In the winter of 2008 and early 2009 Russia turned off the supply of gas to the Ukraine. In doing so, large areas of the rest of Europe also lost a large proportion of their supply. Fear stalked the media and here in the UK there were many reports of how unprepared for a shortage we were. This was one of the moments that caused my teenage brain to become interested in Geopolitics. It was clear to me then that Russia wields its energy resources as a political weapon to ensure that most of Europe does little to oppose it. This seems to be clear to the author of this book as well. Tim Marshall sees the world in terms of its geographical constraints. To Marshall, rivers, mountains and oceans become major obstacles to countries and foreign policy. Mountains are unassailable physical barriers, rivers can only be overcome with massive investment and access to the seas is essential for economic success. If it isn’t already clear, I really enjoyed this book.
This book gives us the ability to zoom into any area on the globe and get to grips with how its geography has aided its rise or compounded its attempts to succeed. I really enjoyed the section on India and Pakistan. Marshall did not shy away from describing the failure of the British to ensure that the partition of its colonial holdings occurred without major unrest. He warned of a future where the two nuclear armed states may once more be pitted against each other over Kashmir. He also brought my attention to the expansion of Chinese interest in a Blue Water Navy. The construction and lease of Gwadur Port in Pakistan was used as a key example of this newfound interest in expanding China’s influence across the globe. His book, whilst not attempting to create fear does raise some very interesting “what ifs?” After all, what would happen if Chinese warships could bypass the contested South China Sea?
The fact that the book makes me want to ask these questions speaks much about its ability to interest the reader. The book uses relatively little jargon and often has helpful little anecdotes or stories to simplify difficult ideas. My favourite of these was the one about the Pepsi guys popping up in a Coca Cola board meeting. However, whilst this book is a really amazing work of geopolitics it can, at times, seem as though it is repeating itself. If I sat down and read it in a day, I would probably be less happy about the repetition of Rivers, Ports and Mountains all the way through. The book, as a work of geography, struggles to get away from the physicality of the countries it discusses and this can get a little stale. Luckily, I read this book in chunks of a section or two a day. Just enough to keep me interested enough to come back for more the next day. If you purchase this book, I suggest you do the same. Whilst it isn’t a dry read it certainly isn’t the kind of book to digest in a day; especially if you want to look into the questions it raises. This isn’t a criticism of the book merely a recommendation if you want to get the most out of it.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anybody with a passing interest in geography or politics. It will certainly help you to look behind the curtain of current affairs and get a feel for how the world works.