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November 10, 2021 November 2021, Regular Features No Comments

Prisoners of Geography

This book is sub titled; ‘Ten maps which tell you everything you need to know about global politics’ and indeed this indeed is what it does. Each of the ten chapters starts with a clear map of the area to be discussed: Russia, China, USA, Western Europe, Africa, The Middle East, India and Pakistan, Korea and Japan, Latin America and The Artic. Each chapter covers the history of the area, it’s current situation and likely future.     

How the history of each area is controlled by its geography is explained.  How and why things happened and why leaders of the time made different decisions are clearly shown. Time and again I had an ‘Ah, so that’s why!’ moment. 

Ambitious leaders coveting a neighbouring state have always been always constrained by geography, limited by mountains, rivers, seas and deserts or weather patterns. As the author points out; ‘if you don’t know the geography you’ll never know the full picture 

Prisoners of Geography looks at the past present and future to offer essential insight into one of the major factors which determines world history. It puts the geo back into geopolitics. The reader is constantly treated to interesting facts, things often just never thought of, for instance, that there are fifty three countries in Africa and how the boundaries were settled – or often not. 

Author Tim Marshall is well unusually qualified to write this book. As a foreign correspondent of over twenty five years reporting for the Times, The Guardian, Daily Telegraph and later diplomatic editor for the BBC he has seen first hand how decisions and events, international conflicts and civil wars can only be understood by taking a full account of the geography of the area. Efforts of the best equipped army have been thwarted by unexpected weather. 

He also notes how modern military technology is now bending the once iron rules of Geography, now finding ways of going over or under some barriers. Also as air power has changed some rules so too, in a different way, has the internet. However geography and how nations have established themselves within that geography remains crucial to the understanding of the world today and in the future.  

I would emphasise that this book is a delight to read, so often books on history while interesting for the information imparted are rather dry going. Prisoners of Geography both provided both pleasurable recreational reading while also offering a ton of really interesting information. It ticked all the boxes for me

Mike Beckett

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