Is geography destiny? Perhaps not, but Manifest Destiny certainly had a geographical component—and so, writes former Sky News correspondent Marshall ("Dirty Northern B*st*rds!": And Other Tales from the Terraces: The Story of Britain's Football Chants, 2014, etc.), will a future world in which the United States may not be a superpower.
“When Vladimir Putin isn’t thinking about God, and mountains, he’s thinking about pizza,” writes the author. Pizza and, of course, the Ukraine, his next-door neighbor and a ripe plum for any vision of a Russian empire. Geography has a grim matter-of-factness to it: argue that the Mongols came exploding out of Central Asia due to a bumper crop in grass or that the Vikings left Scandinavia because of the horrible monotony of the fjords, and you’re likely to be pegged as a determinist without sufficient regard for free will. Yet, as Marshall argues in this pop excursus, geography does have something to do with how we live. Some of us have endless fields of grain, others water, others oil, and even if technology has freed us from some of the limits of old—allowing us to fly, as he puts it, from Missouri to Mosul to unleash a bomb or two—the facts of the land often trump other considerations. In a sense, Marshall’s arguments are old-fashioned. In another, they’re of an everything-old-is-new-again tenor, since, he suggests, 100 years from now, Beijing and New Delhi will still be fighting over resources and there will still be an imposing mountain wall between them. And that pizza that Putin is thinking about, the wedge of the North European Plain, is eternal: “a century from now,” Marshall writes, “Russia will still be looking anxiously westward across what will remain flatland.”
Compulsive globe-spinners won’t find much new in these pages, but Marshall’s broad survey of events in the light of geographical realities goes a long way to explaining Putin’s concerns—and, for that matter, those of the CIA as well.