Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

When It Comes to Understanding Geopolitics, It's All about Knowing How the Land Lies

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

When It Comes to Understanding Geopolitics, It's All about Knowing How the Land Lies

Article excerpt

Byline: NICHOLAS LEZARD

PRISONERS OF GEOGRAPHY: TEN MAPS THAT TELL YOU EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT GLOBAL POLITICS by Tim Marshall (Elliott & Thompson, PS16.99) IT IS probably a fairly common reaction to be either outraged, or perplexed, or both, at Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine. Why is he risking international opprobrium, at the very least, for such a territory, when Russia itself is so vast? The answers lie in history and geography: and the history has been shaped by geography. Ukraine is nicely placed, either if you want to send an invading army across the North European plain towards Moscow or, conversely, if you want to send a Russian navy south and through the Black Sea. It is prime strategic territory, without any natural barriers in the form of mountains or swamps, and losing control of it, whether to the EU or Nato or both, would play on all the insecurities that have been built up over the past thousand years.

Tim Marshall's book does not condone the behaviour of despots; what it does is try to understand them. And all governments, whether despotic or not, are always going to look to their borders.

In this country we can be pretty smug: surrounded by sea, an invader is always going to have a hard time of it. Russia has permanent problems. As Marshall puts it: "It doesn't matter if the ideology of those in control is tsarist, Communist or crony capitalist -- the ports still freeze, and the North European plain is still flat."

Prisoners of Geography breaks the globe up into 10 distinct regions and examines just what the implications are behind the lie of the land. He takes care to use a projection that doesn't distort the relative sizes of the countries. The result is, quite simply, one of the best books about geopolitics you could imagine: reading it is like having a light shone on your understanding. …

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