Review: Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

Image from goodreads.comPrisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall has been a very exciting read for me, and many readers on Goodreads agree (there are 1400 reviews available). It is the best book on geopolitics that I have read so far and it has helped me consolidate what I already knew and taught me a lot of new things as well.

The book is organized in ten chapters on different regions and this way of storytelling made it amazingly easy to remember facts. Weeks after reading this book, I had retained 90% more than I would have retained from a book without geographical organization, and I attribute this to the loci technique of memorizing.

It opens with Russia’s geographical prison, namely its vulnerability because of the Northern European Plane and the absence of a warm-water port. It discusses the inevitability of the US rising to become a world power as a two-ocean nation. It shows what we can expect from China’s rise and why Tibet is important for geological reasons (origination of the great rivers).

Marshall gives an account of the complicated relationship between the world’s two most populous countries, China and India, and the issue of Pakistan. He explains the strategic importance of a divided Korea, the rise and fall of Japan, an island nation with very little natural resources. Geography also explains convincingly why Africa never developed like Western Europe: no navigable or connected rivers (except for the Nile in Egypt), no deep water ports, and too many infectious diseases. He also reminds us of one of the most horrible yet underreported conflicts of our time, that in the DRC Congo. Similar arguments are made for Latin America, so we can understand the limitations of Brazil’s economy and the strategic importance of the Chinese-planned Nicaragua canal. By the time the book closes with a detailed account of the Arctic region, we understand its importance for the contesting nations (Russia, Canada, US, Norway, Denmark).

The book constantly reminds us of the importance of geographical features such as navigable rivers, warm-water ports, tall mountains, impenetrable forests, fertile land, straits. It makes the reader feel like a little expert on geopolitics.

I recommend this book to everyone who wants to understand the current geopolitical situation – even a few years after its publication.

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