Purists will perhaps object to the use of the word “geography” in the title of this compendium of information about Chile. Many of the thirty chapters do indeed treat topics conventionally included in regional geographies, and geographic variations and relationships are recognized and sometimes stressed by several of the twenty-five authors and collaborators who have contributed chapters. Geographical concepts and approaches are seldom really fundamental, however, either in the ordering of data or in topical analyses. And while all of the topics have economic relevance, there are extensive sections that would be little altered if no economic emphasis were asserted.
This one-volume second edition updates, supplements, and partially supersedes the original edition of four volumes, of which two were published in 1950 and two in 1962. Several chapters have been completely rewritten for the second edition; all of them incorporate the findings of appropriate recent studies and summarize data that are more or less complete through 1963. Eight chapters (336 pages) dealing with topography, geology, climate, hydrography, soils, biogeography, and oceanography are grouped into a section on “natural factors.” “Human factors” are treated in five chapters (99 pages) on demography, standards of living, employment, and the like. Fourteen chapters (389 pages) on economic history, agriculture, manufacturing, fishing, mining, energy, telecommunications, transportation, housing, tourism, and foreign and domestic commerce comprise a third section on “the branches of production”; and three chapters (59 pages) deal with financial resources and national accounts. Such topics as politics and education are not treated.
The new edition is essentially a descriptive survey of the physical geography, demographic characteristics, and economic condition of the nation. Expository rather than analytical, the book is intended as a factual reference for a large sector of the literate public and for university and advanced secondary students. Foreign scholars will certainly find the volume useful as a summary of developments during the past twenty-five years and convenient as a source of recent information and data. Quality varies conspicuously from chapter to chapter; those on geology, the sea and its resources, and the historico-ethnic evolution of the Chilean population are representative of the more carefully synthesized and skillfully executed. Rigorous editing and a more generous but judicious use of maps and other graphic devices would have done much to shorten the volume, refine and facilitate the interpretation of data, and rescue several important chapters from perfunctory encyclopedism.
Publication of both editions was sponsored by Chile’s Corporación de Fomento de la Producción (CORFO), created in 1939 as a politically nonpartisan, semiautonomous state corporation charged with the very broad task of planning and promoting economic development. Many contributors to the volume are directly associated with CORFO or another government agency, although prominent professional scholars also provided chapters, and CORFO’s enormously diverse activities are frequently and favorably reviewed; however, the Geografía remains didactic rather than propagandistic. The assessment of CORFO itself as a most powerful and pervasive agency for social and economic change remains to challenge the disinterested student of contemporary affairs.