Review by Jeff Thurston
Several factors make this book a valuable addition for new and experienced GIS users working with ArcGIS software. Firstly, Esri has recently announced ArcGIS 10 and this book can help to get GIS users acquainted with that software rapidly - especially as they upgrade to the newer version and must make the transition fast. Secondly, not all people engaging GIS software have similar skill sets, experiences or needs. Everyone uses GIS in different ways and makes demands upon new skills as they progress and wish to try out new capabilities. This book helps by describing the stepping stones to new awareness and capability.
'The GIS 20 Essential Skills' emerges through experience. The author has had extensive experience in training users on the software. She has worked with 20,000 professionals through a workshop she created called Mapping Your Community: An Introduction to GIS and Community Analysis. This effort is also supported by a survey of 500 individual users about their GIS skills. Accordingly, this book cuts to the chase and gets down to the basics needed in a focused manner. The book skips over conceptual thoughts and is intended to be used for solving ArcGIS software issues many people experience or wonder about.
Included are 20 chapters that single out an individual essential skill for each one. Readers will read about such topics as creating reference maps, projecting shapefiles, preparing ArcGIS for use with Excel data files, address mapping, GPS point mapping, aerial photography, attribute queries and publishing maps in addition to others.
This book is more than a simple 'how-to' because as one reads it, there is a sense that the author's experiences are percolating through. I found myself thinking, "so that is how that is done" many times. After that happens a few times, then the desire to read on and finish the book grows. In my case, I became engrossed in the material and read through it entirely in one go. Though I suspect I would keep it on the shelf close by because it can be used as a reference as well.
Clemmer lays out each chapter in a similar fashion. Included are Exercise goal, Exercise file locations (a CDROM is included) and the particular skill at hand. The later portion will describe how to add the data to ArcGIS and often provide a few gems of wisdom within each chapter - good to know, six clues, getting GPS out of a receiver, correcting a legend, etc. These tips are interesting because they come from experience.
All of these chapters are as if one has the software open on the desktop but are appended with notes and educational information. This makes them, particularly helpful because the graphics really drive the process, with one referring to the text based on the workflow as they proceed to use the software.
My sense is that if I did not read the ArcGIS manual and only this book, I could probably do a pretty good job of getting data into the software properly, analyzing it and producing something through ArcMap or perhaps a geo-referenced PDF or useful KML or KMZ file if desired. In this way, the author covers data capture, data management, analysis and representation - all primary parts of a fully functioning GIS. While I don't see this book replacing the manual, it certainly ensures that one does not get stuck, frustrated and waste a lot of time. Thus, this book would help to provide an enjoyable experience for many first time users.
'The GIS 20 Essential Skills' provides valuable supportive information to new and experienced GIS. It does contain the 20 essential skills for working with a GIS and many people will find that the author's experience is evident in every single chapter. The book is concise, focused and provides the details that one needs to know to work with ArcGIS, including those transitioning within ArcGIS versions. First time users or even those who may have forgotten some of the basic skills and the way to accomplish them will appreciate this book. The graphics are exceptional, the text and the graphics logical. This book makes a lot of sense and will have you making sense of ArcGIS effectively and quickly.
Jeff Thurston is co-founder and co-editor of V1 Magazine / Asian Surveying and Mapping for Vector1 Media. He is based in Berlin, Germany.