More Than Flags and Maps

Erick Valencia, Copy Editor

As countries are turned into characters, Tim Marshall explores the prominence of geography in the development of humanity in his book Prisoners of Geography

Marshall’s work use of a novelistic style and informative value makes it a worthwhile read to anyone wanting to learn even a little bit more about the world, it’s history, and how it ended up the way it did. 

As the world has grown to be more connected because of both industrialization and globalization, knowledge about these concepts became crucial. Prisoners of Geography illustrates the current situations of several countries around the world. That being said, having information about the world’s modern problems is something that not many people possess and should be updated constantly. Prisoners of Geography is not the only book that emphasizes the idea of Geography’s power over humanity, as other works like Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel also expands on the idea. Both Marshall and Diamond highlight the idea that a region/country’s success depends on its physical environment. Diamond, like Marshall, places emphasis on historical events that support the idea of geography’s power over humans. This, along with the multiple examples explaining the idea, helps the reader have access to a sizable pool of knowledge when it comes to understanding how the world works. Namely, Marshall argues that geography inevitably influences human development. 

Prisoners of Geography has a peculiar style as, instead of just bluntly stating facts and events as if it were a news report or an essay, the author presents its arguments in a more novelistic way. For instance, it attributes a personality or specific motivations to divergent countries around the world. The reader can identify who is powerful (US, China, France, among others) and who is not (African and Latin-American nations). By the end of each specific chapter, the reader can notice a country’s economic, social and political desires and its relationships with other countries. For example, China’s motivations and current goals can be compared to Jose Arcadio Buendia’s character in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s critically acclaimed One Hundred Years of Solitude. Both of these “characters” want to innovate and expand their influence across the world, using their wide resources and knowledge, even if their backgrounds may not fit with what other people want. This way of presenting the countries in the book makes them more “relatable,” just like a character from a novel. Their motivations and struggles show how weirdly human they are; this increases the relatability between the book, the story, and the reader. 

Geography is a concept that humanity can never ignore. Humans are shaped by their environment, even if they try to morph it, it will retaliate back in more ways than one. Prisoners of Geography explores the idea of geography changing humanity’s development as a whole and gives various examples as to why some countries are more powerful than others. For example, Marshall elaborates on the importance of weather, as it is the deciding factor on where animals/plants live and how humans survive in various areas of the world. Although this is not the first book to do so, its geography examples are a swift way for the reader to understand each country’s history, even if they have no previous knowledge on the matter. However, geography kind of takes a secondary role, as its geographical descriptions are written as more of an afterthought. Set side by side with Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel, it is a visible certainty that geography’s importance is lessened. Even if history and modern events are prioritized, the points supporting geography come across excellently. 

All in all, Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall is a stellar book that illustrates the modern problems with the world by giving it a fun twist. Additionally, its various examples on how to understand the world (with geography) help the reader comprehend the way our interconnected society works. This is an enjoyable and educational read for anyone interested in history, politics, geography or anything related to the humanities.