Book Review: The Power of Geography

As featured in Edition 38, available here.


BY NIALL HAWKINS (3rd year - History and Politics - Berkhamsted, UK)

In the sequel to 2016’s ‘Prisoners of Geography’, Tim Marshal repeats a familiar story. ‘The Power of Geography’ sees the expert in foreign affairs use a new cast of ten countries and their maps to reveal ‘the future of our world’. He dwells heavily on their pasts, telling geopolitical tales most humanities students are familiar with, and probably tired of. The reader should certainly be wary of Marshall's writings. After a while they will make you weary too. ‘The Power of Geography’ is a fun read, but not an enlightening one.


Perhaps Marshall's task was too much. His brand of geopolitics fails to consider much beyond militaristic narratives and crude economics. Mountain ranges can only be likened to fortresses so many times. Geopolitics often forgets that humans always trump geography. How come such ‘strongholds’ as the Iberian Peninsula and Iran have still been victim to such substantial historic invasions if their mountains are so formidable?


Militaristic analogies, hypotheticals, and histories occupy far too much room in this book to give it proper credibility. Geopolitics is about so much more than warfare and strategy. Marshall appears to be hemmed in by a realism that sees militaristic relations as the cornerstone of geopolitics. It gets very tiresome and is a shame, because at times the book does have potential.


Of all that is omitted, Marshall’s tendency to only pay lip service to climate change renders the book irrelevant if you want to really consider the geopolitical futures of each country. Far from being static facts, geopolitics is as changeable as the histories which entrench the field, and Marshall focuses far more on the exciting facts of history than the changeable and largely unquantifiable realities of geopolitics. The Power of Geography was written to be a popular book, not a prescient one.


IMAGE: Simon and Schuster/ The Power of Geography