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The Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia, a Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy Paperback – January 28, 1997
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Learn more
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"The future here could be sadder than the present," writes Robert Kaplan in a chapter about the African nation of Sierra Leone. From Kaplan's perspective, the same could be said of virtually the entire Third World, which he spends the bulk of this book visiting and describing. Kaplan, an acclaimed foreign correspondent and author of Balkan Ghosts, is congenitally pessimistic about the developmental prospects of West Africa, the Nile Valley, and much of Asia. This traveler's tale offers dire warnings about overpopulation, environmental degradation, and social chaos. We should all hope that Kaplan's forecast is wrong, but we ignore him at our peril.
From Scientific American
Kaplan is a superb reporter, expertly weaving his precise, vivid observation of facts at hand into a larger context of global social change.
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Most impressive to me were the remarkably articulate accounts of the author's personal experiences, impressions, and observations while traveling through some of the most challenging places on Earth. These passages often evoked in me the swelling and intoxicating highs of the wonder, discovery, and mind/soul-expanding effects such travel brings...and, on the flip side, the discomfort, anxiety, and risks that come with visiting such places, which, while being experienced can be unpleasant in the extreme, in retrospect often become key aspects of the journey.
The author doesn't waste any words. The amount of detail and information packed into these 440+ pages is overwhelming and frustratingly impossible to fully absorb, but even if a few bits and factoids manage to stick, it's a valuable endeavor. For me, I'm left less with all the specifics and minutiae (of which there is a lot here) and more with an overall sense of these places, how they compare and how they differ. The author does a very good job capturing the essence and "feel" of each new place and region he transitions into, weaving them all into a coherent, flowing narrative. I found it an extremely engaging read and a valuable insight into places I dream of one day having the opportunity to see and experience for myself.
In short, a truly impressive and expansive work of travel writing, giving an in-depth glimpse into, and overview of, a slew of important and fascinating lands many of us will unfortunately never get to experience for ourselves.
(Countries visited and documented in this book are: Ivory Coast, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Togo, Ghana, Egypt, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Pakistan, India, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.)
One drawback of a book like this is that it's dated. The world that Kaplan traveled in is 17 years-old. This is the pre-9/11 world with a burgeoning AIDS epidemic, not the world of today.
Still, this is an excellent and fascinating book. Kaplan travels light and, although sometimes he stays with or socializes with Western diplomats, most of his travel is done at ground level, on local buses and trains, as he tries to find the true culture of the places he visits - the soul of the people he meets on the street corners, in the hotels, and on the buses.
Kaplan focuses on a few themes - the increasing urbanization of these societies and the environmental cost of population increases. When he travels, he not only sees the history of the place and how it has shaped the present, he also sees the ethnicity and culture - and he tries to see the future based on the present and the past.
In hindsight, his insights are interesting. In Egypt, he accurately predicts that the Muslim Brotherhood as the future of Egypt. However, when traveling through Iran, he believes that it is a sophisticated country moving toward democracy, that it is inevitable that it will one day be on good relations with the US, and that the Islamic revolution was a temporary "Islamicization" of Iran and just a sidetrack on its march to modernity. Although this may ultimately prove true (as the events of 2009 hint), the Iranian government has moved the country farther and farther away from western influence.
Kaplan's story, even if dated, is fascinating and entertaining read. Ultimately, Kaplan sees the central power of states weakening in much of the world as ethnic and religious ties amongst its people strengthen.