Saturday, July 7, 2012

Illustrated Atlas of the Himalaya / David Zurick and Julsun Pacheco -- Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 2006

The Illustrated Atlas of the Himalaya is a beautiful introduction to the Himalaya. Geographically, it covers everything between the Indus River and the Karakorum Mountains in the west to the Brahmaputra River in the east and from Tibetan plateau in the north to the Terai lowland in the south. It is divided into five chapters: the regional setting, the natural environment, society, resources and conservation, and exploration and travel. It contains maps, tables and charts, photographs, and text.

The pages are ten inches by thirteen inches and oriented in a landscape format. This allows large panoramic images of mountain vistas and other subjects. While the photographs are the work's strongest feature, it is not simply a coffee table picture book. The other features are also of high quality.

The maps are detailed and usually precisely drawn, though often smaller than they could be. In several cases, details are lost in the small scale. At the same time, there is also a great deal of white space on the pages. While this makes reading the work a pleasure, the white space could have been used to include more detail or at very least to enlarge some of the graphics.

The text generally is well-written and informative, but the authors have an unfortunate habit of making reference to places not shown on any of their maps. This is curious, since much information appears on the maps that is not referenced in the text. It is almost as though the text and maps are for two separate works. The atlas does contain a place index, listing longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates; so it is possible to look up a place, find its coordinates, and then refer to one of more of the maps to locate the place. This usually is more work than is desirable. I found myself skipping the effort or seeking out other maps and atlases to supplement the work. Greater coordination between the maps and the text would have greatly improved the usefulness of the atlas.

The geology of the region is complicated, making the section on the natural environment difficult, but a careful reading is rewarding. The section on society provides much typical demographic information, along with information about the transportation and communication systems, development issues, and governance. It is, however, a somewhat elementary treatment of the society. Importantly, the section on governance is now quite obsolete with the success of the Maoist insurgency. The section on resources and conservation describes the flora, fauna, minerals, and water resources. Curiously, nothing is said about the effects of climate change in the region. One would think that a work published in 2006 would take this into account, since by that time it was well understood that the Himalaya will be profoundly affected by a warming climate. (Just recently, Appa Sherpa, the man who has made it to the top of Mt. Everest more often than anyone, asserted that climbing Everest would soon be too dangerous due to melting ice and snow.) The final section on exploration and travel is a concise history of the expeditions into the mountains by outsiders. It provides enough information for an interested reader to seek out more detail in other works.

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