Book Review: The Power of Geography: Ten Maps That Reveal the Future of Our World


The Power of Geography: Ten Maps That Reveal the Future of Our World by Tim Marshall

Reading Tim Marshall’s The Power of Geography while the Russians are invading Ukraine has been an interesting experience. 

The sequel to The Prisoners of Geography (which I admit I haven’t read) this book explores the geopolitics of eight countries, a region, and outer space. It’s broken into 10 chapters, each focused on one country or region. In each chapter there’s a summary of the history and an overview of the geography of the area. With those two out of the way Marshall then explores and assesses the potential geopolitical ambitions of the countries, keeping their history and geography in mind.

In the first few lines of the Introduction Marshall lays out his world view and defines the premise that underlies his geopolitical analyses. He asserts that the world order that defined the Cold War is but a distant memory, and we are headed back to a Great Powers rivalry, with the “minor players” jockeying for their place. 

So, in that context we dive into some really well written, very readable discussions. I really enjoyed the way Marshall used history and geography to outline what are and aren’t options for each country / region he discussed. This includes discussions of the ethnic and religious history of each country, which can shed light on current circumstances and future possibilities. 

Spain for example is a mountainous country. Its mountains have divided it into regions whose peoples each have their own dialects or languages. It is a “nation state comprised of nations”. Within Spain the Basque and Catalan regions still have separatist ideas that, if they went too far, could complicate the policies and politics of Spain and the European Union.

Marshall is a retired foreign affairs correspondent for Sky News, and he seems quite expert in these discussions. But also because of that background he seems to be writing mainly for a UK / European audience. The nations he chose to cover are all in or near Europe, with the exception of Australia, which of course has historically close ties to the UK. 

The one multinational region he covers, the Sahel of Africa in chapter 7, has the potential of sending refugees flooding into Europe should climate change and religious and ethnic tensions get out of hand. A European target audience might not be as interested in learning about countries not covered, like Japan, Brazil or Thailand, for example, which also have interesting geographies and histories.

I want to return to the Introduction for a minute and Marshall’s assertion of a return to an era of “great powers” and “multiple powers” rivalry. It’s a fairly common assessment of our world since the end of the Cold War in 1991. But any geopolitical assumptions we all may have had for the direction of the arc of history are being tested right now by Putin in Ukraine. Cold War geopolitics may prove to be more appropriate today and in the foreseeable future than could have been anticipated a year ago when this book came out. Even so, there are points in the book that seemed particularly relevant to the events of the last couple of weeks. 

The bottom line from me is that this is a well written and very readable discussion of history, geography and geopolitics (which leans toward a European perspective). It's packed with interesting facts and you are sure to learn quite a bit from it. For fans of history and/or geopolitics it's well worth the read. Four Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Title: The Power of Geography: Ten Maps That Reveal the Future of Our World
Author: Tim Marshall
Publisher: Scribner
Publish Date: November 9, 2021
ISBN-13: 9781982178628
Publisher’s List Price: $27.00 (Hardcover as of 03/2022)

Note: I listened to the Audiobook version:
Audiobook Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publish Date: November 9, 2021
ISBN-13: 9781797134079
Publisher’s List Price: $23.99 (as of 03/2022)