Books by Robert D. Kaplan

Robert D. Kaplan is a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly and the bestselling author of eight previous books on foreign affairs and travel, including Balkan Ghosts, The Ends of the Earth, The Coming Anarchy, and Eastward to Tartary. He is a senior fell


HISTORY
Released: March 20, 2018

"Enough time has passed for some of Kaplan's forecasts to develop cracks—e.g., China has not yet stumbled—but much rings true, and all are presented with enough verve and insight to tempt readers to set it aside to reread in a few years."
The veteran political affairs journalist returns with a collection of essays that have been published in the Atlantic, the Washington Post, the National Interest, and other venues. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Jan. 24, 2017

"A text both evocative and provocative for readers who like to think."
As our geography has long insulated us from foreign invasion, so has it shaped our temperament and enabled us to become a world power, a category we must modify but continue to inhabit. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Feb. 2, 2016

"Kaplan does not promote Romania, but he has written a journalistic tour de force that will convince readers that it's a fascinating place whose people, past, and current geopolitical dilemma deserve our attention."
Romania was a journalistic backwater when the author's bestselling Balkan Ghosts appeared in 1993. In this equally captivating sequel, veteran journalist Kaplan (Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific, 2014, etc.) brings matters up to 2015.Read full book review >
ASIA'S CAULDRON by Robert D. Kaplan
HISTORY
Released: March 25, 2014

"An up-and-down examination in which the author claims that the future of the Pacific Rim will be decided not by what China does but by what America does."
A foreign policy expert looks at the major players in the Southeast Asia Pacific Rim and their nervous watching of what China will do. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Sept. 11, 2012

"A solid work of acuity and breadth."
Kaplan (Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, 2010, etc.) sagely plots global territorial transformations from the United States to China. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Oct. 19, 2010

"A useful, teeming point of departure for exploring these up-and-coming Eurasian dynamos."
An ambitious, somewhat amorphous look at the many "transition zone[s]" comprising traditional trading posts along the Indian Ocean that are now emerging as important strategic flashpoints. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Sept. 11, 2007

"A relentlessly admiring portrait of our armed services, but without the traditional overlay of patriotic homilies."
Absorbing continuation of Imperial Grunts (2005), with journalist Kaplan visiting American military forces in another dozen nations as they work to spread the influence of the world's leading imperial power—a phrase that he insists describes us just as it once did Britain and Rome. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Sept. 20, 2005

"A provocative survey of a changing military charged—it seems ever more apparent—with making the world American, regardless of the world's view of things."
Prolific world-traveler Kaplan (Mediterranean Winter, 2004, etc.) goes where the boots are. And where they are, he suggests, there stands the American Empire. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Feb. 10, 2004

"Interestingly written throughout and brought into the present with a memorable visit to the arch-traveler Patrick Leigh Fermor: a standout travel book, and a literate companion to places less remote than Kaplan now haunts."
A departure for a geopolitical gloom-and-doom Atlantic Monthly reporter: a book of travels to places where he's not being shot at and whose inhabitants are not busily butchering one another. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Jan. 1, 2001

"A timely brave-new-world primer almost impossibly rich in quotable maxims. Even readers who recoil from Kaplan's prescription for global governance based on a new American imperium will find this empowering instant classic essential ammunition for any debate about what to do next."
Just in time for the post-World Trade Center era, a hardheaded, eerily prescient view of American geopolitics in a dangerous century. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Nov. 9, 2000

"As with all of Kaplan's work, solid journalism combines with a gloomy sense of history to produce a worthy study."
More travels to difficult places in search of future geopolitical nightmares. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Feb. 1, 2000

Nine highly uneven pieces on current and future international politics by the prolific contributing editor of The Atlantic Monthly (An Empire Wilderness, 1998, etc.). The clear highlight here is the fascinating, much-discussed and -reprinted title essay. In contrast to Frances Fukuyama's view that the collapse of communism has heralded an ideological and political "end of history," Kaplan warns that the early 21st century may be characterized in the underdeveloped world by urban overcrowding and disease, environmental degradation (which will be "the national security issue"), tribalistic warfare, the breakdown of central governmental authority, and a concomitant rise in crime. Unfortunately, Kaplan's penchant for sweeping generalizations—for instance, his dubious claim that "the parliamentary system the West promoted was a factor in the murder of thousands of Tutsis by Hutu militias [in Rwanda]——too often undermines his other essays. In "Kissinger, Metternich and Realism" he follows his celebration of hardheaded realpolitik ("It is . . . likely that in prolonging the [Vietnam] war for the reasons they did, Kissinger and Nixon demonstrated more real character than do many of our present leaders—) by admitting that "some of Nixon's and Kissinger's actions were . . . spectacularly brutal and unnecessary.— In his final essay the author reveals that his great bugaboo is, of all things, peace, which he feels will make the average citizen self-absorbed, complacent, and forgetful of history: "The Cold War has been as close to utopia as we are ever likely to get. . . . Because the Cold War was a low-level extension of World War II, it also gave us a sense of the past. War does that, peace does not." Such historical generalizations come so fast and furious, so isolated from such factors as politics, education, culture, technology, and the mass media, that they may well leave readers who persevere past the scintillating title essay unedified and disoriented. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Nov. 11, 1999

Part history, part philosophy, with some story problems thrown in for good measure: a wandering tale of the origins and uses of the number zero. Remember learning the Roman numerals in grade school? Kaplan is quick to point out that their system of counting used different letters for 1, 5, 10, 100 (I, V, X, C). This leads to problems when you want to represent the very large, millions or billions. A number system that uses place as an indicator of size was clearly needed, but this creates a need for a placeholder. Otherwise, 207 would be indistinguishable from 27, and chaos would ensue. Kaplan opens with a history of counting systems even more confusing than the Roman, Sumerians counting in base 60 or the Buddha counting by hundreds. Kaplan proposes several theories about the origin of the shape of the zero. Is it the impression left on a sand-covered counting board by the removal of a stone, signifying a placeholder with nothing in it? Or is it perhaps the crescent shape of a writing stylus pressed twice into the clay? Was zero "discovered" by more than one culture independently? From the origins of zero we discover what zero represented for different cultures. To the Mayans, zero was an angry god, periodically represented by a human who would be beaten to death. On the mathematics side, we learn how zero is used in algebra (solving quadratic equations), calculus (maxima and minima occur where the slope of a function is zero), physics (conservation laws), and set theory (generating the integers from the empty set). Finally, the author discusses the larger meaning of nothing. Perhaps it is "the salaryman of Japanese society" or more generally "anonymity, mirroring our fear of making no difference to others." Full of ideas but going nowhere in particular, which is perhaps what the author intended all along. (First printing of 40,000; author tour) Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Sept. 1, 1998

Journey to America's west in search of a nation that may no longer exist. The best travel writing not only describes a place but also explains it. In a series of well- crafted books (The Ends of the Earth, 1996, etc.), Atlantic Monthly contributing editor Kaplan has performed these dual tasks with eloquence and insight. Here he turns his attention to his own country and finds a troubling present and a discomfiting future. America is literally coming apart at the seams, and in the west Kaplan most clearly finds evidence of this. As America's geographical boundaries no longer shield it from the international economy, the middle-class ideal of America is becoming the reality of a two-class system: the technologically skilled haves and the unskilled have-nots. The skilled leave the cities, retreating further and further into the west's open spaces, to suburban oases of gated communities and private police. In a world economy, such people have more in common with their counterparts around the world than with the have-nots they—ve left behind amid urban decay. Meanwhile, the core ideological values of America, though the author remains vague as to what these are, are becoming displaced, as he writes, "by the cultural patterns— of Old World societies, such as hierarchy and paternalism, which are being imported by immigrants. Other processes are also at work. Canada and the northwest, Mexico and the southwest threaten to become autonomous economic and social entities. "How much longer," Kaplan wonders, "will the patriotic marches of John Philip Sousa move America's inhabitants?" Kaplan captures well the postmodern uneasiness adrift in America, but the above quote seems presumptive of what America once was. He has, in other words, already defined what America should be before he begins his journey. But if his America is not there, does that mean America is gone for everyone? A flawed work, to be sure, alarmist and overwrought at times. A clarity of vision remains, however, that demands our attention. (Author tour) Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: March 1, 1996

A ``brief romp'' through West Africa, Egypt, Iran, Central Asia, western China, Pakistan, India, Vietnam, and Cambodia by Atlantic Monthly contributing editor Kaplan (Balkan Ghosts, 1993, etc.). You have to hand it to Kaplan. He travels light, he travels dirty, and he goes to places that most travelers would thankfully avoid. He has also done his homework and has a useful frame of reference in which to fit his experiences and observations. Many are valuable. His comments on West Africa evoked wide discussion when they appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. In assessing the value of a diplomat's optimism about Africa, he asks drily, ``How did he arrive at the airport?''—a reference to the crime, bribery, and anarchy often associated with mere arrival in Africa, but which high-level diplomats usually avoid. In considering levels of crime in various poor and overcrowded cities, he punctures easy explanations based on cultural factors by comparing similarly horrendous crime rates in Cambodia and Sierra Leone (he had believed that crime rates would be lower in Cambodia, with its ancient civilizations based in written language). Contrary to expectations, in Iran he notes how the country and its culture ``appeared minimally affected fifteen years after the revolution.'' He contrasts the attention given to AIDS with that given to the 100200 million people who contract malaria every year and the 2.5 million people who die annually of the disease. His most enduring impression is of the weakening of state structures throughout the area and the growing strength of ethnic and religious identity. He covers a much wider area than he did in his more valuable Balkan Ghosts, and his expectations about finding general paradigms are disappointed. Nor are his efforts to make his discoveries relevant to the US very convincing. But for sheer entertainment, vigor, sharp observation, and thoughtful comparison, Kaplan takes a lot of beating. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Oct. 18, 1993

An analysis of the evolution of US policy toward the Middle East—as well as of the foreign-policy elite that guided it—that goes far deeper than the headlines. America's concern with the Middle East, says Kaplan (Soldiers of God, 1990, etc.), began in the 19th century with the missionaries who braved great hardship, with little success, to bring the Christian message to the area. Eventually, these missionaries concluded that education might be the best way of proselytizing—a conclusion that Kaplan calls ``probably the most inspired idea in the history of foreign aid.'' More sustained American interest in the Middle East developed only after WW II, and much of the subsequent history of the ``Arabists'' is tied up with Truman's decision to recognize the State of Israel despite the almost universal opposition of his foreign-policy advisors— opposition that, according to Truman, smacked of anti-Semitism. Kaplan, himself Jewish, handles this controversy evenhandedly, and notes that then-Assistant Secretary of State Loy Henderson was remarkably prescient about the aftermath of our recognition of Israel: decades of constant trouble and expense, as well ``the rise of fanatic Mohammedanism'' of a kind ``not experienced for hundreds of years.'' In tracing the controversy over recognition, Kaplan relies particularly on interviews with leading Arabists, and he gives vivid pictures of an elite whose skills were developed by the sheer difficulty of mastering Arabic but who nonetheless have been regarded by critics like Francis Fukuyama as ``more systematically wrong'' than any other branch of the foreign service. The Arabists' story, Kaplan says, is one of dramatic successes (e.g., the extraction of the Falasha Jews from the Sudan, revealed here in all its truth perhaps for the first time) but of great failures as well (for instance, the failure to predict the true aims of Saddam Hussein). Full of fascinating, sometimes brilliant, insight into the politics of the area and its impact on those entrusted with US policy. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: March 1, 1993

Timely and vivid view of the Balkans, by Kaplan (Soldiers of God, 1989). Kaplan lived in Athens for seven years and has traveled frequently in Croatia, Bosnia, Albania, Moldavia, and Bulgaria. Although he's most familiar with Romania and Greece, he provides deep and literate insight into events throughout the region. Moreover, he's read a good deal of what historians, writers, and journalists of previous eras have written, and he uses to good effect the observations of travelers like Rebecca West, John Reed, Lawrence Durrell, and Oliver Manning. Kaplan's text—part history, part travelogue, part political analysis—conveys both his insights and theirs with a useful sense of the history of the area: of the influence of Turkey, which, West observed, had ``ruined the Balkans, with a ruin so great that it has not yet been repaired''; of the deep ethnic and religious rifts that prevail in lands like Bosnia, ``rural, isolated, and full of suspicions and hatreds to a degree that the sophisticated Croats of Zagreb could barely imagine''; of the conflicting dreams of lost imperial glory, with each nation demanding that its borders revert to where they were ``at the exact time when its own empire had reached its zenith''; and of the pattern of Romanian history, ``long periods of docility interrupted by brief but spectacular eruptions of violence.'' This violence was mirrored in Yugoslavia, which, Kaplan notes, ``did not deteriorate suddenly, but...step by step, throughout the 1980s.'' The author's descriptions of Greek politics are equally astute, as is his discussion of the implications of the exodus of ethnic Germans throughout the area back to Germany. Meanwhile, over the whole of the Balkans broods the ghost of Communism, which will ``exit the world stage revealed for what it truly was: fascism, without fascism's ability to make the trains run on time.'' A memorable portrait of an increasingly important region. (Photographs—not seen.) Read full book review >