A Brief Book Review: Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

I first heard of this book in my research to find a good introductory book to the world of global geography. I have to say while there were many things I really liked about this book there were also some areas where I really felt the narrative fell short and the story was not as developed as it could have been. First I’ll talk about what I liked and then I’ll dive deeper into those things I felt lacked appeal.

There were a bunch of things I really liked about this book. I really liked the way Marshall segmented the book into the ten maps/regions of the world. I felt like this made the book more digestible to a reader that could otherwise be extremely overwhelmed by the vastness of global geography like myself. I also really liked the real-life examples Marshall brought to the table from his time being a reporter on the ground during some of the world’s biggest conflicts. I felt this added not only validity to his explanations but it humanized them from just being locations on a paper map to being real-life places. The argument itself that geography and physical makeups of our world like terrain, mountains, access to water, etc is something I fully heartedly agree is ignored way too much in our discussions of world history and politics, and for that I’m grateful his tale breaks free from that lack of intersectionality. The description of real, tangible, land boundaries on the ground matter and were extraordinary to read about. I also found his explanations of relationships between countries: allies, enemies, or neutrality, to be clear and concise, something that is lacking in a lot of other similar sources. These are the things that I really like about the text.

The main issue I had with the texts was the lack of narrative surrounding the concepts of colonialism and imperialism. Perhaps it is because I read this book right after I read. The Divide: Global Inequality from Conquest to Free Markets by Jason Hickel, but this book for me lacked historical significance in those senses. Oftentimes he would talk about the lack of success in a country and not even reference those legacies. Not to mention the ways in which he defined success were not explained thoroughly, and routed in eurocentrism. I found this particularly clear in his descriptions of Pakistan, Latin America, and Palestine. He was extremely harsh when it came to Pakistan and did not spend nearly enough time examining the long and deadly history of English imperialism. In Latin America he focused on issues like corruption in the government and didn’t really talk enough about European imperialization and then US colonization and interjection into Latin American elections. For me, these are things that are crucial in understanding the historical and geographical makeup of Latin American countries and I felt like he skimmed out on some of the context he could have given. In his discussion of Palestine while he did not claim a position obviously, he did not mention any numbers or historical significance in the lives lost and instead stuck to just descriptions of the land. I feel that only seeing geography as numbers and resources on a piece of land is ignorant, after all, it is people that write the narratives of those places. Especially in a conflict like Palestine/Israel where the numbers are so contrasting and telling.

These are the issues I had with this book. I definitely think I learned a lot while reading it, and I’m very appreciative towards that. I think that if he had taken more time to explain the implications and long lasting effects of things like colonialism, imperialization, and interference in foreign elections, it would have been a smoother and clearer picture. While he took the time to give historical context to some things, he didn’t for others, which I found unfair and not sincere to the actual reality of global geography.

A Brief Book Review: The Divide: Global Inequality from Conquest to Free Markets by Jason Hickel

After reading The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein I decided my next book in my steps towards radicalization and self-liberation should be this wok by Hickel. After reading this in less than 24 hours you could say I was very impressed. This book was very similar to Klein’s but provided an easier and more digestible way to question global institutions. I found this book very informative and complex in the positions it examined, yet non-excessive and equally unpretentious in its explanation. This was one of the first books I’ve read that I felt really put my own thoughts on things like legacies of colonialism, imperialism, and systems like charity and economic support into perspective. His claims on things like why charity doesn’t systematically help, or the effects of US intervention into elections from other countries, were routed in clear evidence and explained simply. His own real-life experiences and times where he had to examine his own biases was refreshing– it felt like all the claims he made he really meant. And not only did he support all of his evidence through historical evidence but he provided his time as a teacher and professor as a way to solidify his claims. He often brought up counter ideas or conflicting positions that the reader could inevitably have through the questions his students asked him, and then would explain why he concurred or rejected those claims. To the young radical who wants to educate themselves on leftisit politics and the realities of our world I would definitely recommend this book even before The Shock Doctrine because I think it is an excellent starting point. Although on the shorter side for this kind of political theory reading, its narrative is complex, beautiful, and liberating.

Countries of the World: My Quest to Memorize the Name of Every Single Country

Depending on who you ask there are between 193-196 countries in the world. One day for fun I decided to try and see how many I could name off the top of my head. I’ve always been probably above-average, but not great at geography. In fifth grade I memorized all the state capitals which was really fun and I knew where every state was. But taking the time to learn all the countries was something that seemed not only difficult, but useless. What surprised me was the value I found in the months it took me to memorize all of them. I found myself researching conflicts in small countries, discourse on geographical boundaries and interpretations. I was able to understand on a global scale the impacts of colonization and imperialization in the violence against many indigenous populations and lands. I was encouraged to do more research on the countries that already fascinated me such as Uruguay, Myanmar, Argentina, Rwanda, Palestine, and Kazakhstan. I grew to have interest in countries such as Burkina Faso, Azerbaijan, Nigeria, Armenia, Mauritius, Lesotho, Eritrea, Tonga, and Chile. All of a sudden I found myself researching Thomas Sankara’s revolution in Burkina Faso. The current conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The United State’s exploitation of the land in Tonga. Eritrea’s extremist government and huge humanitarian conflict which no one seems to talk about. 

I guess what I’m trying to say that while the world can seem big and scary, with an infinite amount of things to be outraged about and the rise in this exposure due to social media, education will help you prevail. With education I’ve found liberation in the way I viewed the world. I have gained an ability to decolonize my global perspective even past the already anti-colonist perspective I had. I’ve also become more empathetic. Not in the white-savior way of thinking “oh my gosh, I’m in America where everything is so great and easy!” In the way where I can understand that it is our government, the CIA, and billionaires that control this country which destroy other countries. American imperialization is responsible for the poverty in every subjugated country. We can see the CIA’s impact through the electoral statuses in Latin American countries, or the exploitation of labour in African countries. But only by educating myself through seeing a bigger picture of the world was I able to more fully grasp these concepts. And while this has helped to liberate my understanding of the world, it has shown me the subjugation and oppression of American imperialization and colonization.

American imperialization is responsible for the poverty in every subjugated country.

My time spent on the Schooner “Shenandoah”

I’ve gone to the Shenandoah in Martha’s Vineyard for the past four summers (minus this last summer because of Covid). When I first started writing my book my mom looked up writing camps I could do and she eventually found this one. I remember when we first took the ferry to the island and I first saw the ship how terrified I was. Living on a boat less than 120 feet long with 30 other people, skylights above the toilets, and less than a foot’s room for headspace on some of the bunks seemed more like hell to me than anything else. But then, it turned out, I actually kind of loved it.

I’ve been a camper for two years and a junior writing counselor for the other time and my life has completely changed because of. Something about not having your phone and being in the middle of the ocean for a week just totally refreshes your spirit. I remember the first time we set sail and how intoxifying that feeling was. Your literal home, your whole world for that week is flying in the wind effortlessly, and carelessly. The crew walks above on the ship, sails, and lines like cats making their way up a bookshelf. Kids laugh around me, the sky runs a race with me, the ocean uses its long fingers to grab our boat and rock it from side to side, but ultimately forward. 

We swing off the boat when it’s anchored from a rope swing. The water beneath is god knows how deep, but it doesn’t seem to matter to us. We sing songs in the dark, huddled in a circle with a guitar and lots of sun-kissed little voices. We go to islands like Tarpaulin Cove, paddle out and discover beautiful lighthouses. We run into the ocean at the shore and see the curve of the world fall behind our ship. For right now it is just us, the ocean, and whatever we want to make the shades and layers of blue around us. At night we turn the radio on and sing while we do dishes. We read ghost stories and make friendship bracelets. Captain reads to us John Masefield and we try not to fall asleep. At the moment we think it is really boring but when we get our land-legs we would trade anything in the world to be back. 

Living on a ship in the middle of the ocean without my phone has been one of the most striking and life-changing times for me. Writing and reading, sailing and flying, swimming to the edge of the world, jumping down to the bottom of the world, these are things that change my simple day to day manners back on land. I wrote something on my finsta that I think could go here:

“You know they say writers have always had a thing about the sea. As I’ve spent my time cooped up from the life we considered so normal just a year ago I’ve been able to reflect on the time I’ve spent in situations like living on a boat, in new places far away, and on grand adventures so different to me. Some of my friends have said I’m good at telling elaborate stories about all the things I have done, but I would argue it is more through the stories that I’ve lived where I’ve found clarity. As I’ve spent further time engaging with classical literature, and critically thinking about the constructs of big systems in our society, I can’t help but be taken back to a time where my biggest concern was slamming my head on the beam right above me or how long the captain would read his stories that night. For some reason the normal complacency and routine of a life we perceive, that is being projected so forcefully and unfailingly, is not settling well in me anymore. For a girl who loves those small routines I find myself wanting to escape the routine in a capitalist system that so oppressing-ly has drilled in me an expectation of what I must do. Maybe it is social media but this hopscotch map of graduation, internship, bad job, bad house, bad husband– is something I disbelieve. I find myself drifting back to the dreams I had whilst lying on that small bunk with just enough headroom to lie on my side at night. Where my biggest worry was breakfast smells, 6:00 am ferry horns, and a gloomy day lacking a breeze.” 

As my favorite John Masefield quote goes “And all I ask is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by”, I find myself looking for my ship and star everyday when I’m back on land. But when you’re on the boat all you need to do is look down at the worn wood underneath, the creaking noises your container makes in the middle of the night. And at the stars above that seem to sprinkle the water. Maybe that is why my time at sea has seemed so pivotal to me. I never have to go looking, it’s always there for me.

My Favorite Books

(a running list)

  • Catcher in the Rye- J.D. Salinger
  • The Color Purple- Alice Walker
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X- As Told to Alex Haley 
  • Go Tell it On a Mountain- James Baldwin
  • Night- Elie Wiesel 
  • Zami- Audre Lorde
  • The Shock Doctrine Naomi Klein
  • When You Reach Me- Rebecca Stead
  • Liar and Spy- Rebecca Stead
  • I Am The Messenger- Markus Zusak
  • The Dreamer- Pam Munoz Ryan
  • A Wrinkle In Time- Madeleine L’Engle
  • Maniac Magee- Jerry Spinelli
  • Running the Rift- Naomi Benaron
  • Jane Eyre- Charlotte Bronte
  • The Giver- Lois Lowry
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society (series)- Trenton Lee Stewart
  • Alone Together: Sailing Solo to Hawaii and Beyond- Christian Williams
  • All Creatures Great and Small- James Herriot
  • The Hermaphrodite- Julia Ward Howe
  • The Bluest Eye- Toni Morrison
  • The Things They Carried- Tim O’Brien
  • The Divide: Global Inequality from Conquest to Free Markets- Jason Hickel
  • The Wind’s Twelve Quarters- Ursula K. Le Guin

My Favorite Movies

(a running list)

  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
  • Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • Garden State
  • The Breakfast Club
  • La La Land
  • Whiplash
  • Moonlight
  • Lady Bird
  • Call Me By Your Name
  • Spotlight
  • Her
  • The Wind Rises
  • Wish I was Here
  • Nightcrawler
  • The Truman Show
  • The Lighthouse
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Spiderman Into the Spider-Verse
  • The Florida Project