Preston Everett James (1899–1986)

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The cornbelt of the United States is "the leading maize-producing region of the world" even though less than half of the acreage of cropland is devoted to maize. [303] The combination of rain and a hot bright summer over level grassy plains.

No mention of the "American Locust" which had the grace to become effectively extinct with the dramatic dwindling of the bison, without which the Plains could never have become the breadbasket of the world. The focus is entirely on Human ("man") geography.

This book deals with the "increasing pressure of people on the land" -- the demographic bomb. The dimensions of that problem, and the capacity of man to support himself from earth resources, "are not widely understood even now". Yet "among the complex and disturbing situations that modern man must face, none is more fundamental than that of the increasing pressure of people on the land." [3] In 1963, the population of the planet was just north of three billion. [It is now over seven billion.]

He accurately predicts that since there are reasons for the uneven distribution of people across the globe, it is not likely we will see mass migration into thinly-populated areas from the densely populated areas. This is a study of human habitat.


The "surface of the earth is unique in the known universe." And without water, life as we know it, is not possible. In the presence of water in a liquid form, plants have the capacity to make use of the energy from the sun to transform the lifeless minerals of the earth's crust into organic matter. Animals live on plants, and other animals that eat plants, and man gets his supply of food from animals and plants. Noting the uneven distribution of sunlight and water, the land itself varies, and the interrelated features of the face of the earth are constantly changing. "In fact, during the past few centuries man has become a major agent of change" as he modifies the shape of surface features. Where humans concentrate, the landscape is largely man-made. [5] This book is concerned with the interacting processes the produce the diverse habitats of the earth, and what these differences mean. Whatever man is doing, the achievements are fashioned from the materials of the earth. The author introduces the term "habitability" of the varying regions, showing that features that may appear to be inhospitable to one society, may provide advantages to another. He gives as an example, the world's grasslands: "For a people without steel plows, railroads, or great urban markets, the world's grasslands were rated as lands of low productivity...for a people armed with the mechanical equipment and possessing the economic institutions of the industrial era, these same lands became major sources of wheat and meat." [6] This book shows that "in reality man is still closely tied to earth resources".

The ice sheets only melted back 25,000 years ago, "and some geologists think we are now in one of the inter-glacial epochs between advances of the ice." [7] During glacial periods large quantities of water are locked up in ice, so that sea levels were 300 feet lower. [Imagine the archeology and evidence of riparian life which is underwater today!] And "The genus homo has existed on the earth for something like two million years." [27]

The author notes the continental shifts--the match of Africa and Brazil, the pushed-up Himalayan ranges--as if the Wegener Hypothesis "is or is not true". [8-9]

Preston James devotes a second "Introduction" to human "Culture". He bluntly annihilates "racist" theory--noting characteristics and traits which are not "necessarily associated with skin color", and "There are actually no 'pure' races." [26]

"The world is full of misinformation about racial inheritance. History records many examples of the attempt by self-conscious human groups or societies to explain assumed pre-eminence on the basis of racial superiority. The great Christian principle that all men are brothers has never been widely accepted, even among Christians. The fact that this principle expresses what scientists are step by step proving to be a fundamental truth does not alter the fact that belief in racial purity and superiority is a very common cultural attitude." [26]

Noting that "unlike any other living creatures, man had the capacity to communicate by language..." and curiously "Because of language man could retain the memory of past experiences" and learn from them, and pass them on to others. This is Paleolithic man, and they spread out 50,000 years ago over the earth, before agriculture and domestication of animals --"other than the dog". [27] [We never went anywhere without dogs.]

Since the appearance of homo sapiens, "there have been three periods of radical culture change" fundamentally altering the relations of man to habitat: (1) Agricultural - about 8000 BC in the Tigris-Euphratis and Persian Gulf, with cultivation of wheat, barley, peas, lentils and vetch, and domestication of two native wild animals, sheep and goats.

(2) The next revolution took place at the dawn of written history about 4000 BC at six widely scattered places: Civilizations built on law and government.

(3) Noting that the whole system is in a "process of change", a third revolution with two parts is "taking place": Industrial and Democratic Revolutions, not always in the same areas. [30] The first successful steam engine patented by James Watt in 1769, was just the beginning. The change from muscle to controlled inanimate power appeared first in Great Britain.

He examines nine groups of habitat regions resulting from the interplay of surface features, climate, water, vegetation, and soil. "The changing significance of the habitat with changes in the culture is the central theme, the variations of which run as a connecting thread through the whole book." [38]

The author turns from the lithosphere and hydrosphere to the atmosphere, noting the patterns of climate. Noting that "traditional division of the world into temperate, torrid, and frigid zones is unacceptable to geographers" because it obscures more relationships than it reveals, he adopts the system of climatic regions devised by German geographer Wladimir Koppen. Six Groups of features are discussed in detail with Six Summaries.

In his summary of a detailed depiction of the conditions of the Tropical Woodlands and Savannas, the author says "There is no kind of habitat that can be described as permanently uninhabitable." But he cautions, "no attempt to occupy these lands should be made without careful study in advance". This is a lesson "being disregarded almost everywhere". [163]
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