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Prisoners of Geography

Updated: Jan 11, 2019

This was my first (recent) attempt at starting to read non-fiction books. I realised that half the time the best sellers are non-fictional and that maybe I was missing out. I chose Prisoners of Geography for several reasons; one the raving reviews, secondly, I love geography so always a good start and thirdly while attempting to keep up with politics I still feel so ignorant about it as a whole.

A good place to start trying to broaden my horizons seemed in a book that promised to be a guide to one of the major determining factors in world history and to use 10 maps to explain some of the most important political questions in our lifetime.

I am always a bit wary of people/books/documentaries claiming to tell us the truth about a certain topic. Having studied history it has become evident that there is never one truth but merely which side of the truth that you happen to read. Politics and history in itself are incredibly difficult to summarize or pinpoint as one version. Therefore, going into reading this I was prepared to take a back foot. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

I have really enjoyed learning about so many factors that are and will affect our lives that I have so far been completely unaware and oblivious too. So far, I have enjoyed the chapter on Russia, learning much about how their history of invasions and relationship with Eastern Europe is still so prevalent, and the effect oil and gas play in their relationship with the rest of the world. I am particularly struck how events I have studied from 100 years ago still have their deep-rooted prejudices in today’s political climate.

Having studied Chinese history, I was looking forward to this chapter. I have pondered much about what is in store for the world as their population rises and as the author points out – will have to start looking at Russia’s extensive land mass as a substitute. Being ashamedly pretty ignorant of African politics and history so far this chapter has been the most interesting to me. It has been so interesting to learn about how much of African geography while so rich in certain ways, has hindered it in terms of trading routes. Also, while already being aware of this, the difference between the Mercator map and the actual representation of African on the global scale is something I think everyone should be aware of.

The chapter about the middle east was incredibly engaging. I knew next to nothing bar what you hear in the media about Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan; learning more about these countries, their political situation and their relations with western Europe were really eye-opening. Equally the page dedicated to the conflict and history between Israel and Palestine was extremely interesting. My friend who has recently been living in Jordan told me about the struggles between the people settled in this area and this book helped explain in depth why this has been the case.

Likewise, many of these chapters such the relationship between Korea and Japan or the section examining India and Pakistan were remarkable when taking a closer look. It does make you realise the effect western explorers of previous centuries who literally drew lines across maps to create different countries have affected the people that live in those areas today. The British have left their mark on the troubles they created in India and Pakistan and have turned their back on it ever since. This book’s summary is a good place to start to understand the ongoing conflict in this area. Similarly, when hearing about North Korea, my base knowledge is superficial – simply what I have picked up from the media. You hear all the time about the atrocities of North Korea followed by ‘why are we letting this happen’. This book explains the surface of those reasons. One thing that struck me about this book was the intricacies of relationships that dominate the political world. It sounds obvious but it is in the relationships between countries you would expect to have little contact, that end up affecting policies that shape the world we know today.

Overall I really have enjoyed reading this book and feel like I've come away more knowledgeable and with the desire to learn more about world politics. I would 100% recommend to anyone who has interests in this area.


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