Daily Archives: December 10, 2012

* 1/2 The Revenge of Geography by Robert Kaplan

If you enjoy geopolitics, you will likely enjoy The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate. I don’t, and I didn’t. Actually, I found myself actively and perversely seeking counter-arguments for the author’s ideas, although his basic thesis is obviously sound: geographical basics such as topography and climate matter to how countries get along or not. Sounds good right? Unfortunately, I thought that the  author too often used this perfectly reasonable assertion to justify every single historical event,whether the Second Punic War or the current war in Iraq, with only a feeble acknowledgement that perhaps other factors could be at stake such as a different birth rates or choices of regime that are not dictated by deserts or high mountain. Some of the claims are amusing, as when he says that Russians were communists because they lived in a frigid climate that required communalism to survive (I’m quoting from page 158), I wonder if global warming may be interpreted as a force for anti-communism.

Less palatably, he uses geographical arguments in what struck me as racist stereotypes. Yemenis are aggressive and commercial-minded — whatever that means, but it’s not a compliment — and Mexican-Americans are threatening the US with their pre-Enligtenment society. Ouch! The general aggressively pro-American bias of the book turned me off, with its insistence that threats against the US are everywhere, and that only a direct response will succeed.

I have probably exceeded my quota of meanness, but would it be too much to hope, in a hope whose central thesis is that geography is destiny, to ask for better maps? Maps that would, for instance, consistently show the capitals of all countries displayed?

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