131 of 139 people found the following review helpful
There can be no doubt that the power of the western industrialized nations in general and that of the United States in particular is declining relative to Asia. China and India both have over a billion people with rapidly growing economies and can also boast of having extremely successful overseas communities. People of Chinese extraction have long been a large part of the merchant class in other Asian nations and many of the major information technology companies in the United States have been created or expanded by expatriates of Indian extraction.
The consumption of crude oil and other fossil fuels in both China and India is also rapidly increasing, making their economies just as reliant on Middle Eastern oil as those of the west and Japan. Most of this oil will have to travel through the northern sections of the Indian Ocean, making it a vital sea-lane for both nations. If a path is necessary for your survival, it must be protected and both India and China are ramping up their navies in order to do so. At the same time, the U. S. Navy is downsizing in the number of ships, so its longtime dominant naval power in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific is declining.
This situation is leading to a new great power rivalry between the major players of India, Indonesia, China and the United States in the area of the Indian Ocean. Less powerful but still extremely significant nations that will be critical to what happens in the future are Iran, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. The new reality has reformed old ties, re-ignited old conflicts and led to the development of unusual alliances. For example, the centuries old hostility between Vietnam and China has risen once again, the Vietnamese now welcome an American naval presence on their coast.
The seeds of the complexity of this situation were planted centuries ago, almost literally at the dawn of modern history. Kaplan goes back and explains these roots in detail and there were many facts and situations that I was unaware of. For example, I did not know that Farsi, the language of the Persians, was the lingua franca of India until the British colonial masters decreed that it would be English. While there have been conflicts between the different ethnic and religious groups in the area, with the exception of the enslavement of black Africans, those groups have been surprisingly tolerant of each other.
A very strong case can be made that the history of the twenty first century is going to be concentrated in east and south Asia and a great deal of that case is made in this book. Geopolitical and economic forces are pushing all the nations into positions of possible conflict over power, position and resources. Kaplan does an excellent job in describing most of the potential conflicts and many of the possible outcomes. If the solutions are to be largely non-violent, then there must be the application of a great deal of wise and intelligent thinking by all of the major players. In Kaplan's terms, it is the application of soft or economic and intellectual power. As Kaplan also explains, real or potential insurgencies are active in nearly all of the nations of the region, so some of the countries may be damaged or destroyed by internal factors.
This is a fascinating book about the region of the Indian Ocean, there is an enormous amount of information in this book and it could easily become the basis of a very large number of "What if?" type novels. Pick almost any location in the area and a good writer of fiction could use the local history and potential conflicts to create an entertaining and engaging story that just might come true.
69 of 71 people found the following review helpful
In a very deft manner, Kaplan provides a treat for any political or history buff - a well-researched (& cited) account of the greater Indian ocean juxtaposed with a political analysis. Kaplan's main contention is that the "greater Indian ocean" will be as "iconic" to the future as Europe was for the past one. The meticulous historical account and often times direct projection of that history allows Kaplan to substantiate that assertion. The author then attempts to further argue that America's own destiny lies in understanding (and adapting to) the greater Indian ocean. These dual theories/hypotheses drive the entire book.
Weaving through the histories of each of the countries in the region, and articulating political, religious and more importantly, commercial contexts, Kaplan provides a rigorous treatment of the first hypothesis. [Reading India's history (my motherland)in mostly non-political context was a real eye-opener and was well worth the book in itself for me.] The sections describing the Portuguese influence on maritime trade, the aggressive stance against Islamic traders by Europeans, the volatile politics in the Indian heartland reflect a very thorough analysis.
Oftentimes, the intertwined trends Kaplan is trying to delineate, tend to overshadow the focus he tries to bring in each chapter - perhaps fittingly, but unwittingly. Moreover, considering that terrorism-infected Pakistan is central to most countries political machinations, a detailed discussion on its current role may have been a worthwhile addition to the book. While the author adopts a fairly non-pedantic narration style, mixing first-person travelogue-like accounts with almost scholarly essays, often times, he leaves the reader hanging dry...(for example, one of the chapters end "..is a lesson the US would do well to learn", without referencing the context or implications if US does not "learn"). Such treatment often leaves the second hypothesis under-served. At times, the discussion of the macro trends tend to be repetitive.
Nevertheless, the detailed research, insightful reflection of history and a unique interpretation of history through both political-religious and mercantile contexts, makes this a very informative and thought-provoking read. 4.5*
28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2010
Bob Kaplan is an intellectual Marco Polo. He sets forth on adventures with a cheerful attitude, a shrewd eye and an historian's sense of breadth and mystery. In Monsoon, as in all his earlier books, the result is a thoughtful, balanced and refreshing blend of fascinating sea stores (historical tidbits we hadn't heard before) and bold projections about the future. In focusing on the Indian Ocean, he is ten years in front of the rest of us. Despite political rhetoric, global reliance upon oil will not decrease and geopolitical collisions among the US, China, Iran, Pakistan and India - all nuclear armed - are inevitable. Kaplan provides a framework for understanding the monsoons to come.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on November 25, 2010
Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power is another in a long line of travel logs from Robert Kaplan. In this book Kaplan travels through Oman, Baluchistan (the coastal portion of Pakistan which stretches into Afghanistan and India as well), India, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia and Zanzibar. He gives a boots-on-the-ground view of the people, politics, geography and culture as it is right now. What concerns the people and their leaders, their attitude towards American economic hegemony (even as it wanes), their views on nationalism and religion in their own countries and the economic and environmental challenges their societies face. But where Kaplan shines is the historical perspectives he adds to each place he travels. He will go back as far as written records exist to understand how successive invasions, empires and wars have shaped the people, culture, language and boundaries of the nations as they now exist. This is the eleventh book by Kaplan I have read. Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan inspired me to read Rudyard Kipling, The Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia inspired me to read the excellent novel The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, Mediterranean Winter deceived me into believing I should tackle Edward Gibbon. This book has convinced me I should give the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore a try. Kaplan deftly interweaves his descriptions of the people and landscapes (over the course of twelve novels and numerous lectures and articles his prose has steadily improved) with quotes from other authors about the same areas. The author might be a novelist intimate with the setting, it might be a poet's florid description of their homeland, it might be the description of a former Imperialist administrator or soldier who knew the landscape only as a battlefield and the people only as adversaries, but all are meant to deepen the reader's understanding of the people and place being described whether the quote strengthens Kaplan's view or is added for juxtaposition. Thomas Friedman's world might well be flat and Jared Diamond's world might be on the brink of collapse (and they might be able to deliver a better lecture on economics and the science of global warming, respectively), but Kaplan's world is anchored by its geography and connected by a long, fluid line to the history that has shaped its cultural and geopolitical context. The conclusions he draws in this book? 1) The Indian Ocean Rim countries have been connected by predictable trade winds for millennia allowing them to intermingle goods, cultures, religions and snippets of language reducing isolationism and leading to a secular and cosmopolitan outlook by many 2) India and China will likely clash for dominance as the primary naval power in the Indian Ocean and on land in Burma and Nepal. The United States will reduce its role as the `Guardian of the World's Oceans' and focus on counterbalancing China in the Pacific. As the economies and populations of China and India continue to grow while that of the US stagnates or declines the US will only be able to project "soft power" in these regions owing to the fact that a direct confrontation with China could easily lead to them deciding to no longer finance the US national debt. 3) Indonesia might be the World's largest Islamic nation, but one that is unlikely to radicalize due to the moderating influence of the underlying Hindu and Buddhist cultures. 4) China will continue to project economic "soft power" throughout the South Pacific and Indian Oceans as it offers billions of development dollars to countries without concern for the governments' record on upholding human rights; US aid comes with a civics lesson, China's appetite for natural resources is too rapacious to be anything but pragmatic.
82 of 105 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2010
After listening to a radio interview of Kaplan I purchased Monsoon and was very excited to read it. The topic is fascinating, and of course timely, but there seems to be an alternative viewpoint lurking beneath the surface of Kaplan's work that causes me to question his objectivity, and earnestness when possibly presenting opinion as fact.
For example, on page 98 in his discussion of Gujarat he describes the 2002 atrocities between Hindu and Muslin initiated in the town of Godhra that resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 people. By accounts at BBC to name one source, it began when 57 Hindus were "incinerated" in the train that was set fire after a conflict at the Godhra train station, a Muslim city. Kaplan spends three lines describing the incident noting "The Muslims that started the fire were apparently the victims of taunts from other Hindus" Kaplan omits allegations that Muslims had preplanned the incident, forcibly stopped the train, and had stockpiled 140 liters of petrol to drive the fire. However he follows this with three pages of great detail describing the Hindu reaction, including allegations that the Godhra government was actively involved.
This is only one example, but this biased presentation of a key event, combined with repeated gratuitous swipes as US policy, particularly in Iraq, leaves me uneasy about accepting anything in the book at face value. Personally, I simply do not know the subject matter well enough to know when else Kaplan might be taking poetic license. After about 250 pages, I set Monsoon aside to seek other books on the subject, and I have ordered several of the source books he sites. So I would only recommend this book if you plan to read it has part of a much broader review of the topic.
57 of 74 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2011
Robert D. Kaplan has been a fanatic for many years. He wrote a book "warrior politics:why leadership requires a pagan ethos" in which he came out as a modern fascist. He wrote another book in the delerious aftermath of the initial invasion of Iraq where he talked about the world beyond the united states as the new "injun country" and called upon the US military to tame what he considered a new frontier in the same way it had tamed the old one in the 1800s in the American west.
Since the Iraq war didn't turn out so well, Kaplan has moved on to other ideas. His big new idea recently has been promoting the idea of an inevitable war between the United States and China. He wrote an article for the Atlantic: "How we would fight China" in which he articulated the inevitability of war and a strategy for how it would be fought. This book can't really be understood outside of his war strategy mentality and his passion for a war with China. This might all be laughed off as the works of a crazy man. Indeed, its difficult to take seriously a man who believes that morality (right and wrong) has no place in leadership or government. But this is unfortunately a very influential man and influental in both political parties.
Kaplan sees the new battleground as being the Indian Ocean. This is partially motivated by his deep belief that America must form a deep alliance with India against China. Thus his perceptions of India's conflict with China and India's strategic concerns suddenly become American strategic concerns.
The book is in many ways a throwback to the American view of the world in the 1950s. In the 1950s, many American diplomats and military officers saw the entire world as divided into a stuggle for or against the Soviet Union. They were so obsessed with their bipolar worldview that they produced distorted analysis and distorted policy. They ignored anything in the countries or their history that didn't support their bipolar worldview. And their policies eventually led to disasters.
The truth is that no country can ever be reduced to an us-vs-them way of thinking. International relationships are always local and regional first. Trying to reduce the entire Indian Ocean to US-vs-them (with China being them) will never work.
The drop-dead worst part of the book is the chapter on Burma. Kaplan openly advocates in that chapter for a US policy of arming ethnic minorities and formenting an ethnic war in the country. He even wants to drag Thailand into it as the base for such activity. He is so deluded that he sees setting off such a war as no different than what the US did in Afghanistan in the 1980s. His view of the country is exclusively the product of conversations with American missionary types and rebels in Thailand (all with melodramatic code-names). He has no sense of how foolish and how dangerous his ideas are. Burma is a bad place. But plunging it into a massive ethnic war to get back at China is crazy talk. The ethnic rebels don't have the numbers to defeat the Burmese and the Burmese military government has always used ethnic rebellion to justify its rule.
Kaplan also ironically describes Oman as a forward-looking haven of stability. Current protests there suggest he just may have got that one wrong. As could be expected generally, places where China has too much influence are treated as failing or sinister (i.e. Pakistan) whereas Kaplan's potential allies against China are seen as progressive and moving forward toward the future. Kaplan fails utterly to understand the complicated relationships within the region. The region doesn't break down nicely into China vs. everybody. Every single country in the region has its own set of friends and enemeies which lock together into a broader mosaic. But rather than look at that complexity, Kaplan wants to reduce everything to the cold-war logic of us (US and India) versus them (China). And what he is doing will fail in the same way that US efforts to build regional mini-NATOs out of countries that hated each other in the 1950s failed.
He also sees analogies that are not there. China is not the US in 1900 and a Kra Isthmus canal is not a panama canal. I mean the most basic consideration here is that China doesn't even border the Indian Ocean. He also buys into the foolish ideas of those who overstate the potential of the relationship between Pakistan and China. The land links between Pakistan and China are garbage. If China wants anything from Central Asia, it can be extracted far easier by rail from Chinas west than it ever could be through Pakistan.
Kaplan's views of Indonesia are also simple-minded and very foolish. Again, he sees it only through a self-serving prism of his anti-islamic and anti-chinese worldview. He doesn't understand that the real indonesia is a whole lot more complicated than that. His views on Sri Lanka are equally bad in that he seems to reject even trying to understand the mindset of a country just emerging from decades of ethnic war. His attitude is basically to tell them to get over it so they can participate in Kaplan's new Asian cold war.
Kaplan tries, inexpicably, to end the book on an upbeat note suggesting against much previous writing that the US and China can resolve their differences peacefully. But though he says that, the entire book has the idea of war and conflict with China in the back of its mind on almost every page. He seems in the end to almost want to have it both ways. He wants to believe in both peace and war.
I think Kaplan is wrong. The military aspects of competition with China are far less important than the economic ones. Rather than trying to figure out expensive alliances and naval strategies to defeat China in war, people like Kaplan would be much better off thinking about how to rebalance the world economically. A world where China is a polluted cheap labor factory for exports to the US is a world that is inherently unstable and cannot last. Rather than worrying about the battle for naval superiority in the Indian Ocean ala 1914, Kaplan would be better off looking at home to see how to revive a desperately ill American economic and politics system.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2010
I finished Monsoon last night and enjoyed the read. His books are a mishmash of history, political science, geography and a travelogue, so probably not to everyone's liking. This is probably the third book of his I have bought and often the reason I have bought issues of `The Atlantic' are on the basis of his articles over the years. Here Monsoon covers the littoral of the Indian Ocean which he believes to be the developing hub of the 21st Century much as the Atlantic has been for the last few Centuries. The title has two meanings as given in the book and I am adding a third. The first and most common usage of monsoon is the weather phenomena that brings rain almost like clockwork in this part of the world. The other main usage is what I believe Kaplan is going for as a metaphor for trade in the Indian Ocean. In the days of sail the monsoon winds allowed shipping in the Indian Ocean almost run like they were on an interstate highway compared to most other oceans where transit times were much higher for a much shorter distance - the Eastern Mediterranean is the historical example given. The ultimate reasoning behind the title is what I believe Kaplan views as a sea change in economic and political power in the area. For the first time in 4 centuries the economic/political/military power that prevails in the area is swinging back to the indigenous cultures that surround the ocean and away from European powers.
The European powers impact on the Indian Ocean and the cultures that surround it goes back to the late 15th Century when the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British Empire placed their stamp on the area, and not always for the best. The European powers sought the spices and riches of the East and once the knowledge of both rounding the Cape of Good Hope as well as the monsoon wind patterns they overpowered the local powers, with the final conquest of the Indian subcontinent occurring by the mid 18th Century. Prior to this there was a very well developed trading system in place as described by K.N. Chaudhuri in his Trade and Civilization in the Indian Ocean: An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750. That book which I bought and read probably back when I was at Ohio State describes the economy of the Indian Ocean for the millennium prior to the Battle of Plessy in 1757 when the British East India Company finally destroyed the last independent Indian prince - the Nawab of Bengal and his French Allies as part of the Seven Years War - or the War for Empire, between the British Empire and France. This European dominance continued until shortly after the Second World War when India was granted independence. During the subsequent Cold War the Indian Ocean remained a sideshow in the Great Power confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. By 1980 the first winds of change were stirring with first the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the founding of the Islamic Republic and then the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. By the end of the decade the superpower confrontation was past and the rise of the local cultures resumed global prominence. Just what the impact and course of the future dealings between the two most populous countries in the world - China and India and how it will affect the United States as the last global European power is the meat of the book.
The structure of the book follows a clockwise path around the Indian Ocean starting in Oman on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula and culminating on the island of Zanzibar off the east coast of Africa - which until pretty recently was run by Oman. The text mostly remains tied to the Indian Ocean Littoral seldom going 50 miles inland. The best part of his approach is that it gives one a better sense of the actual world of the Indian Ocean than a more academic approach would take where the focus may be on the political life and interactions between the capital cities of the States impacted. Here the focus is on the ports which will be the focus of a new economic structure in the 21st Century. The 800lb gorilla in the room is not the United States in most cases it is China and the money it is spending to upgrade ports and trading partners throughout the region.
After Oman the next location Kaplan visits is the coast of Pakistan and specifically the port of Gwadar. Pakistan is dependant upon one port to access the sea - Karachi, and Gwadar is basically a fishing village in the west of the country. What Kaplan describes here and also in Bangladesh and Burma almost seems to be a 21st Century version of the 'Great Game' that the British Empire and Russia played throughout the 19th Century, and had an echo in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in '79, a desire to achieve a warm water outlet on the Indian Ocean for Russia or now China. What China is seeming to be attempting is to build both the infrastructure links as well as the ports so that the western Chinese provinces will have direct access to world trade. The biggest difference seems to be that China is using economic as well as political means to achieve this where as Russia and later the Soviet Union used military as well as political means.
The problem that Kaplan points out is the political unrest within the countries that China - as well as others - are working with. A recurring theme seems to be that the lines on a map that joined peoples together in the age of empires is falling apart, and he describes Pakistan as being as likely to self destruct as Yugoslavia did (as he wrote about in 'Balkan Ghosts") With the different tribes that live in the south of the country having problems with the Pashtun and Punjabis that predominate in Islamabad the future potential for the links that China is attempting to build is still debatable, let alone adding the wildcards of the Northwest Territory and Afghanistan to the mix. We are getting used to hearing about the problems with Pakistan's inherent instability, this book gives a differing perspective by focusing on the south of the country versus the normal Kashmir or Tribal Area focus that is more often in the international spotlight. Anyone doing business of any sort will have to deal with what appears to be a myriad of sub-state actors in the future in the area. Other countries face similar problems as related in the book, Burma, Bangladesh, even relatively stable states such as Indonesia have regional tensions, though not to the extent as Pakistan is portrayed here.
One aspect of his discussions on development in these poorer developing countries that he hinted at versus addressing directly is what almost appears to be a return to extraterritoriality of the kind that saddled China for the better part of a century. After the Opium Wars, Western (and later Japanese) powers wrestled from the declining Imperial Court concessions and even local sovereignty in areas of the Treaty Ports in what were called the Unequal Treaties that were forced upon the weak central Chinese government. Here again as a difference between what was done in the name of imperialism in China and what is being done around the Indian Ocean is like the difference between the Great Game and today's great game, where economic firepower is more used than military power. An example of this is in the Bangladeshi port of Chittagong where an enclave of a South Korean company is providing services that the local government is said not to be able to do. Kaplan's quote on this (p151) is "The Failure of government need not lead to even a virtual change of the borders, but to a ceding of responsibility to the private sector'. Note it is not a ceding of sovereignty here, probably since the economic muscle behind it is from a private corporation not a state, one wonders though how much developments such as this may resemble the Treaty Ports of the late 19th and early 20th Century.
There is not much directly on the military aspects of these developments in the book, though American `overreach' as Paul Kennedy wrote of in 'The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers' 20-25 years ago is hinted at. Kaplan discusses the decline of the American military relative to those of China and India, and focuses on especially the need to maintain a naval presence in the area. That along with occasional swipes at American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq as being having a wasting effect on the ability to project power, as a stabilizing force in the area. The example he uses is that of the Dutch, when they were involved in continental wars that cost the treasury large amounts of money to support both its own army as well as that of its allies, it lessened the ability of them to focus on naval power which at the time had a multiplicative effect upon trade and therefore wealth of the country. In this Kaplan I think is firmly in the Mahanian school of thought regarding the need to maintain free sea lanes of communication as a prerequisite for economic growth.
China's developing naval strength is also addressed - though here mostly as a potential naval power as much as anything else. Here what struck me as odd was the feeling that I was reading a history of the United States post Civil War where the economic strength of the country vastly overshadowed the actual military power of it. This is not to say that the Chinese military is insignificant, just that as of right now the abilities to both project power as well as mere presence is not yet there. An example used was the American response to the tsunami of 2004, where there were American aircraft carriers as well as amphibious ready groups that were able to aid and provide assistance to the local governments, something that the PLAN's submarine force which has been it's focus for the last decade or so could not `show the flag' in the same way. That is a reason that the Chinese Navy has been spending a great effort of launching it's own aircraft carrier (or two) in the next decade. Much was also made of the desire of China to not be dependant upon the Straits of Malacca for the mid eastern oil that will increasingly be China's prime source of energy in the decades ahead. An interesting project that I had not heard of before is the thinking of the need for a canal across the Kra Isthmus in southern Thailand. Here what is presented sounds much like the thinking that led to the development of the Panama Canal in the 19th Century, an existing transshipment point and pipeline between the bay of Bengal and the South China Sea being replaced by a canal that allows shipping to pass directly between them and avoid the most congested stretch of sea lanes in the world. There are other military aspects touched upon in the text dealing with such things as piracy in the western Indian Ocean as well as the Indian desires to counterbalance China in its own backyard. One thing I did appreciate in reading this is that there was none of the prevailing paranoia about the growth of India and especially China that seems to be discussed everywhere these days. Even India's and Pakistan's problems with each other do not play a major role in the narrative, though perhaps it is Kaplans view of India being a potential global economic power and Pakistan as being a basket case (my words) may be something influencing it.
Probably the biggest plus from my view is the discussion of the Islam that exists in Indonesia as well as elsewhere around the Indian Ocean. Considering that today Americans seem to have a monolithic view of Islam anyplace that has a moderate/cosmopolitan view is looked at as being odd. The variant of Islam that we think of is that of the Arabian Peninsula where nearly a millennia of relative isolation has made it a very conservative almost backward looking theology. The version of Islam that followed the trade routes of the Indian Ocean is a much more accommodating world view. In fact some interviewees were upset that with petrodollars and modern communications backing it up Wahabism has started to spread throughout the region especially as madrassas spread. It is an interesting primer on the differences that are often glossed over or ignored these days.
I have probably left out aspects of the book that others will pick up on, I feel that I have shortchanged the chapters discussing India here as well as a very good description of the Tamil Tigers insurrection, but hey I have to leave something for the reader to discover on his/her own. I do not believe that this book is a end all for understanding the region, though it is a good primer on a complex area that is increasingly in the news. Most recently this is best shown by the problems that Pakistan had in dealing with torrential rainfalls and flooding recently and those down stream complained about the response by the National Government, in that there was discrimination against ethnic minorities in the relief efforts. All in all a worthy book to read and stash the info in the back of your mind for helping interpret the news as it happens
Here are a few books I suggest reading to see the importance of trade in the area as well as the history
Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean: An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750 (Cambridge Paperback Library)
A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World
The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company
The Dutch Seaborne Empire: 1600-1800
Portugese Seaborne Empire (wow expensive...I'm going to have to find my copy at my mom's house!)
Opium War, 1840-1842: Barbarians in the Celestial Empire in the Early Part of the Nineteenth Century and the War by Which They Forced Her Gates
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2010
Robert D. Kaplan is one of my favorite writers. Monsoon Asia and the Indian Ocean are two of my favorite subjects. This book should have been a homerun. Unfortunately, I can't say that. The book read too much like several term papers on Monsoon Asia and the areas that are touched by the Indian Ocean. What was missing for me, was more of the intertwined travel narrative that Kaplan used to have in books like "Balkan Ghosts," "Eastward to Tartary," and "Ends of the Earth." Don't get me wrong, the book is important and well written, but just lacked that personal touch I liked in his other books. I know that writers can't write the same book every time, but I liked the style of history, politics, culture, and travel narrative that he used in past books. For people interested in Indian Ocean trade look for the book "A Splendid Exchange" and read the chapter on the connections between Iraq and Canton.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 2011
The twenty-first century will witness unprecedented changes as the center of gravity of the global economy shall slowly, but surely moves to Asia in the coming decades. This will not only create new political, social and cultural challenges for Asia, but also for the rest of the world, especially for the United States from a global security perspective.
Rapid economic growth of mega nations like China and India need mega resources. These recourses especially energy and minerals would have to be hauled from across borders. The military strategy to ensure safe and secure passage of these resources across continents and oceans to support the economic engines assumes great importance in a continent like Asia.
The book is an outstanding narration of the historic perspectives of trade in the Indian Ocean, thanks to Monsoon, that has been predictable in timing, direction and duration for several centuries of recorded history. The core of this book is about the magic of this wind system that shaped and evolved trade, religious, political and cultural relations amongst the littoral nations whose merchant ships sailed across the entire breadth of the Indian Ocean, from the horn of Africa to the Indonesian archipelago, with effortless ease. The Europeans soon joined the party, and traders became rulers as they colonized several countries since the sixteenth century.
Devoting one chapter each to an interesting city or country, the narration is superb. Traveling across Oman, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Indonesia and Zanzibar, it is an excellent, insightful and engaging virtual tour of these nations. While reading the pages, I felt as if I have actually lived in these places, in the past as well as in the present. I have not seen such a unique combination of a rare blend of history, culture, economics, foreign affairs and military strategy, so well brought out with an eye to capture details, and the magnetic power of expression to hold one's attention.
Take the Indian city of Kolkata for example. The author traces the history of this great Indian city from the days of the British rule and till date to the peaceful coexistence of slums and posh shopping malls in a rapidly growing Indian economy. Only after reading this book, I could really understand the strategic location advantage of this city, and the bright future that is in store for it.
The wonderful frankincense tree from Oman that spread incense across the world is fascinating. I developed a high degree of respect for this Arab nation, and its economic success after reading the chapter devoted to it.
The implications for military strategy and the importance of the Indian Ocean as the next most important theatre for global navies is a key takeaway.
I enjoyed reading every page and word of this well researched book. Would rate is as amongst the top 20 in my personal library.
Would recommend "The Miracle: The Epic Story of Asia's Quest for Wealth" by Michael Schuman as a supplementary reading to cover the rest of the terrain in Asia.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I have read a number of Robert Kaplan's books and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. This book was no exception. I must confess I am a big fan of Paul Theroux's writing as well, and like Theroux, this is travel writing at its best.
Kaplan's main thesis is that the Indian Ocean will become the focal point for growth and conflict in the 21st Century. Kaplan travels to places both familiar and unknown to most readers to report and interpret his observations.
Unlike Theroux, who is more interested in intimately observing people as would suit a novelist, Kaplan is more interested in the geopolitical and economic developments of the sparkling new ports he sees in places like Gwadar, Pakistan, and the incredible poverty of Bangladesh and how this relates to the future of the U.S.. Competition for oil and access to the two key strategic points of Malacca and Hormuz, and the relationship of the littoral nations, as well as China, India and the United States, offer glimpses of the changing fortunes of the Indian Ocean nations. The Atlantic Ocean is so 20th Century (although Simon Winchester may disagree)!
Kaplan is a very good writer who is able to convey a sense of place in a way that I have found only Theroux exceeds. I raced through this book's 300 plus pages in a few days and enjoyed all of the writing. I felt much better informed about places that I will in all likelihood never physically see, but Kaplan was my great guide to such places as varied as Sri Lanka, Oman, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia. I am enthralled by the way Kaplan weaves travelogue and fascinating historical facts into a driving narrative. Kaplan is a bright and inquisitive guide on this fascinating journey around this growing and vital area.
As with a book written by Theroux, I am always melancholic about coming to the end of the book like this, because it means that I will have to wait for a year or two (or longer) before I get to read another book by this author. I also recommend "The Coming Anarchy."
Thank you Robert Kaplan!