Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall
Best for: Anyone interested in a basic understanding of how the earth has influenced politics across the world.
In a nutshell: Author Tim Marshall breaks the world into ten regions and gives an overview of how different geographic and cultural components (rivers, deserts, mountains, harbors, tribes) have affected different political decisions.
“The better your relationship with Russia, the less you pay for energy; for example, Finland get a better deal than the Baltic States.”
“China has locked itself into the global economy. If we don’t buy, they don’t make. And if they don’t make there will be mass unemployment.”
“Amazing rivers, but most of them are rubbish for actually transporting anything, given that every few miles you go over a waterfall.”
“The notion that a man from a certain area could not travel across a region to see a relative from the same tribe unless he had a document, granted to him by a third man he didn’t know in a faraway town, made little sense.”
Why I chose it: I don’t know near enough about the world and the motivation behind some actions, and this looked like a great 101-level introduction. And it is.
This book could have gone one of two ways in my mind: impossible to slog through or difficult to put down. I find that often with non-fiction surveys: in an attempt to fit loads of information into one small book, the density can lead to dry writing and a list of dates and names that rivals the Numbers book in the Bible.
Mr. Marshall does, in my opinion, a great job of parsing some of the most critical bits and connecting them to other critical bits. Obviously the 40 pages on the Middle East won’t be able to get into the nuance of everything, but it’s a starting point.
The Ten Maps include: Russia; China; USA; Western Europe; Africa; The Middle East; India and Pakistan; Korea and Japan; Latin America; and the Arctic. Obviously that doesn’t cover all of the world; Mr. Marshall points out right up front that it leaves out Australia, for example, and much of the south pacific. But it’s a start, and was eye-opening for me.
I think starting with Russia is a smart move, especially since (from my perspective as someone from the US) Russia has been a bit, shall we say, active in the business of other nations as of late. The edition I had included information as late as summer 2017, so its quite a current book. Each chapter looks at the geography of the region and uses it as a jumping off point to get at how that might influence the decisions each nation makes. It doesn’t make moral judgment; it just explains. So, for example, if your country relies on water from a river that flows through a neighboring nation, you’re going to be VERY interested in how things are going in that nation.
As I said, this is a survey, not a deep analysis of any one nation, but still, I feel much better informed about the world than I did a week ago.