Tim Marshall

Prisoners of Geography

  • 54-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 10 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with degrees in philosophy and economics
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Prisoners of Geography Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 54-page guide for “Prisoners of Geography” by Tim Marshall includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 10 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like How Geography Shapes Power and How Human Nature Shapes Power.

Plot Summary

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World, by Tim Marshall, was published in 2015 and became a New York Times bestseller and a Sunday Times #1 bestseller. The book describes how geography—mountains, plains, rivers, coastlines, climate, and natural resources—shape the fate of nations. Each chapter explains geography’s effects on a particular country or region. The book also considers how other influences—religion, culture, language, ethnicity—interact with local geography.

Chapter 1 explores Russia, where the North European Plain, which opens a path from western European armies directly into Russia, has contributed to the Russians’ desire to control a buffer zone of countries between it and the rest of the world. Moving eastward, Chapter 2 describes the variety of natural formations—including the Tibetan Plateau, the Himalayas, jungles, deserts, and the Pacific Ocean—that delineate the borders of China, even as the country’s coastal location allows it to reach out to rest of the world through trade and its military.

Chapter 3 examines the United States, with its splendid isolation between two oceans, excellent river system, and productive agriculture—all of which have contributed to its generally stable growth as a nation with a common language and heritage. By contrast, in resource-rich Western Europe, featured in Chapter 4, the main rivers don’t connect and mountain ranges divide regions, resulting in the emergence of separate nation-states with different languages and a propensity for war.

Chapter 5 considers how geographical challenges, from the Sahara Desert in the north, to the dense tropical jungles of the midsection, to the arid and mountainous south, have stymied Africa’s development. Local plants and animals are hard to cultivate; thousands of languages divide the populace; and arbitrary political borders pit ethnicities against one another.

Chapter 6 delves into the Middle East, where mountains alternate with deserts and borders push enemies together. Chapter 7 focuses on another region rife with conflict: Pakistan and India. The two nations, officially separated in 1947, continue to dispute the Kashmir region in the north of India, while each also faces both internal and external pressures.

Japan and Korea are the subjects of Chapter 8. Divided after World War II, North and South Korea rely on alliances with larger nations and a man-made border to preserve a precarious peace. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Sea of Japan, the nation of Japan has drawn together a series of isolated islands to create an economic and military force that far exceeds its physical size.

Chapter 9 deals with Latin America’s geographic and political challenges, including bureaucratic neglect of the Amazon rainforest and a lack of arable land to feed a growing population. Finally, Chapter 10 focuses on another region crucial to the global climate debate: the Arctic. Global warming has melted the oceanic ice pack, opening the area to mining and drilling and setting the stage for conflicts over resource extraction.

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