Book Review: Prisoners Of Geography

Prisoners Of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About The World, by Tim Marshall

Does this map fulfill its lofty claim in its subtitle? No, but even if the author is a bit of a journalistic hack, it is not as if this book is a complete waste of time for the reader. Indeed, there are at least a few insights and a few types of insight that this book can help with, which makes it a worthwhile read despite its flaws. Mainly, this book can be seen as part of an internecine conflict with other liberals whose feelings of triumphalism in the period after the Cold War can be seen as woefully premature in gauging the success of liberalism in the struggle for world opinion. The maps that the author chooses as an attempt to explain as much of the world as one can in a modest and overhyped volume are rather rudimentary, but again, the author draws some sound insights on the way that national leaders often make decisions based on their own geopolitical situations, and an understanding of the vulnerabilities of nations like Russia and China explains in a large part their unfortunate tendencies for seeking strategic depth through oppressing other peoples who just happen to be on valuable real estate for the protection of the home territories, and how it is that those who would wish to expand their own reach need to understand the sensitivities involved and count the cost of whether it is worthwhile to expand their own geopolitical expanse if it makes others feel intensely vulnerable and threatened and likely to strike out.

This book is between 250 and 300 pages long and it contains a look at ten regions of the world, each of which is given their own chapter of various length as the author discusses certain aspects of their geopolitical past, present, and the author’s look at the near to moderate term future. After an introduction, the author begins his discussion with a look at the geopolitical dilemmas faced by nations like Russia (1) and China (2) and some understanding of why it is that these nations have behaved in the fashion that they have given the longstanding vulnerabilities of each civilization and their solution to these vulnerabilities by seeking to expand in strategic depth for Russia and to send off its colonists to overwhelm native populations among the Chinese. After this the author discusses the geopolitics of the United States (3) and Western Europe (4) and how this has affected the behavior of different nations and how it offers cautious advice for the United States on defense of this area. This is followed by a look at Africa (5) and its promise and extreme limitations in terms of navigable rivers, harbors, and interior development as well as The Middle East and its divided state between various religious and ethnic minorities (6). After that the author looks at the daunting problems faced by India and Pakistan and their neighbors (7), the struggles that Korea and Japan have had to deal with regarding resources and understanding of the relationships of politics and geography (8), as well as closing chapters about Latin America’s difficulties (9) and the challenges presented by an opening Arctic (10), after which the book ends with a conclusion, acknowledgements, bibliography, and index.

If the author’s insights relating to geopolitics are far from surprising or daring in nature, they are insights that some people appear to be unaware of. Given that this author’s target audience is made up of left of center people in the Western world, it is quite likely that any focus or attention that is paid to matters of realism that the author would encourage would be more than is frequently given, so even if this book is not anything that a realistic IR fan would find to be shocking or groundbreaking in the least, the author is writing for people who think that the New York Times and Washington Post are worthwhile news sources, and so their knowledge of geopolitics and realistic IR theory is not likely to be very high anyway. By and large, this book seeks to provide a realistic understanding of the nature in which geography and its limitations still continues to affect nations and leaders of nations and that no amount of sympathetic leftist handwringing on the part of European or American liberals is going to change the grim choices that are faced by those who want to preserve the well-being of what they see as threatened nations. If the author does not have full sympathy with certain people because of his political commitments, his realism is at least a step up from the normal of his tribe of dismally ignorant jornos, and so at least by the relative scale of his peers he has at least something to offer the reader in terms of an understanding of how the world works and that is better than the usual level of achievement for someone of the author’s ilk.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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