Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall - a short review


Prisoners of Geography is a non-fiction exploration of how geography steers and shapes politics. Tim Marshall is a journalist who has reported from numerous warzones over the years and firmly believes that all attempts to understand national and international interactions without taking the underlying geography into account are doomed to failure. Understandably, he is particularly harsh on colonial and post-colonial border settings which consist of straight lines on a map without recognising natural and cultural divisions, as seen for example in the Middle East or Africa.

I found the introduction, and the first couple of chapters (Russia and China) particularly interesting, and after that the chapters became quite repetitive, with occasional gems to ensure that the book kept my interest - in any case it's not a long book, so there was never any real chance of failing to finish it. Striking omissions are Australasia and Antarctica: also the publication date of 2015 means that some important events which he can only speculate about, are now major issues - such as the EU contending with internal divisions and splits.

Apart from those with a general interest in world events, people might find this book stimulating if they are in the business of building imaginary worlds, whether for fiction or gaming. Marshall's ideas could help create a world which is credible and has the potential for a deep history behind the events of the moment. Or they could leverage poor historical choices (such as boundary-drawing) to trigger tensions and conflict in the now. Or, conversely, they could highlight areas where world-building is less than credible.

Overall for me this was a 4* book - a compelling underlying thesis, some great ideas to illustrate that, and insightful nuggets scattered throughout, but not enough variation or development once you got into the swing of the chapters.


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