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Surrender or Starve: Travels in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea Paperback – November 11, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Rep Sub edition (November 11, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400034523
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400034529
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #253,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“A writer of extraordinary intellect and passion . . .with a wonderfully lucid way of relating history as a living thing.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“This vivid account . . . tells very convincingly a story which the author claims was almost entirely ignored by Western media, diplomats, and relief officials. Kaplan paints a horrific picture of often fatal cruelty.” —Foreign Affairs

“Robert Kaplan is a scholarly and adventurous journalist. . . . He draws attention to long-term trends that other writers have little noted.” —The New York Times

“Kaplan is a gritty travel reporter and commentator on foreign affairs known for providing no-nonsense political-historical overviews of the dicey places he visits.” —The Washington Post Book World

From the Back Cover

“A writer of extraordinary intellect and passion . . .with a wonderfully lucid way of relating history as a living thing.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“This vivid account . . . tells very convincingly a story which the author claims was almost entirely ignored by Western media, diplomats, and relief officials. Kaplan paints a horrific picture of often fatal cruelty.” —Foreign Affairs

“Robert Kaplan is a scholarly and adventurous journalist. . . . He draws attention to long-term trends that other writers have little noted.” —The New York Times

“Kaplan is a gritty travel reporter and commentator on foreign affairs known for providing no-nonsense political-historical overviews of the dicey places he visits.” —The Washington Post Book World

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Customer Reviews

I would recommend any book he's written as a good read.
Lauren Keranen
Then, Kaplan condemns the Carter administration not for being soft on Mengistu, but for withdrawing U.S. support for the regime in response to its brutality.
N. Converse
Any specialist could point dozens of minor errors in this book, but lack of scholarship is not the worst.
Ethiopianist

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on December 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book details Kaplan's reporting from the African famine zones in the mid-1980s. While specific events are getting outdated, Kaplan does provide plenty of insight and realism about famine and power in Africa. This book mostly covers developments in Ethiopia, with important details on the separatist provinces of Tigre and Eritrea. Despite the book's subtitle, there is only some tangential coverage of Somalia as it related to events in Ethiopia at the time. Note that Somalia's well-publicized disasters hadn't happened yet. The same is true for coverage on Sudan, except for the latter parts of the book when obscure struggles in the inaccessible southern parts of the country caught Kaplan's attention. Also note that this new edition is supplemented with an enlightening update from the newly independent nation of Eritrea.
What matters most in this book in Kaplan's use of realism when interpreting events in the Horn of Africa, as he has done in all his other books covering various hellholes around the developing world. While the famines in the mid-80s shocked the world, most Western people (and governments) thought that drought was the unavoidable culprit. However, Kaplan proves through ground-level experience that the famines were really the outcome of murderous political policies, as food (and the withholding of it) was used as a weapon by the ruling regimes to control dissident groups, while never-ending civil wars and power politics impeded distribution of aid money and supplies.
Beware that this book nearly collapses in Part 4 as Kaplan analyzes the actions of the US and USSR when the Horn became embroiled in Cold War politics.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By saskatoonguy on August 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
Kaplan takes Henry Kissinger's concept of "realpolitik" to another order of magnitude: Kaplan argues that the West has been incredibly naive in obsessing over starving Africans. The theme of his book is that the African elites themselves don't care about starvation among out-of-favor minority groups, and in many instances, such as Ethiopia and Sudan, governments intend starvation to happen. In such cases, foreign aid does not reach the intended recipients and does not win any friends for the West. The book's scope is limited to the countries named in the title. The title is a bit misleading, however, in suggesting that this is a travel narrative. Instead, it is a political analysis, although Kaplan does describe what it is like to visit impoverished, war-torn regions of Sudan and Ethiopia where few journalists dare to tread.

Eritrea is the one country that receives unabashed, effusive praise from Kaplan. I question whether any nation can be as noble and high-minded as Kaplan portrays the Eritreans, but if there is any truth in his descriptions, Eritrea provides an example of what Africans can accomplish despite war, colonialism, religious diversity, and starvation.
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24 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Mc Coy on August 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
When I recently bought a book on Rwanda, it was from a book display with books about Africa, I also picked up Surrender Or Starve by Robert D. Kaplan, since I was a fan of his writing for Atlantic Monthly and his other books (The Coming Anarchy, The Ends of the Earth, and Balkan Ghosts). His journalism reads like a travelogue with interesting asides about the history and culture of the region supplemented by political analysis. I find his writing extremely informative. This book is no exception. He sets out to explain the reasons behind the famine that gripped sub Sahara Africa in the early-mid 80s. It is a reissue, but important if you consider what is being done the black African southerners in Sudan and the fact that Sudan and Yemen are home to some of the most dangerous terrorist in the world.

I find two observations quite profound. One, the famines that received some much notoriety in the 80s from Live Aid and other charitable organizations werenÕt caused by droughts, but were mainly due to ethnic civil wars and politics. Kaplan meticulously describes the factors that resulted in widespread famine. He points out that more often than not the real reasons weren7t printed due to lack of motivation and the inaccessibility of gathering facts from remote regions where this story was taking place.

The other revealing observation concerns the Africans themselves. It seems that 1000s of people dying of hunger caused little concern or outrage among the middle/class elite in the countries described. One aid worker described it to being like the Russian noble in pre-revolutionary Russia that walked the streets and only saw people like themselves. As usual Kaplan provides an interesting portrait of a little known region and give expert political analysis on the region. I think that Kaplan is one the best foreign correspondents around.
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32 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Ethiopianist on January 27, 2006
Format: Paperback
Kaplan's book "Balkan Ghosts" was described by slavist H. Cooper (Slavic Review 52, 1993) as "a dreadful mix of unfounded generalizations, misinformation, outdated sources, personal prejudices and bad writing". The same can be applied to "Surrender or starve". Any specialist could point dozens of minor errors in this book, but lack of scholarship is not the worst. Kaplan is exasperatingly tendentious and partial and his extraordinary simplification and misunderstanding of the conflict in the Horn is outrageous. He overemphasizes the ethnic component, sometimes dangerously approaching racism in his contempt for the Amharas (they are all intrinsically bad). To be sure, the Derg (the communist regime) was evil, but linking a particular culture (the Amharas) with a transient political regime that was imposed against the people's will is absolutely wrong. Besides, anyone minimally informed knows how many Amharas suffered by the resettlement policies of the Derg.

Worst of all, Kaplan embraces the politics he presumedly criticizes: "Surrender or starve" is not the slogan of the former Ethiopian communist regime, it is Kaplan's own motto. According to the author, we should have left 10 million Ethiopians starve in 1984-85, so as to foster a local rebellion against communist rule! To put it bluntly, this book is scholarly defective and morally despicable.

Forget Kaplan. If you really want to be informed about the complex reality of Ethiopia and neighboring countries, take a look at any of the books written by historians Bahru Zewde and Harold G. Marcus or by anthropologist Donald Donham. And if you want to be informed and at the same time enjoy a superb literary experience go for Ryszard Kapuscinski's "The Emperor"!
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