The Revenge of Geography

Reviewed by G. John Ikenberry

In This Review

The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate
by Robert D. Kaplan
Random House, 2012
432 pp. $28.00

While many observers see modernization and economic development as the most important factors shaping the world, Kaplan has remained an eloquent voice chronicling the darker undercurrents that limit cooperation and progress: resource scarcity, historical memory, cultural and ethnic divisions, and geopolitical rivalry. In his latest book, the journalist makes his most thoughtful statement yet about how power in world politics is shaped by these forces. Although the book does not delve deeply into intellectual history, Kaplan dusts off the ideas of such classical realists as Halford Mackinder, Hans Morgenthau, and Nicholas Spykman on geography -- heartlands and “rimlands,” oceans and sea power. In his explorations of the geopolitics of China, India, Russia, and the West, Kaplan demonstrates that the world is certainly not “flat” and that the first step in understanding great-power politics in the twenty-first century is still to look at a map. Geography has given the United States many strategic options. But Kaplan argues that short of a dramatic lurch toward isolationism, the United States is destined to remain the great balancing power in Eurasia.