Review of The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate – Robert D. Kaplan

Posted: January 3, 2018 in nonfiction, Review
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In this provocative, startling book, Robert D. Kaplan, the bestselling author of Monsoon and Balkan Ghosts, offers a revelatory new prism through which to view global upheavals and to understand what lies ahead for continents and countries around the world.

In The Revenge of Geography, Kaplan builds on the insights, discoveries, and theories of great geographers and geopolitical thinkers of the near and distant past to look back at critical pivots in history and then to look forward at the evolving global scene. Kaplan traces the history of the world’s hot spots by examining their climates, topographies, and proximities to other embattled lands. The Russian steppe’s pitiless climate and limited vegetation bred hard and cruel men bent on destruction, for example, while Nazi geopoliticians distorted geopolitics entirely, calculating that space on the globe used by the British Empire and the Soviet Union could be swallowed by a greater German homeland.

Kaplan then applies the lessons learned to the present crises in Europe, Russia, China, the Indian subcontinent, Turkey, Iran, and the Arab Middle East. The result is a holistic interpretation of the next cycle of conflict throughout Eurasia. Remarkably, the future can be understood in the context of temperature, land allotment, and other physical certainties: China, able to feed only 23 percent of its people from land that is only 7 percent arable, has sought energy, minerals, and metals from such brutal regimes as Burma, Iran, and Zimbabwe, putting it in moral conflict with the United States. Afghanistan’s porous borders will keep it the principal invasion route into India, and a vital rear base for Pakistan, India’s main enemy. Iran will exploit the advantage of being the only country that straddles both energy-producing areas of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. Finally, Kaplan posits that the United States might rue engaging in far-flung conflicts with Iraq and Afghanistan rather than tending to its direct neighbor Mexico, which is on the verge of becoming a semifailed state due to drug cartel carnage.

A brilliant rebuttal to thinkers who suggest that globalism will trump geography, this indispensable work shows how timeless truths and natural facts can help prevent this century’s looming cataclysms.

Random House

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

Ever looked at the map and wondered why so many wars occur in certain places? Why empires, ancient and modern, craved control of certain geographic spots, or tried to deny them to their enemies? Robert D. Kaplan claims he has the answer: geography. Which actually isn’t a silly idea: geographic features, such as rivers and mountains, funnel movements and route planning. It is better explained by the subtitle – What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate.

The book is divided into three parts: Visionaries, The Early Twenty-First Century Map, and America’s Destiny. Visionaries deals with how historians and commentators have constructed maps to explain geopolitics. The Early Twenty-First Century Map extrapolates various geopolitical situations and examines them as they may play out in the future. The interpretation, however, is through the lens of American interest. America’s Destiny examines the United States’ backyard, the Caribbean littoral and North America, and posits several scenarios to shock a more active governance of the region from Washington.

Make no mistake, this book is aimed at a US audience. My impression was this audience was not Joe Blow, but the decision makers. Due to the US-bias in the interpretive chapters, I found the earlier chapters on historical geopolitical concerns to be more interesting. This is not to say the interpretations were dull, just the seemingly relentless drive to explain what the US should do in territories well beyond its borders got tedious after a while. But that’s only my opinion.

On the whole, this is a good book, and I can recommend reading it.

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