of the Erie Canal, the fertile and much more plow-friendly lands of the Midwest became available for American settlement, quickly emptying New England of farmers. Flying west across the Hudson River, over upstate New York, you are following the course of this migration; if you keep going, you'll find the missing farms in the Midwest.

"With the farmers gone, the New England forest regrew. ...These are the woods immortalized by Thoreau, and their resurgence in the past century is one of the brightest spots in America's ecological history."
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By A Customer on July 18, 2004
Format: Paperback
I was the type of flyer who did her nails, read my book, and occasionally glanced out the window. Recently I flew from Harrisburg PA to Toronto, Canada on a sunny afternoon. Armed with "Window Seat" I began studying the landscape. What an eye opener: I saw a huge open pit coal mine, a military cemetery, and of course the usual farms, plus the Susquehanna! Later there was Niagara Falls,with all the generators etc., the Welland Canal and locks, and of course all the details of my home town: Toronto! I loved it. But Dicum was right: you do get a crick in the neck.
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