Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

The title Prisoners of Geography is
shorthand for a concept which is that a country’s geography partially determines
what it can and can’t do. I mean it’s no good the Japanese for
example deciding they’re gonna have an oil industry because there’s no oil in
Japan. At a more mundane level and perhaps it’s trite, it’s no good the
Chinese emperor saying I want to invade India because someone’s going to point
out to him you can’t, there’s a mountain between you. Now that might seem obvious
but I think some of these things are not obvious until they’re actually pointed
out. So that’s the concept and then you’ve got detail. Russia is a great
example. You can say to a child who’s learning about geography that it is 17
million square kilometres and that information is required you can say it’s
got 11 time zones, that information is required, but they won’t understand.
We’ve got a little train shuffling across it and that says to go across
Russia you’d need to be on that train for six nights and seven days. That
concept, anybody can get of any age. You can look
at China and you can explain why Tibet is so important to China. A) pictorially
because it’s so beautiful, but also you point out how high it is and then you
point out, look, the three major rivers of China all come out of Tibet. And from
there it’s easier then to suddenly say and introduce something else. This is
why although some people in Tibet don’t want to be part of China, China will
never let Tibet go because it needs all the water that comes out of Tibet. And
when it’s sort of laid out like that both pictorially and simply these are
sort of geopolitical concepts that children can understand. America is
another good example in that we’ve put the map of America and you can make
points about look there’s an ocean on each side and they’re the only country
in the world that has got that. It’s called a two ocean power, they can
project their power outwards in two different direction, two different
oceans. But then we’ve also done another map of the United States of America
and this is actually a map of the world. And what we’ve done is put many of the
American bases that are all over the world and then immediately at a glance
you can understand that that’s part of what it is to be a global
superpower. You know, it’s another map of America it’s actually a map of the world
but with bits of concrete all over it that are American. In the Africa chapter
we touch on colonialism and we also have to point out that actually, as we’ve said,
it’s somewhat hindered by geography but new technology is bending the bars
of the prison. If you’ve got lots of fast running water you can actually harness
it for hydropower but that’s also one of Africa’s problems in the past.
My favorite drawing by a long way in the book is that of Victoria Falls. And it
makes the point that many of the African rivers start in very high ground and
tumble down quickly. That means lots of waterfalls, lots of waterfalls means it’s
very hard to trade. If you’ve got your crops and you’ve put them on a barge and
you want to sell them 100 miles down the river, as happened as Europe was growing
organically, you can’t do that if you’re about to go over a waterfall.

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