2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Uncovering the new threats of the 21st century
Robert Kaplan sought to achieve a rather ambitious aim when he set out to research and write this book; he wanted to find a new paradigm to understand the early decades of the 21st century. Kaplan noted that some experts focused on the effects of overpopulation and environmental degradation as the dominant forces (particularly in the developing world), while others spoke...
Published on May 12 2004 by Tim F. Martin
3.0 out of 5 stars A competent survey of the world's nastier places.
Robert Kaplan leads you through an intelligent survey of some of the globe's nastier places. This is good book. It is smart, interesting, and should make people think about some problems most of us would rather ignore. It is not a great book. I would say Kaplan got too ambitious, and it shows. He tried to pack too many things - too many countries, too many ideas, too...
Published on Nov. 21 1998
Most Helpful First | Newest First
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Uncovering the new threats of the 21st century,
This review is from: The Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia, a Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy (Paperback)Robert Kaplan sought to achieve a rather ambitious aim when he set out to research and write this book; he wanted to find a new paradigm to understand the early decades of the 21st century. Kaplan noted that some experts focused on the effects of overpopulation and environmental degradation as the dominant forces (particularly in the developing world), while others spoke of a "new anarchy" (such as former UN secretary-general Perez de Cuellar, he and others noting that of the eighty wars between 1945 and 1995, forty-six were either civil wars or guerilla insurgencies). In 1993, forty-two countries were involved in major conflicts and thirty-seven others were suffering some lesser form of political violence (sixty-five of these seventy-nine nations were in the developing world). Kaplan journeyed through sub-Saharan West Africa from Guinea to Togo and through Egypt, Turkey, Iran, former Soviet Central Asia, Pakistan, India, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia in his research for the book.
He found a predictably bleak situation in Africa. While 13 percent of the human race lives in Africa, they contribute only 1.2 percent of the world's gross domestic product. Crime - particularly violent crime - is soaring in much of Africa; for a time the United States suspended direct flights from the U.S. to Lagos, Nigeria due to the rampant violent crime at the terminal and nearby, the first time any such embargo had occurred for non-political and non-terrorist reasons. Soaring malaria in Africa is intensifying the spread of AIDS (as malaria can result in anemia, which requires blood transfusions), just as AIDS and tuberculosis are helping each other's spread.
As bad as the economy, crime, and disease in Africa are though, Kaplan believes the real problem in sub-Saharan Africa is too-rapid urbanization, a problem he comes to again and again in the book. Festering "bush-slums" that appear on few maps border many African cities, where relatively prosperous cities end up being "slum-magnets for an emptying countryside." He visited several such slums in Ivory Coast and elsewhere in West Africa, many packed with migrants from Mali, Niger, and elsewhere (50% of the population of the Ivory Coast is now non-Ivorian). The native forest culture of Africa, however primitive, was being destroyed by soaring birthrates, alcohol, cheap guns, and extremely dense concentrations of humanity in slums that lacked any stabilizing and unifying government or culture. Though he does not believe this to be the only factor in the bloody conflicts in Liberia and elsewhere, he does believe it to be a dominant one.
Though not leading to the level of social breakdown as seen in Africa, rapidly growing cities - packed with peasants drawn in from the countryside - was a dominant feature in other nations he found as well. China, while touted at the time of writing as having a 14 per cent growth rate, really meant that coastal China was growing; this growth did not apply to inland China (and also could be said to favor the cities and not the countryside), leading to a mass migration from the countryside. Migration to shantytowns in Pakistan is tremendous, owing in large part to a skyrocketing population rate (only 9 percent of Pakistani women use contraceptives and the population of Pakistan is close to doubling every twenty years), a situation leading to empty villages and a poorly urbanized peasantry that cities are unable to cope with.
Kaplan found similar problems in Egypt, where urban poverty and newly urbanized peasants, threatened with the loss of traditions, the government unable to help them, with basic services like water and electricity breaking down, having found something to turn to; Islam. Islam is thriving in a time of unregulated urbanization and internal and external refugee migrations. With increasingly militant Islamic Egyptians turning against Christian Arabs (both Coptic Christians, who like the Lebanese Kaplan met in West Africa and the Korean grocers of South Los Angeles, formed a "middlemen minority" in Egypt, as well as the Christian leaders like UN secretary-general Boutros-Ghali who failed to aid Bosnian Muslims) and turning to the Ikhwan el Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood) for social services instead of an increasingly overburdened state, Kaplan sees scarcity and woes of the urbanized peasantry of the shantytowns as the driving force in many ways in Egypt.
The growing marriage of Islam and urbanized peasantry was not unique to Egypt. To a somewhat lesser extent Kaplan found a similar process on-going in Turkey, as the Turkish migrants to the gecekondus (literally "built in the night;" shanty-town houses) on the fringes of Istanbul found more aid from the Islamic Welfare Party in the form of water, coal, and food than from the Turkish government itself. In some areas of western China such as Kashgar, overcrowding, unemployment, and the lack of any real middle class was leading to a Muslim resurgence there among non-ethnic Chinese.
So what did Kaplan learn from his travels? He was quite frustrated, and found that the more he traveled the less he felt he knew. Kaplan did grow disgusted with the idea of political "science," paraphrasing Tolstoy in _Anna Karenina_ in writing that while successful cultures are in many ways alike, unsuccessful ones fail each in their own way. He did come to the conclusion that nation-states at least in West Africa, the Near East, and Central Asia were weakening. In some cases organizations and entities outside or beyond the state - such as the various Islamic groups in Egypt and Turkey - were starting to fill in the vacuum, while in other, failed states such as Sierra Leone, nothing was taking its place. Borders in some regions, the legacy of long-gone European imperial powers, were becoming less and less important. Laos and Cambodia were in some sense creations of the French, areas that might have long been swallowed by the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai and were now being divided up economically if not politically by these countries. I think his firmest conclusion though was that poorly and newly urbanized rural poor flocking to the cities represented the greatest challenge.
1.0 out of 5 stars Beltway Talking Heads book disguised as travel narrative,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia, a Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy (Paperback)I was severely disappointed. Other than the Togo sequence early in the book, Kaplan isn't interested in "travel" at all; he hardly ever talks to people on the streets, preferring to talk to each country's equivalent of Beltway insiders. Not bad as social studies, but this is NOT a travel book. A hundred years from now, there will be NO reason to read this book, which is not true of a good travel narrative.
3.0 out of 5 stars A competent survey of the world's nastier places.,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia, a Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy (Paperback)Robert Kaplan leads you through an intelligent survey of some of the globe's nastier places. This is good book. It is smart, interesting, and should make people think about some problems most of us would rather ignore. It is not a great book. I would say Kaplan got too ambitious, and it shows. He tried to pack too many things - too many countries, too many ideas, too many stories - into one book. As a result it's a very reportorial work - it tells you the basics, it surprises you with interesting bits, and it even digs a little bit beyond the surface. But when it comes time to say "but what does it mean, Dorothy?" - zoom! We're off to the next hellhole on our tour. There's nothing wrong with reportorial, but Kaplan seems to promise something more. He doesn't deliver. He would have been better served by devoting more time to fewer countries. For instance, by his own admission he spent very little time in Laos and did not get a good picture of the country as a whole. Then why write about it? Would this be a worse book without the sketchy Laotian chapter? Hey, I've been in Malaysia for week, but I'm not writing a book about it. The holes in the book are filled with Kaplan's self-important wishy-washy musings. He's full of ideas, only they conflict with each other, and he can't decide which one is the best or how they should all fit together. After a couple of hundred pages, I was yelling "Look, do you have a conclusion or not? Because if you don't, why not have a lie down, figure out an answer, and THEN write it down!" It's fine to write "I didn't know what to think," it chapter 1, but by the end of the book, well, you should have a better idea what to think. You shouldn't endlessly pose the same answerless questions. Far too many chapters end with something like "There was no more time. I was off to (Togo/Turkmenistan/Laos)." Hmmm. Maybe he should have spent some more time thinking of some answers. I have to say I would have liked this book more if I had not read "Balkan Ghosts". With that book I felt Kaplan actually knew the area and understood the passions and fault lines that tear the Balkans apart. It raised my expectations for this book. In "The Ends of the Earth" we have to be content with what we see on the surface. We're not going anywhere, but we're making good time.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Provocative Travelogue,
By A Customer
This book's first third, which focuses on West Africa, can be profitably read alongside an in-depth study like LIBERIA: PORTRAIT OF A FAILED STATE by John Peter Pham, published by Reed Press, which gives a detailed analysis of the strategic importance that Kaplan ascribes to regional conflicts.
4.0 out of 5 stars A Realist's Take on the World,
Kaplan‚€™s ‚€œAtlantic Monthly‚€� article, ‚€œThe Coming Anarchy‚€�, is kind of a primer for reading ‚€œEnds of the Earth‚€� (portions of it re-appear): much of the world depicted by Kaplan is nasty, brutal and harsh, as the collapse of law and order leads to a repeating circle of violence and chaos. The more the state collapses under the strain of violence, the more the violence increases. Environmental decay, in turn, makes natural resources scarce, which causes people to fight over these ever-dwindling resources. Kaplan concentrates on Africa in the original article but he has expanded on that point in ‚€œEnds of the Earth‚€�, by pointing out that his thesis is applicable to other problems in the world: China, India, Egypt, Turkey, etc.
Kaplan basically backpacks around each of the countries, staying in slummier hotels and living with local families. Like any good travel writer, Kaplan gives the writer a vivid feel for the places he goes to. A lot of travel readers might find Kaplan‚€™s focus on history uninteresting, but I appreciate it because I agree that where we‚€™ve been is the closest indicator of where the world is going. Someone once said that a page of history is worth a volume of logic, and I think Kaplan illustrates how history and geography dictate what sort of culture, economy and foreign policy a nation has.
I particularly enjoyed the sections of the book dealing with Iran. I‚€™ve long been fascinated by the Persian land, with its ancient culture. Kaplan presents a country that is misunderstood in the Western world: Iran is a land of rich culture and a deep appreciation of art and beauty. The picture that Kaplan presents to the reader is that, unlike the rest of the Arab world, with its spare and dogmatic adherence to Islam, Iran is a country with a deep appreciation of beauty and a great capacity for tolerance. Its people are intelligent and open-minded, its society is not rife with chauvinism and hatred and there is great possibility in Iran for a meaningful dialogue. The cultural observations Kaplan noted: how open-minded Iranian students were, how Iranian women were treated better and were more assertive than their Saudi counterparts, how tolerant the Shi‚€™ite brand of Islam seemed compared with its more warrior-like Sunni counterparts, are all important clues to Kaplan that Iran is a nation far more willing to break bread with the U.S. and have some sort of partnership. The section on Iran is well-worth the price of the book.
One of the great things about Kaplan‚€™s writing is his ability to smoke out trends or facts that escape the notice of the modern media. His comments about Iranian culture and society are an example of this. Also interesting is seeing how environmental scarcity and ethnic and religious tensions drive history: the growth of the Thai sex industry, for example, has much to do with deforestation in northern Thailand. (In the book Kaplan explains that logging by the Thai military means that rural villagers in the north can no longer make ends meet because their farmland is being destroyed, so many girls in their teens and twenties go to Bangkok to work in the massage parlors and the go-go bars.) Before reading ‚€œEnds of the Earth‚€� I didn‚€™t know that, and I doubt that people would make the causal connection between the two.
Liberals, I suspect, won‚€™t have much to cheer from reading ‚€œThe Ends of the Earth‚€�, and most of Kaplan‚€™s critics sit on the left. Kaplan sees himself as a classical realist, so he has no words of praise for idealists or those who bring their ideological causes to an analysis of the world. These liberals who think U.S. law enforcement customs are possible in the Third World are, Kaplan believes, getting the world wrong by bringing their own ideology to the table.
Unsurprisingly, Kaplan‚€™s unsparing criticism of African politics and government has provoked many to roundly denounce him as a racist, a charge that simply doesn‚€™t hold water. Kaplan is no racist: he sees disorder and writes about it, and he sees the lack of African development and freedom (as compared with Europe and America) as mostly being a function of environment and social factors. Unlike many liberals, Kaplan has actually bothered to try and travel like a native citizen would: no limousines, no private jets. The world that he sees is the world that people live in. There is nothing racist in that.
Critics also fail to note that Kaplan has criticized Western nations like France, England, Portugal, and Germany for drawing borders in Africa without any sort of concern for having them actually make geopolitical sense. As a consequence, Kaplan notes, often ethnic tribes are cut in half by European borders, contributing to the lack of unity and the social strife that has engulfed West Africa.
Finally, I wish that Kaplan had devoted a bit more time in his travels to India and Southeast Asia, instead of Central Asia. As Kaplan notes, he‚€™s been to Pakistan ten times in his life, so he has written volumes about the country. I was fascinated to read about India, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand because they were so different from the places Kaplan usually goes culturally and politically. After I got done reading the final section on Indochina, I thought: ‚€œI want to know more!‚€�
In the final analysis, ‚€œEnds of the Earth‚€� is a terrific book. Those interested in the world around us will be fascinated. I highly recommend.
5.0 out of 5 stars An Intellectual Journey Through Turmoil,
5.0 out of 5 stars Travels from hell and back,
His specific analysis of Pakistan is fascinating, looking at 'social' factors and then the 'physical' factors. He borrows this social vs. natural factor analysis from Homer-Dixon.
As mentioned above, a dimension to his writing, is Kaplan's quality as an "intellectual aggregator." He borrows material from tens of luminaries on various subjects. So, he rarely develops a theory in vacuum. He first aggregates different blocks of a political theory and then connects the dots between the blocks. He does that better than most. This makes for a very insightful and informative book.
5.0 out of 5 stars This is the best . . .,
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't Judge a Book by It's Cover!!!,
This review is from: The Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia--A Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy (Hardcover)While the story itself is amazing and I would highly recommend it, the hard back version that it listed for sale is more than unfortunate!!! It is a homemade hardback! The "publisher" has cut the cover off, bound the book and then pasted the cover back on. If you don't like pirated CD's you will not like this hardback version. I recommend buying the paperback; that way you will not only enjoy the amazing story but also the book itself!!
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Read,
The only thing that I would improve upon in the book, is that I wish he had described the different places in more detail. I say this, of course, realizing that if he had gone to the depth I would've liked, the book would probably have topped 2000 pages!
Still, I recommend this as a good, but engaging read, for people who would like to learn more about international politics, other countries, and the gap between the Western world - and everyone else. It will most certainly change your perspective.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
The Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia, a Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy by Robert D. Kaplan (Paperback - Jan. 28 1997)
CDN$ 22.50 CDN$ 16.24
Usually ships in 2 to 4 weeks