Book review – Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics
Author: Tim Marshall
Rating: (4 / 5)
Daytime TV is a natural consequence of the self-employed. Quite often when I am working on something I have the news channels on in the background, keeping track of what is going on in the world. Whenever I watched Sky News, I was always impressed with their diplomatic editor/foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall. He was always able to put unfolding events, particularly those in the Middle East, into solid context in a very considered and erudite fashion.
So when I was recently in an airport bookshop scouting around for something to read, I picked up a copy of his book Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics. His aim is to put the “geo” back into geopolitics. To show how the natural landscape of rivers, mountains and coastlines plays a leading role in global politics, particularly a country’s foreign policy and attitude to its neighbours.
The book is divided into ten sections, each based around a country or region with an accompanying map. Some of the information I already knew – for example how the leaders of Russia are always ultimately driven by a desire to secure a warm water port from which to sail its navy. Likewise that China are revving up tensions in the South China Sea by reclaiming land out of the ocean and building up their military capability. But what I didn’t know was the sheer extent of China’s “soft power diplomacy” – how they are investing in developing countries the world over, from Africa to South America, helping build infrastructure in return for favourable support at the United Nations.
Other areas tackled include the Middle East, India/Pakistan and Japan/Korea. Then the final chapter is a nod to the future and the beginnings of the fight over the Arctic. As climate change melts the northern ice, valuable natural resources are being revealed. Who is going to win the fight to claim them for their country? Russia, it seems, is currently in the box seat. The USA, with their Alaskan border, seems a little behind the curve.
Marshall does a great job of condensing the complex history and power struggles of each region into easily digestible and highly thought-provoking sections. Each chapter is relativity short – I could have read a whole book on China – but this is an excellent place to start if you want to swat up on what is driving politics around the globe and how fragile the prevailing order is. I’ll never look at the world quite the same way again.