Current Affairs: Prisoners of Geography

The post is my view on current affairs, news relevancy and a related book review of ‘Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics’ by Tim Marshall.

Firstly I’ve never been that interested in the news. As a kid is was something my parents viewed as important and would often interrupt whatever my brother and I were watching to put it in. The news is typically very repetitive, deeply depressing and doesn’t even scratch the surface of what is going on in the world. The latter point I only slowly realised as an adult. Also as a young adult bosses at work and peers would champion the importance of reading newspapers and ‘keeping up’ with current affairs. I enjoyed reading books but never really got into regularly reading newspapers. One of my main problems is that news often come with a heavy dose of political bias depending on who you are hearing it from. For example my parents have always purchased the Daily Mail (a UK national daily newspaper) which a polite liberal may describe as ‘having a reputation for right wing leanings’ and a less polite liberal would say is ‘fascist propaganda’. I don’t know the US equivalent of the Daily Mail but Fox News would probably be an appropriate news equivalent. As a brief aside, I do enjoy getting news via comedy outlets – in the UK there is a great long running show on the BBC called ‘Have I Got News For You’ and in the US I really enjoyed Jon Stewart’s the Daily Show until he left and Stephen Colbert’s the Colbert Report. I’d consider myself a relatively liberal person on the political scale and I’m aware a lot of these political comedy shows come with a dose of liberal bias.

Despite not really watching the news or reading newspapers I still feel I have a better understanding of the world than most. The news may report a bombing in the Middle East but at no point during the report or article will they give much detail into the deep rooted motives behind the attack. Many of the countries in the world, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, are a result of arbitrary borders drawn on maps from afar by privileged Europeans decades ago. Whilst these countries and borders look definitive and real when view on a map they have divided communities, thrown small ethnic groups under the command of arch enemies and created land disputes amongst ancient tribes. In addition the actions of many countries are motivated by this historic feuds as well as a push for resources and trade routes. So my advice is that if you want to really understand what is going on in a region, then find some books that explore the history of the area and this will be more enlightening than a 5 minute news report everyday.

A great place to start is Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall. Given the complexitprisoners-of-geographyies of geo-politics this book is remarkably easy reading and concise. It covers 10 keys areas of the world and other than Oceania this is pretty much everywhere. If you’ve ever been confused by the actions of certain countries, such as why big superpowers like China get obsessed with small regions like Tibet, or why Russia have sailed warships through the English Channel, then this book gives you the context you need.

There are other books that provide more detailed accounts of specific regions – for instance if you are interested in the Middle East there is a great book call A Line in the Sand by James Barr – however as a general overview of modern global politics and some context to the major issues and conflicts in the world, Prisoners of Geography is a great place to start.

Here’s a link to Prisoners of Geography on Amazon if you’re interested in checking it out. The maps are better in the hard copy but I’m a Kindle user and found the Kindle version work ok as well.