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on December 24, 2015
A deep, detailed, analytical journal of a truly monumental trek across a disjointed swath of Africa and Asia in the early 1990s. Part travelogue, part journalistic report, part history lesson, part political/demographic analysis/forecast, this is a very well-rounded and multi-faceted work of travel literature, all presented in extremely well-written, concise, and evocative language.

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.)
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on February 21, 2013
Robert Kaplan's "The Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia, a Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy" is an excellent and insightful travelogue of Robert Kaplans journeys in Africa, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia, in 1994. The reader accompanies Kaplan as he tries to understand the cultures and societies he visits.

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.
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on June 14, 2012
"The more I read about a place and about issues that affect it, the more I feel I am traveling alone. In an age of mass tourism, adventure becomes increasingly an inner matter, where reading can transport you to places that others only a few feet away will never see." - Robert Kaplan in THE ENDS OF THE EARTH

"The air had that dense and dirty fish-tank quality of the poor and crowded tropics: garbage, stray dogs, and crying babies." - Robert Kaplan in THE ENDS OF THE EARTH, on arriving in Cambodia.

THE ENDS OF THE EARTH: A JOURNEY TO THE FRONTIERS OF ANARCHY by Robert Kaplan will likely not serve as the itinerary for the next overseas tour organized by your retirement community's activities committee. Or, at least you would so think unless the community's HOA has the residents contemplating a paroxysm of purging anarchy anyway.

Kaplan's tortuous route includes West Africa (Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo), the Egyptian Nile Valley, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, Central Asia (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Chinese Turkestan, Pakistan), India, and Indochina (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia) - not exactly a casual saunter down Piccadilly. I got exhausted just reading about it.

To determine these countries' potential for anarchy, the author's self-described method was:

"All I could do was poke around and use my intuition." And this approach, energetically and intelligently applied, resulted in at least one nugget of wisdom which stood out for me and surely holds truth even today:

"... in an age of localized mini-holocausts, decisive action in one sphere will not necessarily help the victims in another. People will either solve or alleviate their problems at the local level ... or they won't."

THE ENDS OF THE EARTH was published in 1997, so perhaps it can be assumed that much of what Kaplan observes is now, fifteen years later, outdated. However, the book almost compels the reader to compare Robert's conclusions with what is occurring at these ends of the earth in contemporary times, particularly in those countries that dominate so much of the news lately, e.g. Egypt, Iran, and Pakistan. Plus, his insights could also be applied to countries he didn't visit but which are now in turmoil of one sort or another: Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Greece.

For me, a successful travel narrative either makes me want to catch the first plane out or vow to avoid a place at all costs. With the exception of Turkey - at least Istanbul - and Thailand, I wouldn't, from Kaplan's descriptions, visit any of these countries on a bet. So, by that measure, THE ENDS OF THE EARTH is a great success.

The volume contains no photos, unfortunately, but it does include seven reasonably useful maps. Though dated, THE ENDS OF THE EARTH is worth your time.
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on March 10, 2015
As I have already posted, this book and East to Tartary should be mandatory reading for every thinking adult. Kaplan goes where others barely dare tread and brings us an analysis of the importance of these far away and out-of-the-way places. They are places that most of us would rather not think about, but must - West African states (so-called), Upper Egypt and on east to Southeast Asia which I regret is one of the failings of the book since he tires by the time he reaches here and the coverage is is less astute. Never before in history have The Ends of the Earth been so critical to our lives, but it just so happens that the oil and gas we are addicted to comes from many of these places and their tortured history is relevant to our lives whether we like it or not. Read these books and become an informed citizen of your world!
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on June 8, 2011
Robert Kaplan's account of his mid-1990's travels through a range of developing countries is neither a gushing self-centred travelogue, nor a dispassionate analysis of societies and nation-states, but rather something more valuable than the former and more accessible than the latter. His experiences travelling from West Africa to South-East Asia with relatively limited resources provide considerable material for trenchant and penetrating observations and to record at times startling and unexpected details of the political and social climates of his destinations. While his observations are backed by considerable research and original analysis (I would disagree with his more negative reviewers who consider him almost a cartoon neo-con with predictable and excessively ethnocentric views), Kaplan does cover a lot of ground in 'The Ends of The Earth' and as a result this book is a bit uneven (his discussion of Central Asia is perhaps the most perceptive part of the book, that of West Africa somewhat less so) and appears at times to lack the nuance and rigour of his work in 'Balkan Ghosts' or 'Surrender or Starve'. That said, I still recommend Kaplan as an interesting and original observer of the world, and a potential springboard for reading and thinking further into some of the issues raised - even if the direction he is coming from is obvious.
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on May 12, 2004
Robert Kaplan sought to achieve a rather ambitious aim when he set out to research and write this book; he wanted to find a new paradigm to understand the early decades of the 21st century. Kaplan noted that some experts focused on the effects of overpopulation and environmental degradation as the dominant forces (particularly in the developing world), while others spoke of a "new anarchy" (such as former UN secretary-general Perez de Cuellar, he and others noting that of the eighty wars between 1945 and 1995, forty-six were either civil wars or guerilla insurgencies). In 1993, forty-two countries were involved in major conflicts and thirty-seven others were suffering some lesser form of political violence (sixty-five of these seventy-nine nations were in the developing world). Kaplan journeyed through sub-Saharan West Africa from Guinea to Togo and through Egypt, Turkey, Iran, former Soviet Central Asia, Pakistan, India, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia in his research for the book.
He found a predictably bleak situation in Africa. While 13 percent of the human race lives in Africa, they contribute only 1.2 percent of the world's gross domestic product. Crime - particularly violent crime - is soaring in much of Africa; for a time the United States suspended direct flights from the U.S. to Lagos, Nigeria due to the rampant violent crime at the terminal and nearby, the first time any such embargo had occurred for non-political and non-terrorist reasons. Soaring malaria in Africa is intensifying the spread of AIDS (as malaria can result in anemia, which requires blood transfusions), just as AIDS and tuberculosis are helping each other's spread.
As bad as the economy, crime, and disease in Africa are though, Kaplan believes the real problem in sub-Saharan Africa is too-rapid urbanization, a problem he comes to again and again in the book. Festering "bush-slums" that appear on few maps border many African cities, where relatively prosperous cities end up being "slum-magnets for an emptying countryside." He visited several such slums in Ivory Coast and elsewhere in West Africa, many packed with migrants from Mali, Niger, and elsewhere (50% of the population of the Ivory Coast is now non-Ivorian). The native forest culture of Africa, however primitive, was being destroyed by soaring birthrates, alcohol, cheap guns, and extremely dense concentrations of humanity in slums that lacked any stabilizing and unifying government or culture. Though he does not believe this to be the only factor in the bloody conflicts in Liberia and elsewhere, he does believe it to be a dominant one.
Though not leading to the level of social breakdown as seen in Africa, rapidly growing cities - packed with peasants drawn in from the countryside - was a dominant feature in other nations he found as well. China, while touted at the time of writing as having a 14 per cent growth rate, really meant that coastal China was growing; this growth did not apply to inland China (and also could be said to favor the cities and not the countryside), leading to a mass migration from the countryside. Migration to shantytowns in Pakistan is tremendous, owing in large part to a skyrocketing population rate (only 9 percent of Pakistani women use contraceptives and the population of Pakistan is close to doubling every twenty years), a situation leading to empty villages and a poorly urbanized peasantry that cities are unable to cope with.
Kaplan found similar problems in Egypt, where urban poverty and newly urbanized peasants, threatened with the loss of traditions, the government unable to help them, with basic services like water and electricity breaking down, having found something to turn to; Islam. Islam is thriving in a time of unregulated urbanization and internal and external refugee migrations. With increasingly militant Islamic Egyptians turning against Christian Arabs (both Coptic Christians, who like the Lebanese Kaplan met in West Africa and the Korean grocers of South Los Angeles, formed a "middlemen minority" in Egypt, as well as the Christian leaders like UN secretary-general Boutros-Ghali who failed to aid Bosnian Muslims) and turning to the Ikhwan el Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood) for social services instead of an increasingly overburdened state, Kaplan sees scarcity and woes of the urbanized peasantry of the shantytowns as the driving force in many ways in Egypt.
The growing marriage of Islam and urbanized peasantry was not unique to Egypt. To a somewhat lesser extent Kaplan found a similar process on-going in Turkey, as the Turkish migrants to the gecekondus (literally "built in the night;" shanty-town houses) on the fringes of Istanbul found more aid from the Islamic Welfare Party in the form of water, coal, and food than from the Turkish government itself. In some areas of western China such as Kashgar, overcrowding, unemployment, and the lack of any real middle class was leading to a Muslim resurgence there among non-ethnic Chinese.
So what did Kaplan learn from his travels? He was quite frustrated, and found that the more he traveled the less he felt he knew. Kaplan did grow disgusted with the idea of political "science," paraphrasing Tolstoy in _Anna Karenina_ in writing that while successful cultures are in many ways alike, unsuccessful ones fail each in their own way. He did come to the conclusion that nation-states at least in West Africa, the Near East, and Central Asia were weakening. In some cases organizations and entities outside or beyond the state - such as the various Islamic groups in Egypt and Turkey - were starting to fill in the vacuum, while in other, failed states such as Sierra Leone, nothing was taking its place. Borders in some regions, the legacy of long-gone European imperial powers, were becoming less and less important. Laos and Cambodia were in some sense creations of the French, areas that might have long been swallowed by the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai and were now being divided up economically if not politically by these countries. I think his firmest conclusion though was that poorly and newly urbanized rural poor flocking to the cities represented the greatest challenge.
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on October 28, 2000
I give this book five stars for one reason: it is important to read it and to keep thinking about its main subject: the future of the nation-state and the possible consequences of its demise. Kaplan knows he is going to be subjective. That's fine. He is well-read and travels with a good piece of luggage: previous knowledge of the history of the places he's going to -unlike most of the backpackers he correctly mocks at-. Kaplan is a good writer. He goes to fascinating and really different places. But the important thing about the book is his reflections on the future of the world, from the standpoint of these societies. This book takes us to some of the places where the future of humanity will be decided, within the next decades. These are regions in crisis, in its clinical, primary meaning: artificial borders, paper-States, overpopulation, an exhaustion of natural resources, forced and vertiginous urbanization, and one more thing: the rapid increase in violent religious fanatism, as a consequence of the erosion of identity in the misery-ridden slums of the Third World. The rank-and-file of the fundamentalist threats is formed by poor peasants who suddenly had lo leave their land and become lumpen-proletariats in Cairo, Ankara or some other megalopolis. West Africa, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and Southeastern Asia, are "fracture lines". These regions are living the beginning of the end of the Nation-state as the basic cell of human political organization, only in the other end of the spectrum, compared with the European Union. And yet there is hope. As in Rishi Valley, what we still call the Third World need not be lost for peace, prosperity and a promising future. At least, not all of it. For that outcome to happen, the West has to turn its eyes and minds to help. Clearly, the West can not do what these peoples themselves are not willing to do. But the West must help when it is possible. The elites of these nations must come to terms with their responsibilities in leading their peoples out of the bleak way in which some of them are embarked. It is possible, but first we have to know the problems. And Kaplan is helping with his books.
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on December 26, 1999
Robert D. Kaplan paints a very scary picture of most of the world. Unforunately, I think he is right. The United States, Cananda, Western Europe, and Japan...we are the exceptions. The parts of the world that are relatively stable. Kaplan shows through his journies to different parts of the third world the coming anarchy. Kaplan shows too clearly what poverty, crime, religion, civil war, etc. are doing to the rest of the world. Kaplan is giving us a warning and a clear reason why we can never be isolationalist. We must do whatever we can to stop the anarchy that characterizes much of the world from spreading too far. This book is a great read and quite eye-opening.
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on January 12, 2017
Well developed and a good study of the third world. A great read.
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on February 24, 2012
Fascinating book. Kaplan is an absolutely wonderful reporter. It's a very well-researched and thoughtful piece. Slightly dated but still well worth the read. Powerfully written but not annoyingly intellectual. 5/5. This book is good for anyone interested in comprehensive foreign policy based in historical and social analysis. Also a good read for anyone interested in ethnography and demography. It's a book about the *comprehensive* geography of land and people.
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