Prisoners of Geography

Prisoners of Geography (2015) by Tim Marshall is a modern book on geopolitics that looks at why various regions around the world are the way they are and offers motives for why many states act as they do. Marshall is a journalist and writer and was at Sky News for a quarter of century and was the Foreign Affairs editor there for many years.

Geopolitics underpins power politics and offers a great deal of insight into why states act as they do. Afred Thayer Mahan, Emil Reich and Halford Mackinder should be better known than they are. The US statesmen who understood and cared about geopolitics, Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezisnki, are better known for their crucial role in winning the Cold War. This book distils the insights of geopolitics.

The book has chapters on Russia, China, the US, Western Europe, Africa, The Middle East, Indian and Pakistan, Korean and Japan, Latin America and The Arctic. The chapters on Russia, China and the Middle East are all outstanding, providing a great deal of insight into why these powers act as they do. In particular Marshall’s presentation of why Russia is acting the way it is in Ukraine is something that is very much worth reading.

The one big thing the book curiously mentions little is nuclear weapons which have fundamentally reshaped power politics. It was one thing for Napoleon or Hitler to invade Russia, it is a completely different thing to contemplate attacking a Russia with nuclear weapons. Similarly China has a level of security that previous rising powers did not have due to its nuclear capability.

If the book does sound interesting Marshall gave a talk at the LSE recently that is available online to listen to that goes over the themes of the book.

The book is very much worth reading for anyone interested in current events. It really does help understand various political events around the world.


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