Book review: “The Revenge of Geography” by Robert Kaplan

A book with the subtitle “What the map tells us about coming conflicts and the battle against fate” sounded very interesting to me. Finally a book that focuses on other reasons than oil and Islam in trying to explain recent history.

But then I listened to an interview with its author Robert Kaplan on NPR.

The conversation began in a very unconvincing way, explaining that North Africa was traditionally part of Europe and that the Mediterranean is not the real border of Europe, but the Sahara desert is. Probably one could have argued that at the height of the Roman Empire, but not anymore. Also, this does not exactly correspond to the promise in the subtitle, because picking one random line over a large sea doesn’t look like anything that “the map tells us”.

Then a listener called and asked about Poland. Robert Kaplan’s answer, with my comments in between:

Yes, Poland is lucky, in a way, now, because geography is also about natural resources. And Poland has significant amounts of shale gas underneath the ground that could make it a mini-energy power in the 21st century that can give it real leverage in terms of its relationship between both Russia and Germany.

Poland also is – it’s now a member of NATO. It’s – you know, I believe it’s a member of the EU? [The last part in a very uncertain voice.]

“I have no idea what I am writing about, but it was time for a new book.”

Hold on! Robert Kaplan does not know whether Poland is a member of the EU? Poland has been a member of the European Union for 8 years, since 2004. Is this the same Robert Kaplan who is supposed to be this foreign policy expert, a Senior Fellow at the  Center for a New American Security and an advisor to the US Department of Defense? Yes, that’s him.

Russia is not going to reconstitute the Warsaw Pact.

To somebody who missed the last rounds of EU enlargement, that may indeed come as a surprise. To the rest of us, it doesn’t. By the way, Warsaw is the capital of Poland, so if Russia ever does anything in its hemisphere, it would need to come up with a new name.

It’s going to try to establish buffer zones in Eastern Europe. We could get to that later. But Poland has advantages today that it did not have in centuries past.

You mean advantages like Germany no longer being this aggressive nation that routinely attacks all neighbouring countries? No? Hm.

Remember, geography is dynamic. It’s always changing.

What? Mountains are still were they were millennia ago. Oceans are still where they have always been. What are you talking about?

We can talk later about how technology is changing it, but new energy discoveries are also changing it in the same way. I would say that Poland is the emerging pivot state of Europe, because if the Russians are able to reclaim – in a practical sense – Ukraine, which they seem to be on the way to doing, there’s going to be a quiet battle over Poland between the EU and NATO, and Russia on the other hand.

Why would there be a battle over Poland? Between EU/NATO and Russia? Heck, Poland is within the EU and NATO. It’s a sovereign nation. It has made it as clear as possible to everyone that its orientation is westward.

“Wow, where did all these new countries come from?” asks Robert Kaplan.

At this point, I stopped listening because I was afraid of becoming more angry yet. Apparently, you don’t need to be competent at all to write about international affairs. You just need to have time to write. Publish or perish, forget about the quality. Forget even about common sense.

Sorry, but after this incoherent nonsense, I really don’t need to read the whole of “The Revenge of Geography” to write a review. I can tell you now that it will be crap. Funnily enough, the book promising to disclose “what the map tells us” also comes with only a few lousy and unhelpful maps, if the Amazon reviews are to be believed.

Don’t buy it! If you have better suggestions for what to read instead, I’d be thankful.

About Andreas Moser

You will most likely find me in the forest, next to the lake, reading a book. Just follow the cigar smoke!
This entry was posted in Books, History, Maps, Poland, Politics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Book review: “The Revenge of Geography” by Robert Kaplan

  1. breviosity says:

    Yes, the book is flawed, but I don’t know of any better book on this important subject.

  2. Kaplan’s books are usually full of errors and very interesting ideas

  3. “Political Geography” – artificial units like Europe, Asia, even, in his terms, Africa would be a better phrase. What defines Europe today is different from World War Two, and will be different from another definition in 50 or 100 years.
    To a degree, northern Africa HAD been part of Europe through the end of World War 2, until the revolutions that kicked the European powers out (thinking Algeria, in particular). Nowadays, the north is moving far closer to the south – witness the problems with Libyan fighters in Mali, or Somalia having an effect on Kenya.
    It seems Mr. Kaplan is a bit behind the times.

  4. Zio Alberto says:

    Remember to be humble in life.
    Criticize is always easier than actually do something.

  5. Bankotsu says:

    Robert Kaplan is a journalist, not an academic or specialist in anything. He should not be presented as an “expert” on any topic because he is not.

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