Sunday, 23 May 2010

Quick Book Review - Created from Chaos

A very interesting book has appeared, Created From Chaos - a geological trail of 100 sites in Tasmania, by Peter Manchester. This book provides a wealth of information about 100 sites of geological interest near roads in Tasmania. It uses photos, diagrams and text to explain the geological history of Tasmania. Each site is easily findable and close enough to a road that most people will be able to go and see what Peter is talking about. I found it hard to put down, as I have visited many of the places included. I found the book in Fullers in Collins Street, Hobart. Look for the distinctive cover (see photo) on the Tasmanian display just to the right inside the front door.
The book is split geographically, providing a tour of Tasmania starting in Launceston (where Peter lives), proceeding to the northeast, east coast, south, central highlands, northwest, west coast and the Bass Strait islands. Many of the locations will be quite familiar to those who have driven around Tasmania, and anyone with an interest in the natural world around them will find a site near them which Peter illuminates more clearly - unless, I suppose, you are in fact a geologist already.
The book has a few drawbacks which you need to accept prior to the expenditure of $60.00 on this paperback, and these appear to arise from being self-published and probably without professional editing (Peter says he did the formatting, production etc). In my opinion, the book could have done with a very thorough edit. It has spelling, grammar, punctuation and layout mistakes. It uses inconsistent typographical conventions, and looks overall like a slightly dodgy Word document. The emphasising of text is done in a wide variety of ways, for example, and differing font sizes are sometimes inexplicable. The photos are sometimes too small for sufficient clarity, and could have been made larger if the text had been made a little smaller and was better laid out. Most of the photos however, clearly show what is intended, even if I would have preferred them to be a little larger. A small number of photos do appear to have had very significant changes made to their aspect ratio, which is unacceptable in a documentary setting. In effect, I am unsure which others might have been altered, presumably accidentally, which means I am somewhat uncertain about the actual appearance of some physical features. Page layout, photo and diagram size and placing, and the spacing of text away from images is very inconsistent, and is the sort of thing that happens in my own Word documents until I carefully make sure it is correct. You may also find the writing style a little strange, but it is sort of pleasantly conversational - I found it a bit like David Leaman on steroids.
Despite these drawbacks, the book is very useful, and I'm glad Peter published it. However, $60.00 for a solid paperback should buy a little more quality and consistency in presentation than this, and maybe we can hope for that if a second edition is produced. Overall it represents a huge amount of knowledge and effort now available for people to use in viewing the Tasmanian landscape and learning more about its natural history. Despite my disappointment with the book's production values, the information it contains is superb.


Ken said...

LaTeX is the way to go for anyone creating a book. It may take a little bit of effort to get the style right but it will produce a professional quality book.

Elizabeth said...

@Ken: If the text needs editing (and on the basis of this review it does) no production technology is going to fix it.

Mark said...

Elizabeth, I think I'd say it both needs editing from a textual point of view, and requires a much better layout. These will have to be done together though, as the text is so intertwined with the graphical elements. I should think the tools used might assist, although I have no idea what LaTeX is as Ken suggests. Cheers. Most important would be the input of a professional editor.

PB said...

As Mark says the idea of the book is a good one but the English is just atrocious. It really needed proper proof reading and editing.

Reading it is an infuriating experience. There's often the hint of something fascinating but it's buried underneath some of the most execrable syntax I have ever encountered.

I finally gave up on it after reading about the Lake Seal Lookout. According to the author, "Park" regulations prohibit discussion of the geomorphology of the Broad River valley. So he doesn't discuss it but instead talks about how one would "ogre" at the landscape. Presumably he means "ogle". Every page, every paragraph, every sentence is like that. And is the geology of Mt Field really a state secret?

The idea of the book is terrific and I am sure anyone who visits these places would find an explanation of what they are looking at fascinating. If it had been properly edited the book could have been a huge success. As it is I feel like screaming in frustration after a couple of pages.