- Paperback: 448 pages
- Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 10, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0812982223
- ISBN-13: 978-0812982220
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (328 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #22,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate Paperback – September 10, 2013
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“[An] ambitious and challenging new book . . . [The Revenge of Geography] displays a formidable grasp of contemporary world politics and serves as a powerful reminder that it has been the planet’s geophysical configurations, as much as the flow of competing religions and ideologies, that have shaped human conflicts, past and present.”—Malise Ruthven, The New York Review of Books
“Robert D. Kaplan, the world-traveling reporter and intellectual whose fourteen books constitute a bedrock of penetrating exposition and analysis on the post-Cold War world . . . strips away much of the cant that suffuses public discourse these days on global developments and gets to a fundamental reality: that geography remains today, as it has been throughout history, one of the most powerful drivers of world events.”—The National Interest
“Kaplan plunges into a planetary review that is often thrilling in its sheer scale . . . encyclopedic.”—The New Yorker
“[The Revenge of Geography] serves the facts straight up. . . . Kaplan’s realism and willingness to face hard facts make The Revenge of Geography a valuable antidote to the feel-good manifestoes that often masquerade as strategic thought.”—The Daily Beast
“[A] remarkable new book . . . With such books as Balkan Ghosts and Monsoon, Kaplan, an observer of world events who sees what others often do not, has already established himself as one of the most discerning geopolitical writers of our time. The Revenge of Geography cements his status.”—National Review
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Robert D. Kaplan is the bestselling author of sixteen books on foreign affairs and travel translated into many languages, including Asia’s Cauldron, The Revenge of Geography, Monsoon, The Coming Anarchy, and Balkan Ghosts. He is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a contributing editor at The Atlantic, where his work has appeared for three decades. He was chief geopolitical analyst at Stratfor, a visiting professor at the United States Naval Academy, and a member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. Foreign Policy magazine has twice named him one of the world’s Top 100 Global Thinkers.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Kaplan can also be a bit pedantic ("history and geography tell us") and prone to over-comparing motivations of current nation states to what their forebears did thousands of years ago ("Ancient history, too, offers up examples that cast doubt on whether Afghanistan and Iraq, in and of themselves, have doomed us"). He also says that he is "aware that I am on dangerous ground in raising geography on a pedestal" but actually covers so much material of a political, demographic, and economic nature that geography seems to be secondary. He might just as well have titled the book THE REVENGE OF (GEOGRAPHY, ECONOMICS, DEMOGRAPHICS, POLITICS, ETC. ETC.).
My interest perked up in PART III AMERICA'S DESTINY. This is the part that Kaplan put his heart into, as he explains:
As a visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis some years back, I taught a course about future challenges in national security.
In fact the book becomes especially interesting because Kaplan expands on the topic of "future challenges in national security" to include the future composition of our country in the combination of ALL factors that make us the nation we are, including geography, demographics, politics, and economics.
Kaplan starts out by pointing out how fantastically blessed by geography we Americans are. We have 6% of the world's land area, but perhaps 25% to 30% of its arable farmland. Our entire country, except for the Desert Southwest, is drained by the Mississippi/Ohio/Missouri, and the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence. Our East Coast ports were perfectly positioned at the head of navigable waters to facilitate settlement, commerce, and the extension of political sovereignty for hundreds of miles inland. We ARE the center of the world's trading routes, with our East Coast facing Europe, our West Coast facing Asia, and our Gulf Coast facing Latin America. Kaplan perhaps overplays the idea that the United States is a superpower PRIMARILY because of our geography (the ambitions of our people also had a lot to do with making us what we are) but he makes it clear that no country has been favored by geography as we are.
He then makes the point that in regard to the vision of what the United States wants to become as a nation, we are coming back to our starting point. Our country is named "The United States of AMERICA" (not NORTH AMERICA) because it wasn't until around 1900 that the word "America" stopped being used as a synonym for "Western Hemisphere" and the words NORTH AMERICA and SOUTH AMERICA began to be used to distinguish the continents. As late as the 1870s some prominent Americans continued to believe that the United States was destined to become coextensive with the entire hemisphere.
Something of the reverse has actually happened. Instead of Anglo Americans going forth to colonize Latin America and incorporating it into the United States, tens of millions of Latin Americans have been attracted by our free political system and vibrant economy to come live among us. Kaplan makes a point that I (an Anglo American) and my Latin American family talk about almost every day, that the elderly Anglo population is passing, and America is being repopulated by a younger, more Latin American generation.
Kaplan thinks, as I do, that we're on our way to becoming an even more powerful Anglo/Hispanic Superpower whose economic perimeter includes not only Canada but also Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and much or even all of South America. He thinks our population will be browner, but we'll still be Americans living under the same Constitution, and a rising prosperity in Latin America will boost our own prosperity (I see this happening in the microcosm of my own family).
My takeaway from this book is that Mexico and Latin America REALLY are vital to our own well being. Before reading this book I leaned toward the view that America's free trade partnership shouldn't extend beyond Canada. Now I am wondering whether free trade with Mexico and most of the rest of Latin America may not after all be necessary for our security. These free trade agreements have put millions of Americans out of work, but they are accomplishing their purpose of helping to stabilize fragile countries like Colombia and Mexico. Eventually the trade agreements may serve their full purpose by boosting American exports, and therefore restoring employment, to the newly prosperous countries of Latin America.
You'll find this book a worthwhile read if:
1. You're looking for an education in Global Social Studies 101 (i.e. a basic literacy in global geography, demographics, politics, military strategic theory past and present, and current events). None of these subjects is covered deeply, but the reader will become away conversant in just about every factor that influences the world today.
2. You're interested in the part of the book I was, which is to glimpse ahead into the USA's future.
3. You want to acquire a more open-minded view of the cost/benefit analysis of U.S. free trade with Mexico and Latin America. It led me to wonder if perhaps the USA should include Mexico in its continental integration perimeter to the same degree as Canada (an objective that Mexico's former President asked for).
Kaplan's greatest achievement here is his ability to explain the effects of geography on our past, present, and future. In the first of three segments, he provides the historical background to his study, tracing the work of historians and geographers from Herodotus through the twentieth century. In the second section, he analyzes the early twenty first century map,describing the ways in which gogrpahy influences the development of Europe, Russia, China, India, and the Middle East. Finally, the third section examines the fate of the United States and Mexico, two nations inevitably bound together by the map and whose futures will inevitably see us growing more intertwined.
Throughout this meticulously researched work Kaplan provides "local color" through a series of fascinating anecdotes, many of them based on his own travels through the regions under discussion. These enhance what is already an impressive and scholarly account, one that I believe and hope will become essential reading for diplomats and strategists around the world.
For example Mr. Kaplan points to shale gas and its impact on geopolitics as a straightforward matter of geography. However the existence of shale gas is no more important than what we do with it, if we do anything at all. Human agency is at least as important.
By discounting ideology and individual actions so heavily Mr. Kaplan tends to draw questionable conclusions based on geographic considerations. Take his treatment of Mexico for example. He posits that geography has inhibited Mexico's development but does little to support this assertion. Are we to believe that a Mexico settled by the British rather than the Spanish would suffer the same difficulties? This seems unlikely and indicates ideology plays a larger role in social decisions than Mr. Kaplan credits it with.
Treating geography as a dominant factor leads the author to suggest among other things that; Mexico, Canada and the US should form a super state from vastly different societies while leaving aside small fry issues like what form of government this monstrosity would take or what to do with recalcitrant groups like the drug cartels and the Tea party. In reality geography's impact is not mechanistic but is merely one factor among many.
For this reason Mr. Kaplan's contribution is informed and important but cannot stand alone. Taken as one consideration alongside ideology, human agency and random chance geography certainly has an impact, however the vagaries of the relief map only get you part of the way to answering either what choices we should make or what choices we will make.