My interest in geography began when I was a little boy, reading whatever I could of my family’s collection of National Geographic magazines. I still remember actual pictures and stories of far-away places, of distant lands and settlements and modern civilization, of colorful foods that had unimaginable flavors, of people wearing robes and silks, and so many eyes and smiles. I knew at this age that I would want to be a part of the world, and know the whole world.
My geography professor emeritus at the University of Michigan, Dr. George Kish, a noted geographer and cartographer, inspired us with his stories in lectures on Mondays and Wednesdays. I remember he told us what it was like to stand somewhere in Siberia and feel the temperature changes from the thermals on the ground rising up to his waist, creating a gradient of perhaps 30 degrees. I learned that geography was much more than just looking at a globe and naming names on a map. It is about the land, the people on that land, the delicate balance of nature, and our very interdependence upon it, despite the miracles of technology and grocery stores. It’s about the effects of nature on places that we may never visit, the stories of human survival and rebuilding, and of renewal.
From the earliest times, mankind has been fascinated with understanding the questions of geography. The Caves of Lascaux, in France, demonstrate the fascination with which our early ancestors—16,000 years ago—had for their surroundings. Their interaction with nature and reverence for where they were, and how they fit into this world we now inherit, is clearly drawn on stone walls.
It is our nature to wonder about places, to try to understand how do we fit in to this great puzzle that we call Earth. When we begin with asking a question about the planet that we live on, we open up a little part of ourselves to that place. Somehow, it becomes less foreign to us. In my travels around the world, I am always amazed at the number of people who know so much about our country. They speak of New Orleans as if they have walked down Bourbon Street. According to a Roper Poll on Geographic Understanding, American kids ranked dead last in their knowledge of the rest of the world. If you know the people, places, and history of the world, you are more likely to promote peace with other lands. You see the differences as well as the plethora of similarities. Quite possibly, you find things about each place that are admirable. Or you see how your country or region compares to some other place and begin to work to solve common problems and inequities.
World change begins with our geographic interest. I hope that this book stimulates your interest and knowledge, perhaps even makes you delve deeper into a particular place, or set foot upon another land and grasp the hands of its people.
—Paul A. Tucci