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The Power of Geography by Tim Marshall: Is it Possible to Predict the Future?

Updated: Feb 14



Book Cover of The Power of Geography by Tim Marshall


THE BOOK

  • Full Title: The Power of Geography: Ten Maps that Reveal the Future of the World

  • Author: Tim Marshall

  • Number of Pages: 360

  • Year: 2021

  • Genre: Non-fiction

  • Topics: Geopolitics, Geography

  • Useful Links: Goodreads, Blackwell's


THE BOOK Australia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, Greece, Turkiye, Sahel, Ethiopia, Spain and Space. In The Power of Geography, author Tim Marshall analyzes ten areas around the world (and beyond) that he believes will likely influence and even shape the global course of geopolitics. Through his book, the reader goes from one place to another, chapter after chapter, and every time enjoys a quick historical and cultural context before diving deep into why and how these areas are so crucial for our common future. This 2021 book is the sequel of 2015 Prisoners of Geography, where Marshall covered some of the countries that are impacting us right now, and the prequel of 2023 The Future of Geography, where he attempted to imagine how our world will be in fifty years.


THE AUTHOR Tim Marshall (b. 1959) is a British journalist and author with a focus on international affairs and diplomacy. His long career began in the 80s when he worked for several United Kingdom-based broadcasters such as LBC, BBC and especially Sky News, for which he would report for more than twenty years. As a journalist, he witnessed all major conflicts and dramatic events of the late 20th century, including those in the Balkan area, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, and Pakistan. He published his first book - about football chants - in 2014, and in 2015 followed the first of a successful geopolitics series that includes The Power of Geography and that would make him a bestselling author all over the world.



BOOK NOTES: HISTORY IS ALREADY WRITTEN FOR THOSE WHO CAN READ IT


Normally, reading a 3-year-old book would not be a big deal. We read novels that have been written centuries ago and pre-World Wars essays that still resonate today. But this is not the case with geopolitics.


Tim Marshall wrote his The Power of Geography in 2021 and two tragic, unexpected wars have started in the meantime, dangerously shacking economy and inflation. For a book that aimed to outline the course that the global balance will experience in the near future, such circumstances could make it reach the end line prematurely. What are the pros of reading a book to learn about a world that has changed already? Are there any?


In case you are wondering, no, Marshall did not foretell the Russia-Ukraine or Israel-Hamas wars. He did not even dedicate a chapter to either Ukraine or Israel, nor in this book or in its prequel Prisoners of Geography (but he talked about Russia there). And yet, I read The Power of Geography in 2022 and again in late 2023 to find inspiration.


Marshall did not warn us about what was about to happen and did not predict the exact events that would take place. However, he makes the issues that caused them very clear or, in other words, he puts reality in front of our eyes and lets us do the math.


He mentions the fragile stability of the world order and the possibility of moving back to multiple-powers rivalries. He focuses on Iran and its latent discomfort towards Israel and its allies:


"A pathological loathing, one rooted in religion. [...] To compromise [with Israel, ed.] is sin, to resist is divine."*

He underscores the difference between the Western choice and management of allies and that of superpowers such as Russia and China. He analyzes the role of the United Kingdom and its "special relationship" with the United States and how this peculiar bond might affect future events. He goes through recent important speeches and declarations of PMs and Presidents which topics massively interest us:


"Pr. Macron's declaration that NATO was "brain-dead" didn't help confidence in the Alliance, and has sparked a debate about whether Europe has to decouple from the USA in its defence thinking and instead forge a robust European military".

And this was interestingly said (2019) and then reported by Marshall shortly before the Russia-Ukraine conflict began, bringing global attention on the Alliance.


He then focuses his attention on the Middle East, on Saudi Arabia, on Greece and on Turkiye, highlighting the precarious balance constantly being disturbed and threatened by rivalries, misunderstandings and changes of plans (such as the former friendship between Turkiye and Israel, recently - but pre-2023 - turned into open hostility).


He, last but surely not least, informs us of the alarming situation of the Sahel and Ethiopia, on how these areas are forever shaken and tormented by militia raids and conflicts and on what it means to be suddenly assigned:


"[...] a name, a flag, a government of sorts, but not a modern infrastructure."

How the EU can deal with the migrant flow and how many players are on yet another hunt to get the most out of these lands and give little in return.


All this information was crucial in 2021 and is still of the utmost importance now. It helps us understand that while predicting the future in detail is of course impossible, what happens around us does not just happen but is the result of years or often decades of preparation.



Examples of media coverage of the main events that occurred after the publication of the book | Images courtesy of: The New York Times, The Middle East Eye, Politico
Examples of media coverage of the main events that occurred after the publication of the book | Images courtesy of: The New York Times, The Middle East Eye, Politico


WHY READ THE POWER OF GEOGRAPHY


The Powers of Geography is one of those rare examples of complex situations clearly and fluidly explained. By reading this book, most readers can be sure to get to the end of it much more informed and aware of what is happening around us.


Of course, it is great to read the whole series that includes The Prisoners of Geography (2015) and The Future of Geography (2023), although I do believe this middle volume is the best choice: 2015 seems remote now and 2023 just knows too much already.


This 2021 review of the world order stands right in between the COVID outbreak and the 2022 and 2023 conflicts, in a moment in time when our normality had irremediably changed but the real consequences were still to be glimpsed - and such a point of view alone makes up for the reasons why you may consider add The Power of Geography to your shelves.


The weakest and least effective chapter is probably that dedicated to Space - but for more about this I suggest you check his sequel book.




 


References:

*Content and quotes are based on the ebook version of Tim Marshall, The Power of Geography: Ten Maps That Reveal the Future, Elliott & Thompson Ltd, 2021.




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