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The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate [Anglais] [Broché]

Robert D. Kaplan
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9781400069835|excerpt

Kaplan / REVENGE GEOGRAPHY

Chapter I

FROM BOSNIA TO BAGHDAD

To recover our sense of geography, we first must fix the moment in recent history when we most profoundly lost it, explain why we lost it, and elucidate how that affected our assumptions about the world. Of course, such a loss is gradual. But the moment I have isolated, when that loss seemed most acute, was immediately after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Though an artificial border whose crumbling should have enhanced our respect for geography and the relief map—­and what that map might have foreshadowed in the adjacent Balkans and the Middle East—­the Berlin Wall’s erasure made us blind to the real geographical impediments that still divided us, and still awaited us.

For suddenly we were in a world in which the dismantling of a man-­made boundary in Germany had led to the assumption that all human divisions were surmountable; that democracy would conquer Africa and the Middle East as easily as it had Eastern Europe; that globalization—­soon to become a buzzword—­was nothing less than a moral direction of history and a system of international security, rather than what it actually was, merely an economic and cultural stage of development. Consider: a totalitarian ideology had just been vanquished, even as domestic security in the United States and Western Europe was being taken for granted. The semblance of peace reigned generally. Presciently capturing the zeitgeist, a former deputy director of the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, Francis Fukuyama, published an article a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, “The End of History,” proclaiming that while wars and rebellions would continue, history in a Hegelian sense was over now, since the success of capitalist liberal democracies had ended the argument over which system of government was best for humankind.1 Thus, it was just a matter of shaping the world more in our own image, sometimes through the deployment of American troops; deployments that in the 1990s would exact relatively little penalty. This, the first intellectual cycle of the Post Cold War, was an era of illusions. It was a time when the words “realist” and “pragmatist” were considered pejoratives, signifying an aversion to humanitarian intervention in places where the national interest, as conventionally and narrowly defined, seemed elusive. Better in those days to be a neoconservative or liberal internationalist, who were thought of as good, smart people who simply wanted to stop genocide in the Balkans.

Such a burst of idealism in the United States was not unprecedented. Victory in World War I had unfurled the banner of “Wilsonianism,” a notion associated with President Woodrow Wilson that, as it would turn out, took little account of the real goals of America’s European allies and even less account of the realities of the Balkans and the Near East, where, as events in the 1920s would show, democracy and freedom from the imperial overlordship of the Ottoman Turks meant mainly heightened ethnic awareness of a narrow sort in the individual parts of the old sultanate. It was a similar phenomenon that followed the West’s victory in the Cold War, which many believed would simply bring freedom and prosperity under the banners of “democracy” and “free markets.” Many suggested that even Africa, the poorest and least stable continent, further burdened with the world’s most artificial and illogical borders, might also be on the brink of a democratic revolution; as if the collapse of the Soviet Empire in the heart of Europe held supreme meaning for the world’s least developed nations, separated by sea and desert thousands of miles away, but connected by television.2 Yet, just as after World War I and World War II, our victory in the Cold War would usher in less democracy and global peace than the next struggle for survival, in which evil would wear new masks.

Democracy and better government would, in fact, begin to emerge in Africa of all places. But it would be a long and difficult struggle, with anarchy (in the cases of several West African countries), insurrection, and outright wickedness (in the case of Rwanda) rearing their heads for considerable periods in between. Africa would go a long way toward defining the long decade between November 9, 1989, and September 11, 2001—­between the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the al Qaeda attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center: a twelve-­year period that saw mass murder and belated humanitarian interventions frustrate idealist intellectuals, even as the ultimate success of those interventions raised idealist triumphalism to heights that were to prove catastrophic in the decade that began after 9/11.

In that new decade following 9/11, geography, a factor certainly in the Balkans and Africa in the 1990s, would go on to wreak unmitigated havoc on America’s good intentions in the Near East. The journey from Bosnia to Baghdad, from a limited air and land campaign in the western, most developed part of the former Turkish Empire in the Balkans to a mass infantry invasion in the eastern, least developed part in Mesopotamia, would expose the limits of liberal universalism, and in the process concede new respect to the relief map.

The Post Cold War actually began in the 1980s, before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, with the revival of the term “Central Europe,” later defined by the journalist and Oxford scholar Timothy Garton Ash as “a political-­cultural distinction against the Soviet ‘East.’ ”3 Central Europe, Mitteleuropa, was more of an idea than a fact of geography. It constituted a declaration of memory: that of an intense, deliciously cluttered, and romantic European civilization, suggestive of cobblestone streets and gabled roofs, of rich wine, Viennese cafés, and classical music, of a gentle, humanist tradition infused with edgy and disturbing modernist art and thought. It conjured up the Austro-­Hungarian Empire and such names as Gustav Mahler, Gustav Klimt, and Sigmund Freud, leavened with a deep appreciation of the likes of Immanuel Kant and the Dutch-­Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Indeed, “Central Europe,” among so many other things, meant the endangered intellectual world of Jewry before the ravages of Nazism and communism; it meant economic development, with a sturdy recall of Bohemia, prior to World War II, as having enjoyed a higher level of industrialization than Belgium. It meant, with all of its decadence and moral imperfections, a zone of relative multiethnic tolerance under the umbrella of a benign if increasingly dysfunctional Habsburg Empire. In the last phase of the Cold War, Central Europe was succinctly captured by Princeton professor Carl E. Schorske in his troubling, icy-­eyed classic Fin-­de-­Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture, and by the Italian writer Claudio Magris in his sumptuous travelogue Danube. For Magris, Mitteleuropa is a sensibility that “means the defence of the particular against any totalitarian programme.” For the Hungarian writer György Konrád and the Czech writer Milan Kundera, Mitteleuropa is something “noble,” a “master-­key” for liberalizing political aspirations.4

To speak of “Central Europe” in the 1980s and 1990s was to say that a culture in and of itself comprised a geography every bit as much as a mountain range did, or every bit as much as Soviet tanks did. For the idea of Central Europe was a rebuke to the geography of the Cold War, which had thrown up the term “Eastern Europe” to denote the half of Europe that was communist and controlled from Moscow. East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary had all been part of Central Europe, it was rightly argued, and therefore should not have been consigned to the prison of nations that was communism and the Warsaw Pact. A few years later, ironically, when ethnic war broke out in Yugoslavia, “Central Europe,” rather than a term of unification, would also become one of division; with “the Balkans” dismembered in people’s minds from Central Europe, and becoming, in effect, part of the new/old Near East.

The Balkans were synonymous with the old Turkish and Byzantine empires, with unruly mountain ranges that had hindered development, and with a generally lower standard of living going back decades and centuries compared to the lands of the former Habsburg and Prussian empires in the heart of Europe. During the monochrome decades of communist domination, Balkan countries such as Romania and Bulgaria did, in fact, suffer a degree of poverty and repression unknown to the northern, “Central European” half of the Soviet Empire. The situation was complicated, of course. East Germany was the most truly occupied of the satellite states, and consequently its communist system was among the most rigid, even as Yugoslavia—­not formally a member of the Warsaw Pact—­allowed a degree of freedom, particularly in its cities, that was unknown in Czechoslovakia, for example. And yet, overall, the nations of former Turkish and Byzantine southeastern Europe suffered in their communist regimes nothing less than a version of oriental despotism, as though a second Mongol invasion, whereas those nations of former Catholic Habsburg Europe mainly suffered something less malignant: a dreary mix in varying degrees of radical socialist populism. In this regard traveling from relatively liberal, albeit communist, Hungary under János Kádár to Romania under the totalitarianism of Nicolae Ceau˛sescu was typical in this regard. I made the trip often in the 1980s: as my train passed into Romania from Hungary, the quality of the building materials suddenly worsened; officials ravaged my luggage and made me pay a bribe for ...

Revue de presse

“[An] ambitious and challenging new book . . . [The Revenge of Geography] displays a formidable grasp of contemporary world politics and serves as a powerful reminder that it has been the planet’s geophysical configurations, as much as the flow of competing religions and ideologies, that have shaped human conflicts, past and present.”—Malise Ruthven, The New York Review of Books
 
“Robert D. Kaplan, the world-traveling reporter and intellectual whose fourteen books constitute a bedrock of penetrating exposition and analysis on the post-Cold War world . . . strips away much of the cant that suffuses public discourse these days on global developments and gets to a fundamental reality: that geography remains today, as it has been throughout history, one of the most powerful drivers of world events.”—The National Interest
 
“Kaplan plunges into a planetary review that is often thrilling in its sheer scale . . . encyclopedic.”—The New Yorker
 
“[The Revenge of Geography] serves the facts straight up. . . . Kaplan’s realism and willingness to face hard facts make The Revenge of Geography a valuable antidote to the feel-good manifestoes that often masquerade as strategic thought.”—The Daily Beast
 
“[A] remarkable new book . . . With such books as Balkan Ghosts and Monsoon, Kaplan, an observer of world events who sees what others often do not, has already established himself as one of the most discerning geopolitical writers of our time. The Revenge of Geography cements his status.”—National Review


From the Hardcover edition.

Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 448 pages
  • Editeur : Random House Trade Paperbacks; Édition : Reprint (10 septembre 2013)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0812982223
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812982220
  • Dimensions du produit: 20,2 x 13,3 x 2,6 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 4.3 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (3 commentaires client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 12.204 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Food for thought 27 février 2013
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
Kaplan overviews the history of the whole world up to the present and outlines the whys and hows of that evolution in light of the geographical parameters of each zone. Synthetising and building upon all previous such comprehensive works by illustrious predecessors.
He finally proposes for each zone an anticipation of what is coming next, and which can be observed already in the turmoil of the breaking news.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Incredible depth! 9 avril 2014
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Arrived quickly.

One of my top ten books. Extremely educational, both historically and for current developments. But also very enjoyable to read. Great writing style. Author's breadth of knowledge is amazing!

Highly recommended for anyone wishing to better understand current political/economic events and what the future may hold.
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0 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Interesting 20 décembre 2012
Par Haddad
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
I don't like books "postdicting" events but Kaplan's main point is to remond us to not forget a very basic parmeter which is geography while others are talking about a "flat world"
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Amazon.com: 3.7 étoiles sur 5  203 commentaires
414 internautes sur 435 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Much more than geography 11 septembre 2012
Par Alan F. Sewell - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
I read this book from two perspectives. First, decades ago, I was given a copy of the Air Force War College's textbook on geography as a basis for global military strategy and therefore became familiar at an early age with some of the concepts this book explores. Secondly, my family is bi-national American/Colombian, with family and businesses in both countries, and therefore is attuned with author Robert Kaplan's future vision of the USA evolving to become the center of an Anglo-Hispanic "supra-state."

Although this book is supposedly focused in on the influence of geography in making and breaking nations, it is actually what we used to call "Social Studies" --- a combined analysis of all the factors of geography, demographics, history, economics, and politics that go into constituting a nation state.

PART III. AMERICA'S DESTINY is the 25% of the book that most interested me. The other 75% is just OK, because it is an agglomeration of themes that students of world history and current events will probably already be familiar with. I didn't care for the lack of focus among so many topics. The chapter on Mexico starts with a rambling history of the Roman Empire followed up by a digression into our wars in Iran and Afghanistan, the history of China, India, Venice and the 18th Century mutiny of Indian troops against British Colonialists. However, those who aren't already familiar with these topics of World History 101 and are looking for the widest possible introduction to the geography, demographics, history, economics, politics, and current events in all parts of the world may enjoy Kaplan's "stream of consciousness" approach.

Kaplan can also be a bit pedantic ("history and geography tell us") and prone to over-comparing motivations of current nation states to what their forebears did thousands of years ago ("Ancient history, too, offers up examples that cast doubt on whether Afghanistan and Iraq, in and of themselves, have doomed us"). He also says that he is "aware that I am on dangerous ground in raising geography on a pedestal" but actually covers so much material of a political, demographic, and economic nature that geography seems to be secondary. He might just as well have titled the book THE REVENGE OF (GEOGRAPHY, ECONOMICS, DEMOGRAPHICS, POLITICS, ETC. ETC.).

My interest perked up in PART III AMERICA'S DESTINY. This is the part that Kaplan put his heart into, as he explains:

==============
As a visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis some years back, I taught a course about future challenges in national security.
==============

In fact the book becomes especially interesting because Kaplan expands on the topic of "future challenges in national security" to include the future composition of our country in the combination of ALL factors that make us the nation we are, including geography, demographics, politics, and economics.

Kaplan starts out by pointing out how fantastically blessed by geography we Americans are. We have 6% of the world's land area, but perhaps 25% to 30% of its arable farmland. Our entire country, except for the Desert Southwest, is drained by the Mississippi/Ohio/Missouri, and the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence. Our East Coast ports were perfectly positioned at the head of navigable waters to facilitate settlement, commerce, and the extension of political sovereignty for hundreds of miles inland. We ARE the center of the world's trading routes, with our East Coast facing Europe, our West Coast facing Asia, and our Gulf Coast facing Latin America. Kaplan perhaps overplays the idea that the United States is a superpower PRIMARILY because of our geography (the ambitions of our people also had a lot to do with making us what we are) but he makes it clear that no country has been favored by geography as we are.

He then makes the point that in regard to the vision of what the United States wants to become as a nation, we are coming back to our starting point. Our country is named "The United States of AMERICA" (not NORTH AMERICA) because it wasn't until around 1900 that the word "America" stopped being used as a synonym for "Western Hemisphere" and the words NORTH AMERICA and SOUTH AMERICA began to be used to distinguish the continents. As late as the 1870s some prominent Americans continued to believe that the United States was destined to become coextensive with the entire hemisphere.

Something of the reverse has actually happened. Instead of Anglo Americans going forth to colonize Latin America and incorporating it into the United States, tens of millions of Latin Americans have been attracted by our free political system and vibrant economy to come live among us. Kaplan makes a point that I (an Anglo American) and my Latin American family talk about almost every day, that the elderly Anglo population is passing, and America is being repopulated by a younger, more Latin American generation.

Kaplan thinks, as I do, that we're on our way to becoming an even more powerful Anglo/Hispanic Superpower whose economic perimeter includes not only Canada but also Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and much or even all of South America. He thinks our population will be browner, but we'll still be Americans living under the same Constitution, and a rising prosperity in Latin America will boost our own prosperity (I see this happening in the microcosm of my own family).

My takeaway from this book is that Mexico and Latin America REALLY are vital to our own well being. Before reading this book I leaned toward the view that America's free trade partnership shouldn't extend beyond Canada. Now I am wondering whether free trade with Mexico and most of the rest of Latin America may not after all be necessary for our security. These free trade agreements have put millions of Americans out of work, but they are accomplishing their purpose of helping to stabilize fragile countries like Colombia and Mexico. Eventually the trade agreements may serve their full purpose by boosting American exports, and therefore restoring employment, to the newly prosperous countries of Latin America.

You'll find this book a worthwhile read if:

1. You're looking for an education in Global Social Studies 101 (i.e. a basic literacy in global geography, demographics, politics, military strategic theory past and present, and current events). None of these subjects is covered deeply, but the reader will become away conversant in just about every factor that influences the world today.

2. You're interested in the part of the book I was, which is to glimpse ahead into the USA's future.

3. You want to acquire a more open-minded view of the cost/benefit analysis of U.S. free trade with Mexico and Latin America. It led me to wonder if perhaps the USA should include Mexico in its continental integration perimeter to the same degree as Canada (an objective that Mexico's former President asked for).
90 internautes sur 98 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Almost as thought-provoking as "Clash of Civilizations" 14 septembre 2012
Par Peter Monks - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
Unlike most of Kaplan's earlier work (examples include Surrender or Starve: Travels in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea or Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Vintage Departures)) which relied on Kaplan's first-hand impressions and a lot of 'man in the street' perspectives, "The Revenge of Geography" takes a relatively detached and scholarly approach to illustrating Kaplan's view of the world we live in. Using a very broad definition of geography to include a lot of what might otherwise be called social science, Kaplan seeks to describe real constraints on how nations and populations can and will act in order to chart a middle course between an overly idealistic liberal internationalism (or its close cousin, neoconservatism) or an excessively pessimistic and ethnically/geographically deterministic IR realism. The net effect is an attempt to, as he approvingly quotes Braudel, make us more aware of our limits in order to have "more power to affect outcomes within them".

Divided into three parts, the first draws upon a range of mainly western thinkers (including Mackinder, Braudel, Spengler and Mahan) to explain various IR streams of thought with particular reference to the impact and constraints of (broadly defined) geography, while the second focuses on the history, geography and constraints of six key regions or powers (Europe, Russia, China, India, Iran and Turkey) and surrounding nations. A previous reviewer has pointed out that Kaplan tends to approach his subject in an eclectic manner and digress from his theme, but (while I don't agree with all of Kaplan's assertions) I consider this a strength rather than a weakness - if the number of 'clippings' I have made in my Kindle editions of unconventional or little-known observations to research and think about later is any guide, there is a lot here to interest the reader, provoke thought and look at the previously familiar from a slightly different perspective.

The final section of the book deals with Kaplan's assessment of the future prospects of the USA and the wider North/Central Americas - while Kaplan draws upon the views of Samuel P. Huntington's Who Are We?: The Challenges to America's National Identity to illustrate the way demography is likely to change the USA's sense of identity and role in the world, he is (while noting some real risks) far more optimistic and paints an interesting picture of a vibrant North/Central American community with a slightly reduced but still pivotal - and positive - role in the world. His perspective on this issue is one I had not considered in this way before and I will be very interested to see the views of US, Mexican and other Central American/Caribbean readers.

Overall, "The Revenge of Geography" offers an approachable, thought-provoking read that offers some interesting and unconventional - and largely optimistic - perspectives on the world we live in. While I doubt that every reader will agree with all of Kaplan's observations and arguments, this is a distinctly original look at our world and a book I highly recommend.
64 internautes sur 75 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
1.0 étoiles sur 5 It has all been said before, and better. 5 avril 2013
Par Reader-Student - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Though I've read other Kaplan books, I cannot recommend this one.
It's not clear what his intention was in moving to this slogging, plodding, at times incomprehensible writing style. It's also not clear what this book is supposed to be: is it history, geography, philosophy, political commentary, or simply (actually acutely, painfully, mind-numbing) his attempt to be all of the above in some fanciful mishmash of subject and style. Whatever his intention, the result is the worst I've experienced; and I've had my share of literary slogging. Where was his editor??
Through sheer force of will I sat down each day to plow through another chapter, finding each paragraph filled with unnecessary literary devices that added nothing to the subject, parsing sentences to try to discern his meaning (sometimes failing in frustration), shaking my in head in disbelief that I was spending more time unscrambling his writing than studying the subject. The book is more like a long research paper: collections of other historians' writings that are cut and pasted into narrative paragraphs. There is no new information, just a rephrasing of previous writings. Look at some maps, look in your college history book, and listen to the news: you'll know what's in this book. Throughout he references the writings of Mackinder, Morgenthau, Mahan, Spykman and numerous other historians, and even quotes other writers who have previously referred to those same historians. Historians quoting each other: quite the academic enterprise.
A personal nit I have with Kaplan's style is that he falls for one of the cheap, pedantic devices of turning a proper noun into an adjective; for example, he could refer to his own work as Kaplanesque. There must be a dozen more natural ways that Kaplan could have concocted this sentence: "Sea power, it emerges, provides the Mahanian means by which a distant United States can influence Eurasisia in a Mackinderesque "closed system." In a later chapter he alternates between Iraq and Mesopotamia a dozen times over a few pages; an unnecessary distraction.
Another irritating device Kaplan employs is using the words "even as" to link two concepts, both of which contain drawn out, overly stylistic descriptions which in some cases are difficult to relate to each other, nearly non sequiturs. Is this seven line sentence style really necessary: "Indeed, while the ..., with the ..., even as ..., especially in ..., leading to ..., the word 'Malthusian' will be heard more
often." You'll find one of these on every other page.
Unusual analogies can be found occasionally, too. Try this one: "Fourteen years elapsed from Athens's first foray into Sicily to its final disaster there in the naval battle of Syracuse in 413 B.C., the same number of years between the early forays of the John F. Kennedy administration in Vietnam and President Gerald Ford's final withdrawal after Saigon was overrun." That's simply hilarious. (Cue the Twilight Zone theme.)
There's plenty more where this came from, but I'm getting a stomach cramp reliving the experience.
On a positive note, the book highlights the extraordinary industrial and military developments underway by China, India and Turkey to prepare for their increased trade and natural resource movements in their parts of the world. While those countries are using technologies to overcome geography (maybe the book should be called "Surmounting Geography") and soon dominate commerce and sea power, the U.S. is doing nothing.
15 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
1.0 étoiles sur 5 Some editing please! 27 avril 2013
Par J. C. Synor - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
This book could have been written with much clearer prose and made much shorter by it. As another reviewer wrote Kaplan is like the guy at the cocktail party trying to dazzle people with his word knowlege and triva.
I read Monsoon and while it was tedious at times I found it interesting and learned from it.
This... I could not get through, besides all the referencing to other writers in the main body, Kaplan uses phrasology that confounds one to comprehend.
Glad I borrowed it from the library and did not spend hard cash
Better editing and a more concise narrative next time Bob, please!!
26 internautes sur 30 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A fresh and thought-provoking view of world politics 28 septembre 2012
Par Mal Warwick - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
Geopolitics -- the subject of this fascinating book -- has literally been on my mind almost throughout my life.

I had recently turned three when the Allies invaded Normandy, beginning the long, last phase of World War II in Europe. I have no active memory of the invasion, but I've been told that I learned to read by studying the news about the event and its aftermath. My father read the newspaper at dinner, and I sat opposite him, leaning over the table so I could see the headlines -- upside down -- and ask him to tell me what the words meant. I loved the maps, too, those sketches of Europe and the Pacific with broad arrows pointing this way and that to indicate the movements of troops and ships at sea. Geography was long my favorite subject in school, and it's probably not a stretch to think that my life-long fascination with the world outside the USA began with that experience.

Through a geopolitical lens, Planet Earth, and the machinations and foibles of earthly leaders, look a lot different than they do in most history books. Stand a few feet away from a globe and squint: if the globe is properly positioned, what you'll see is one huge, three-tentacled landmass (Asia-Africa-Europe); a second, much smaller one that consists of two parts joined by a narrow connector (North and South America); and several even smaller bits of land scattered about on the periphery (Australia, Greenland, Japan, Indonesia). That's the world as the Joint Chiefs of Staff must view it. Has to view it.

Understanding the globe from that perspective, current events become a lot easier to understand. Take, for example, the object of American preoccupation today: the Middle East.

The true geopolitical center of the Earth lies in the Middle East, a region consisting essentially of three sections: the Iranian Plateau, running from present-day Iraq to Afghanistan and dominated by a resurgent Iran, the latest incarnation of the Persian Empire; the Anatolian landbridge (Turkey) that connects Asia and Europe, successor to the Eastern Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires; and the oil- and natural-gas-rich Arabian Peninsula, unsteadily governed by the extended Saud family and a congeries of coastal emirates. Nestled between them and extending westward along the North African Maghreb is a long line of generally flat, low-lying states that are experiencing various degrees of instability, only a handful of which have a solid historical and demographic basis for nationhood (Tunisia, Egypt, Israel). Given the geography of this region, its perennial instability is no surprise. Constant turmoil is practically guaranteed, with the dominating Iranian and Turkish highlands above, and virtually flat, featureless plains below, divided among mostly weak states with arbitrary borders inherited from British and French colonial masters. As Kaplan notes, "the supreme fact of twenty-first -century world politics is that the most geographically central area of the dry-land earth is also the most unstable."

Of all the states in the Greater Middle East, the strongest of all, and most likely to dominate at some point in the decades ahead, is Iran, with a proud history ("Iran was the ancient world's first superpower."), a population of 75 million, a literacy rate of 80%, an industrial base, and an extensive network of universities. Iran is situated in an enviable position, straddling the region's two principal oil-production areas (the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf), not to mention its own abundant hydrocarbon reserves. Is it any wonder, then, why Iran captures headlines with such frequency?

In this fashion, geopolitics yields important insight about how the world works. To cite another example, Kaplan asks "Why is China ultimately more important than Brazil? Because of geographical location: even supposing the same level of economic growth as China and a population of equal size, Brazil does not command the main sea lines of communication connecting oceans and continents as China does; nor does it mainly lie in the temperate zone like China, with a more disease-free and invigorating climate. China fronts the Western Pacific and has depth on land reaching to oil- and natural-gas-rich Central Asia. Brazil offers less of a comparative advantage. It lies isolated in South America, geographically removed from other landmasses."

The Revenge of Geography is crammed with thought-provoking analysis -- about the influence of geography on European history, about the role of megacities in our future, about changing demographic patterns, about the impact of latitude on the fate of nations. Oh, and do you remember Sacha Baron Cohen's satirical treatment of Kazakhstan? Kaplan informs us that "Kazakhstan is truly becoming an independent power in its own right" (and proves it). Who knew?

A word of warning, though: unless you're familiar with both world history and ancient history, you may find The Revenge of Geography to be tough sledding through the innumerable mentions of long-lost empires and forgotten kings. Kaplan grounds his analysis not just in geography but also in history, and his knowledge of both clearly runs deep.

Kaplan begins wrapping up his book with a troubling discussion about recent U.S. foreign and military policy: "while the United States was deeply focused on Afghanistan and other parts of the Greater Middle East, a massive state failure was developing right on America's southern border, with far more profound implications for the near and distant future of America, its society, and American power than anything occurring half a world away. What have we achieved in the Middle East with all of our interventions since the 1980s? . . . Why not fix Mexico instead?"

"America faces three primary geopolitical dilemmas," Kaplan concludes. "[A] chaotic Eurasian heartland in the Middle East, a rising and assertive Chinese superpower, and a state in deep trouble in Mexico. And the challenges we face with China and Mexico are most efficiently dealt with by wariness of further military involvement in the Middle East. This is the only way that American power can sustain itself for the decades to come."
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