I read this book from two perspectives. First, decades ago, I was given a copy of the Air Force War College's textbook on geography as a basis for global military strategy and therefore became familiar at an early age with some of the concepts this book explores. Secondly, my family is bi-national American/Colombian, with family and businesses in both countries, and therefore is attuned with author Robert Kaplan's future vision of the USA evolving to become the center of an Anglo-Hispanic "supra-state."
Although this book is supposedly focused in on the influence of geography in making and breaking nations, it is actually what we used to call "Social Studies" --- a combined analysis of all the factors of geography, demographics, history, economics, and politics that go into constituting a nation state.
PART III. AMERICA'S DESTINY is the 25% of the book that most interested me. The other 75% is just OK, because it is an agglomeration of themes that students of world history and current events will probably already be familiar with. I didn't care for the lack of focus among so many topics. The chapter on Mexico starts with a rambling history of the Roman Empire followed up by a digression into our wars in Iran and Afghanistan, the history of China, India, Venice and the 18th Century mutiny of Indian troops against British Colonialists. However, those who aren't already familiar with these topics of World History 101 and are looking for the widest possible introduction to the geography, demographics, history, economics, politics, and current events in all parts of the world may enjoy Kaplan's "stream of consciousness" approach.Read more ›
Unlike most of Kaplan's earlier work (examples include Surrender or Starve: Travels in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea or Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Vintage Departures)) which relied on Kaplan's first-hand impressions and a lot of 'man in the street' perspectives, "The Revenge of Geography" takes a relatively detached and scholarly approach to illustrating Kaplan's view of the world we live in. Using a very broad definition of geography to include a lot of what might otherwise be called social science, Kaplan seeks to describe real constraints on how nations and populations can and will act in order to chart a middle course between an overly idealistic liberal internationalism (or its close cousin, neoconservatism) or an excessively pessimistic and ethnically/geographically deterministic IR realism. The net effect is an attempt to, as he approvingly quotes Braudel, make us more aware of our limits in order to have "more power to affect outcomes within them".
Divided into three parts, the first draws upon a range of mainly western thinkers (including Mackinder, Braudel, Spengler and Mahan) to explain various IR streams of thought with particular reference to the impact and constraints of (broadly defined) geography, while the second focuses on the history, geography and constraints of six key regions or powers (Europe, Russia, China, India, Iran and Turkey) and surrounding nations.Read more ›
Though I've read other Kaplan books, I cannot recommend this one. It's not clear what his intention was in moving to this slogging, plodding, at times incomprehensible writing style. It's also not clear what this book is supposed to be: is it history, geography, philosophy, political commentary, or simply (actually acutely, painfully, mind-numbing) his attempt to be all of the above in some fanciful mishmash of subject and style. Whatever his intention, the result is the worst I've experienced; and I've had my share of literary slogging. Where was his editor?? Through sheer force of will I sat down each day to plow through another chapter, finding each paragraph filled with unnecessary literary devices that added nothing to the subject, parsing sentences to try to discern his meaning (sometimes failing in frustration), shaking my in head in disbelief that I was spending more time unscrambling his writing than studying the subject. The book is more like a long research paper: collections of other historians' writings that are cut and pasted into narrative paragraphs. There is no new information, just a rephrasing of previous writings. Look at some maps, look in your college history book, and listen to the news: you'll know what's in this book. Throughout he references the writings of Mackinder, Morgenthau, Mahan, Spykman and numerous other historians, and even quotes other writers who have previously referred to those same historians. Historians quoting each other: quite the academic enterprise. A personal nit I have with Kaplan's style is that he falls for one of the cheap, pedantic devices of turning a proper noun into an adjective; for example, he could refer to his own work as Kaplanesque.Read more ›