American Geography: Inventory and Prospect, the result of a truly cooperative effort, appears in the year that marks the semi-centennial of the Association of American Geographers. While not an official publication of the Association, nor originally intended as an anniversary memorial, the appearance of the volume at this time is indeed most welcome and appropriate. Birthdays are occasions for looking back over the years to note what has been accomplished and for taking stock of the present as a basis for future action. This volume has not the purpose to review the past for its own sake. Rather, as the title indicates, it brings together the experiences of modern American geographic research to provide guideposts for the decades ahead. It considers concepts or basic generalizations that have been used in professional geographic work, both those that have been found wanting and those that today steer our efforts; and the procedures or methods that have been found useful in geographic research. To the questions, so often asked: "What is geography?" and "What do geographers do?" this book gives some of the answers. It is written not only for the trained geographer, but also for the educated layman, for the apprentice geographer and for the worker in another discipline who may want to know what American geographers are thinking and doing and what they hope to accomplish.
These statements need some elaboration and qualification, lest the aim and content of the book be misunderstood. Although this volume is published by the Association, it does not everywhere reflect the thoughts of all members of the Association, nor even of the Editors or of those who were responsible for the final draft of the chapters. The endeavor for sincere cooperation has resulted in some cases in finding a compromise, whereas in others controversies stand revealed. It is likely that each member of the Association will take exception to one or another thought expressed in this volume. Nevertheless, the completion of this project is in itself an indication that there exists a broad basis of substantial agreement among American geographers regarding the aims and methods of their discipline.
A book that deals with the fruits of American learning in the last two generations exposes the reader, especially the apprentice-geographer, to the risk of mistaking a survey of the Here-and-Now for all that there is to know in his world of ideas. Surely nothing was further from the minds . . .