Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

I had the Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall on my to-read list for a while. I saw the review for it on Kelly’s blog, I’ve decided to reserve the book at the library. The subtitle of the book is Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics, so it sounded pretty interesting. I was a bit disappointed after I read it, but, even so, I would still recommend it and I gave it 3.5 stars.

Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

Long story short, he ignores the internet, nuclear war, and social media. Now… the long story. He mentions nuclear capability of different countries, but he always assumes that countries will not press the button and would think of armed invasions passing over the mountain range. While I think his points were very interesting and intriguing when it comes to historical issues, today all countries posses long range weaponry which make the need for foot soldiers mostly pointless. For example, the civil war in Syria rages from 2011, and in 2019, according to wikipedia, there were 142,000 people in the government’s army. Add some few thousands from different other brigades, the total is well under 300,000. Compare that to the Spanish civil war, when, after 3 years of conflict, their army was about 1,200,000 soldiers, more than 4 times the size. The rebels, who won in Spain, had a similar number of people in their army. Now armies have drones and a single guy with a computer can “play” Ender’s game (good book, I recommend it).

For Western countries geography played a very important role so far, but, in the last 20 years, we’ve had the rise of internet and social media. He barely touches on these current issues and presents geography as a defining factor even today. I would agree if he would have talked more about climate change and one of the most obvious repercussions of it: climate refugees. Instead this topic is mentioned in the few pages at the end of the book.

Overall I would recommend the book, but with a pinch of salt.

Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

Details about the picture: –
My rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: yes
Published by: Elliott & Thompson
Year it was published: 2015
Format: Hardcover
Genre(s): History – Broad subject
Pages: 256

About the author: Tim Marshall was Diplomatic Editor and foreign correspondent for Sky News. After thirty years’ experience in news reporting and presenting, he left full time news journalism to concentrate on writing and analysis.
Website & Social Media Links: –

4 thoughts on “Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall”

  • I’m glad you weren’t too disappointed with this book and I can understand some of the drawbacks you mentioned (in particular, the use of long-range weapons as opposed to ground warfare). However, I wasn’t really expecting topics like the internet or social media to weigh in since those are things that, for the most part, transcend physical barriers. I went into the book looking for information about geography more than anything else, and thought it did an excellent job of explaining how topography and geographical features all played a role in both the long-term and short-term development of our world. I also appreciated his commentary on how man-made divisions of countries (such as that of Europe following WII) were often random and ineffectual. Therefore, despite being five years old, I didn’t find it particularly dated for my purposes.

    • I agree with you that he explained the role of geography in the development of the world, that was the part of the book I loved. He made good points on the man-made borders in Africa or India with Pakistan, but I knew most of the things he said (including the descriptions of the Islamic denominations), so I wanted to know more.
      I think you might enjoy the books Paul Collier wrote, for example this one: Wars, Guns, and Votes. My review: .

  • Hi Anca,

    I think in my Goodreads comment, I thought my husband might enjoy this one, however after your very thoughtful review and the points you raised, I went back and checked out the publication date, which was 2015. On second thoughts, this book would be great for the history files I’m sure, however as you point out, rather outdated in todays modern world.

    Hubbie would much prefer something trending and relevant, although as I have a bit more interest in the history of geopolitics, I might browse this one if I came across a cheap enough copy.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Yvonne x

    • Yes, as a history book is great, it makes one think on how important is geography, something we don’t think about as much. It’s true that the book was written before the whole Cambridge Analytica scandal, but it was quite important at that time and I think he could have considered this, or, at least, that geography might not play a similar role in the future.
      Thank you for stopping by. x

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