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In Prisoners Of Geography, Tim Marshall sets out to explain world politics in terms of geopolitics – that is, that nations are almost compelled by the physical attributes of their landscape to behave in certain ways. Thus, we are presented with a Russia that will always want to have a buffer of conquered states to the west where flat plains leave it vulnerable; South America will always be poor because the landscape lacks natural harbours and navigable rivers; and the interconnected rivers but high mountain ranges made it inevitable that Europe would become a trading zone divided by many languages. This all sounds plausible, but does it make a book? Whilst some of the arguments are compelling, it is all presented through the “Lens of Now”. By that, I mean taking the current reality, looking for how geography might have contributed, and then presenting the current state of affairs as an inevitability caused by geography. So, by way of example, China is presented as a successful nation because the Han culture and Mandarin language have achieved dominance in a flat area with natural boundaries and navigable rivers, but development is focused on the coastal region because of ease of transport. But in a parallel universe, where the Han race and Mandarin language had not come to dominate the others, would Tim Marshall have been arguing that an area as vast and flat as China could never be united and enjoy stable governance, always being at the mercy of warlords constantly invading one another’s territory? And thirty years ago when China was not successful, it still had the same geography, didn’t it? Other examples in the book – the Middle East in particular – don’t seem to be much about geopolitics at all. That seems to be more a problem of cultures and religions jostling for supremacy. There are issues of arbitrarily creating nation states based on lines on a map, but the narrative seems more to be a statement of who currently holds what territory rather than any convincing explanation of how geopolitics got us there. There’s a feeling that even without the lines on the map, there would still be warring factions. And much seems to have been simplified: there is scarcely a mention, for example, of the Maronite Christians, how they came to be in the Levant area (i.e. driven out of Armenia by the Turks) and how the Turks had previously been driven out of Central Asia. By the same token, there’s not much thought about current population movements in the area and how they might impact on the future. Speaking of the future, there is some discussion of “where to from here”. We consider whether there will ever be a resolution of the Korean issue (answer – not any time soon); and how global warming might open up trade routes through the Arctic. There are occasional references to the politics of water supply. But unlike the definitive statements about how we got here, geography doesn’t seem to give up the future so easily. It all starts to get a bit vague. Overall there is some interesting material in this book – although after ten chapters it can start to feel a bit samey. Some people have criticized it for over-simplifying things but, in a way, that’s exactly what Tim Marshall set out to do. He wanted to increase our understanding of geopolitics in a very broad sense without having to read the extremely detailed material from which the theories derive. My real beef is not the simplification, it is the weight given to geopolitics in what is a more nuanced world: key decisions might have gone the other way; a different leader might have come to power; the war might have lasted another ten years; Russia might never have sold Alaska, etc. There are lots of what ifs – and I’m not sure this book gives sufficient recognition to those, or to the fact that we are looking at just one point in time facing a vast and unknowable future. ***00
At the end of 2018 would love to hear your highs of the year. After much consideration I must give my book of the year to Eleanor Oliphant by Gail Honeyman - a book that appeals to all ages and genders. My favourite TV series was Killing Eve which you can still watch ( voted top by most critics). https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p06kbg8t/killing-eve-series-1-1-nice-face My favourite film was Black Panther and I'm not normally a super hero movie fan. My favourite album was Low - Double Negative. Always loved them but took me awhile
The Sweet Spot, by Anneli Lort, caught my eye recently, during the excitement of The Open Championship, and it's quick ascent into the top 10 of the sports fiction chart, but it is, undeniably, a romance novel. The Sweet Spot tells the tale of strong female lead, Olivia, who is recovering from an unhealthy relationship and an unforgiving heartache. She moves out of busy London to heal in the countryside, taking a career opportunity to ghostwrite a globally famous, golfing legend's autobiography, Sebastian. The setting of Appleton Vale is so beautifully described that this book could truly heal anybody's heartache with its idyllic nature, and the struggles of being in a new place and overcoming a bad relationship are well-portrayed. The characters of this romance novel are wonderfully developed, their quirks, histories, motives and weaknesses outlined early on. Sexy Sebastian is witty and alluring, providing Olivia exactly the distraction she needs, until his feelings for her begin to overcome them both. Whether you're interested in golf or not, I feel that the tension and competitive narrative of the book, as it develops, is a great pace changer and makes a great page-turner. I could not put the book down! If you're looking for a peaceful feel-good setting with a romantic twist, and like authors such as Jilly Cooper and Joanna Trollope, you'll love this! And, if you can't get enough, I hear it's a series and book 2 is on the way!