• Julie Urbanik

Gary Fuller's Guide to the World

How does Gary Fuller’s new book help us understand geography for the global generation – a.k.a all of us?

I grew up watching the television show Jeopardy! and if there is one show that humbles you before the events of the world it is this one. Contestants compete over their knowledge of facts across the spectrum. For me questions fall into three categories (1) those so obvious that even I know them (always a self high-five situation), (2) questions that jog some elusive memory of something a teacher said that I clearly hadn’t paid attention to (clenching of hands and saying “I know this!” over and over to no avail), and (3) questions so obscure that you barely even knew they were questions (open hands, furrowed brows and “Are you kidding me?”). You would think someone who studied History and Geography would have an advantage, but it truly takes a special person to have such a knowledge base at their instant recall.

Gary Fuller is one such person. He was not only a winning contestant on Jeopardy!, but also had a career as an award-winning geography professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa before retiring to lecture on cruise ships (as if life in Hawaii just wasn’t beautiful enough!) and write books. The Trivia Lover’s Guide to Even More of the World: Geography for a Global Generation is his second volume of accessible and entertaining stories about the interconnected geographies of the world.

A common statement about today’s fast-paced, globalized, and digitally-connected life is that it has made the world seem smaller. Information, statistics, maps, and images about places and people are available in an instant via the Internet and 24-hour television. Life seems to move so fast these days that we find ourselves overloaded and wondering what is important, what to pay attention to, and how to make sense of it all. Fuller helps us do just that and, along the way, helps us to slow down and consider all the unique intersections that have shaped the world as we know it.

With accompanying maps by Mathew Millet and select photographs, Fuller moves through common geographic topics such as place name, borders, islands, battles, empires, explorers, populations, spices, and earthquakes among others to tell uncommon stories. What I especially enjoyed is how he organizes his chapters by questions – just like on Jeopardy!--and that they really get your mind going. Who did name the kangaroo? Who was the Lost Squadron? Where and what is Point Nemo?

The Kangaroo

British Captain James Cook arrived in Botany Bay (present day Sydney, Australia) in 1770. While he did not encounter the word kangaroo or the animal in person during this initial landing on the continent, he did when he stopped to repair his ship along the northeast coast of what is today Queensland. He brought the local aboriginal's word for the animal - kangaroo - back to England and the first permanent settlers then traveled back to Botany Bay with kangaroo as the only aboriginal animal word they knew. “The problem was that the native people living around Botany Bay spoke a different language from that of the people Cook met in Queensland. In fact, the Botany Bay aborigines assumed “kangaroo” was an English word! (p. 12)” An early lesson in how stereotyping all people from one place as being the same can lead to mistakes and misunderstanding.

The Lost Squadron

During World War II the US assisted Great Britain with thousands of war planes. Crossing the Atlantic was a difficult journey then because planes could not fly high enough, as they can today, to avoid bad weather. One squadron of six P-38s and two B-17 Flying Fortresses encountered a storm in 1942 and had to make an emergency landing on the ice sheets of Greenland. Amazingly, all the personnel survived and were rescued. In 1992, an expedition to find the planes did locate them and recovered one P-38 – which was buried under more than 250 feet of ice! Being able to survive and successfully maneuver across the physical terrain and waters of the planet has meant that military engagements are fundamentally rooted in knowledge of geography.

Point Nemo

Point Nemo is also called the "oceanic pole of inaccessibility" and is the point farthest from land. Located in the South Pacific Ocean, it is 1,670 miles from any landmass and is surrounded by 8.5 million square miles of open ocean. It is named after Captain Nemo, a character in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Note to self – do not get lost here! While Fuller does not discuss other poles of inaccessibility (places challenging to reach) on the planet, click here to read more about those and plan your next vacation.

This book is a fast read and lots of fun. Not only will it make you feel a (very) tiny bit closer to those Jeopardy! contestants, but it will also pique your curiosity about all sorts of geographic topics. It is a great book to enjoy with friends or family and a good atlas indoors or outside.

Use promo code 4S16TRIVURB when you order on the Rowman & Littlefield website to save 25% on The Trivia Lover’s Guide to Even More of the World and The Trivia Lover’s Guide to the World by Gary Fuller.


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