- Hardcover: 432 pages
- Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (September 11, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1400069831
- ISBN-13: 978-1400069835
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 338 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #194,350 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 1st Edition
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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
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.
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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.
I wasn't certain, when I began Robert Kaplan's The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, just who Kaplan was or if I would have to do intellectual battle throughout this book with a point of view too contrary to my own. The above statement relieved my mind. Here, I suspected, might be someone worth listening to. Here might be someone from whom I can learn.
Throughout Part I, he summarizes and expands upon a group of writers he calls Visionaries, chief among them Halford Makinder.
For Makinder, Kaplan says, geography is
"…an old story…Europe versus Russia: a liberal sea power—as were Athens and Venice—against a reactionary land power—as was Sparta and Prussia. For the sea, in addition to the cosmopolitan influences it bestows by virtue of access to distant harbors, provides the sort of inviolate border security necessary for liberalism and democracy to take root. (The United States is virtually an island nation …)"
He makes clear that Russia, which he considered the heart of Makinder's “World Island,” has suffered since its beginning, from borders that are easily traduced, from a landmass that crosses 170 degrees of longitude (almost halfway around the globe), but lies almost entirely north of the 50th parallel (the northern border of the U.S. lies at 49 degrees north), and that historically has gone to great lengths to procure open ports for trade. The United States, on the other hand, is protected on two sides by large oceans, by treaty with a friendly power on a third, and threatened only by the demographics of population and economics on the fourth. We lie in the largest expanse of temperate zone productivity in the world, rivaled only by China. And we have two seaboards indented with year-round harbor facilities.
And yet we jeered (this is my take, not necessarily Kaplan’s) for decades about Russia’s paranoia and the inability of Russian communism to make a living for its people, much less produce affluence. We have had, from the beginning, the right geography in which liberalism and democracy could take hold. Our history has, however, proven, time and again, Kaplan’s bald statement that "Democracy and morality are simply not synonymous."
Part II goes deeper into the specifics of Europe, Russia, China, India, Iran, and the countries of the former Ottoman Empire.
Speaking of the relatively new fundamentalism in Iran (but I would extend it to the possibilities inherent through the U.S. as well), he posits that in an increasingly urbanized world, the city, which once fostered creativity and innovation impossible back in the village, now accounts for much
"intensified religious feeling. For in the village of old, religion was a natural extension of the daily traditions and routine of life among the extended family; but migrations to the city brought Muslims into the anonymity of slum existence, and to keep the family together and the young from drifting into crime, religion has had to be reinvented in starker, more ideological form."
"Traveling from Saddam’s Iraq to Assad’s Syria, as I did on occasion, was like coming up for liberal humanist air." At this time, Kaplan regards Syria as having a better chance post-Assad than Iraq did post-Saddam because Syria seemed, at the time, to be a "less damaged society".
Published in 2012 (2013 in paperback), Kaplan writes, with almost eerie foreshadowing, "…following Iraq and Afghanistan, the next target of Sunni jihadists could be Syria itself…"
In Part III, America's Destiny, his final argument, vis a vis the U.S., is one I didn't expect. He paraphrases, and then expands favorably upon, Andrew Bacevich's "impolite observation," at a 2009 conference. "What have we achieved in the Middle East with all of our interventions since the 1980's?...Why not fix Mexico instead?"
"...human beings operate under constraints imposed by geography and the vast and varied phenomena that emanate from it: everything from persistent, albeit changeable, national characteristics to the location of trade routes to the life-or-death requirement for natural resources...And while the advance of electronic communications may make the world smaller, rather than negate geography, the Internet and other new media only make geography more precious, more contested, more claustrophobic."
.There are no grand conclusions to The Revenge of Geography. No thrilling climax. No Walking Dead. No Sharknados. But there is a lot of food for thought for long winter evenings, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.