Dublin Unitarian Book Club’s
choice for November 2021.

Prisoners of Geography
Tim Marshall

Ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics.

In the introduction to his book Tim Marshall says “The land on which we live has always shaped us. It has shaped the wars, the power, politics and social development of the peoples that now inhabit nearly every part of the earth. Technology may seem to overcome the distances between us in both mental and physical space, but it is easy to forget that the land where we live, work and raise our children is hugely important, and that the choices of those who lead the 7.5 billion inhabitants of this planet will to some degree always be shaped by the rivers, mountains, deserts, lakes and seas that constrain us all – as they always have.”
          Marshall divides the world into ten regions and there is a chapter for each one, they are Russia, China, USA, Western Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India and Pakistan, Korea and Japan, Latin America, and finally the Arctic. He explains, in his opinion, how the physical geographical features alongside history and politics affect how some people live prosperously in the world while others do not, how some countries are Superpowers like the USA ,while others strive for Superpower status like Russia and China.
          Politics and history are brought into each chapter and Marshall analyses how colonialism, tribalism, war, culture and now technology affected how countries developed in the past and continue to develop and evolve into the 21st Century.
          The tag line of the book is ‘Ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics’ . The maps are regular maps showing the regions’ boarders with their neighbouring countries and some important physical features like mountains, rivers, seas .They don’t work with the text in any particular way and certainly don’t tell you everything about global politics. However, this book is a good baseline for those interested in global politics as it gives an overview of the bigger picture of todays world and what shaped it. There are a few ‘Aha’ moments and it certainly sparks interest despite reading like a long lecture and Marshall’s very western take on the world.
          The last chapter is on the Arctic and is the region of the latest battleground between some countries for it’s rich resources and trade routes which ironically have become more accessible due to climate change and the melting ice cap. “There are nine legal disputes and claims over sovereignty in the Arctic Ocean, however unlike the scramble for Africa in the 19th century this race has rules. There are International laws in place regulating territorial disputes, environmental pollution, laws of the sea and treatment of minority peoples”.
          All is not lost according to Marshall , he says “ In our newly globalised world we can use technology to give us all the opportunity in the Arctic. We can overcome the rapacious side of our nature and get the great game right for the benefit of all.” Unfortunately many of the world leaders do see it as a ‘great game’ and so will continue to defer climate action like India, violate human rights such as the Uighers in China, invade other countries such as Russia and the Crimea, interfere in other countries such as the USA, the list goes on.
          The reader could certainly be overwhelmed by the scope of the book and feel depressed from it’s overall message that humans will always have wars, will continue to exploit and compete for the earth’s resources, he says “ we are still imprisoned in our own minds, confined by our suspicion of the ‘other’ , and thus our primal competition for resources. There is a long way to go.”
          Indeed there is a long way to go and humanity has many challenges ahead. We had a long discussion relating to those challenges such as climate change and it’s effects and repercussions on the world and despite the enormity of the problem we did not come away feeling despondent as we can see how the present generation are very aware of the issues, they are engaged and actively keep us reminded of our responsibilities to the world, the environment and all it’s inhabitants. There is always hope.

Alison Claffey
Dublin Unitarian Church