Dictionary of Environment and Conservation

park Rating: ★★★½☆

Chris Park and Michael Allaby. 2013. Oxford Dictionary of Environment and Conservation.2e. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978 0 19 964166 6.

This isn’t the first dictionary I’ve ever reviewed and I think it’s important that I continue because they need to be publicised, but there are certain inherent problems. Firstly, it’s a dictionary – what are you expecting? Normally, I can go through chapters, making points linking ideas and generally trying my best to highlight what I see as key features and concepts flowing through the work. If I say that the opening chapter looks at words beginning with A, by C I’ve lost my readers and possibly my freedom if anyone hears me talking whilst writing which I often do! Secondly, there’s almost the fin-de-siecle feeling about a dictionary – isn’t that what Google’s for? Well, actually, no and here are 6 reasons I prefer this book over the internet (fully accepting the irony of condemning that which I am using !):

  • If you’re lucky (and this one seems to follow the rule), human editors have made a rational selection about what to include/exclude. Even luckier, terms will have a similar level of understanding required so it’s not a case of a complex issue next to something everyone knows. This is harder than it looks and  few dictionaries manage it but here we seem to have fairly good agreement;
  • You don’t always need to know the exact word or spelling because there might well be a similar term close by or you’re spelling is close enough to get you to the word. The problem with computer search terms is you only get what you ask for (yes, there’s autocorrect but that’s another ballgame all together!);
  • You can practice the art of procrastination through learning. Go on, admit it, how many of you have tried to read a dictionary from A to Z? I look up a word I know and get drawn in to those I didn’t and before long I’ve expanded my vocabulary even if it’s cost me 20 minutes (and time well spent);
  • You can craft a framework of understanding through it. If you have the language of the science then you can start to appreciate how ideas fit together.;
  • You’re students aren’t digital natives, whatever Prensky said (and he later recanted!). Yes, they’ve got all the iToys and use Facebook as a way of existence but word documents and spreadsheets might be foreign objects. They only know a subset of what is on the web and so this helps them learn some solid ideas from an edited source;
  • It can be an education aid – you’ve seen one, now build your own! It provides a scaffold for beginners to see which parts of ecological language they need to be familiar with and it’s the start of their personal glossaries.

I could always argue that by being lightweight and portable they can work anywhere, don’t need recharging and don’t require vast amounts of energy to turn a page (whatever the younger reader might say!). The original low-carbon footprint (especially if the pulp is from sustainable timber). Apart from that, this is a great dictionary of key terms which will help numerous readers start to master the increasinlgy complex world of ecological and environmental sciences.

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