The Power of Geography by Tim Marshall

The Power of Geography: Ten Maps That Reveal the Future of Our World was published this year (2021) and is a sequel to Prisoners of Geography which I wrote about here.
In that book Tim Marshall focused on the fact that geography has played a major role in history. In this new book he explores ten different regions and the power they hold in the shaping of our future.
These regions are: Australia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, The United Kingdom, Greece, Turkey, The Sahel (a region I was totally ignorant of), Ethiopia, Spain and Space.
The Power Of Geography covers some very diverse countries with complicated histories – a whole book could be written about just Iran alone when you consider the upheaval and changes there even in recent times. There’s a lot of ground to cover and I think that’s the reason I found this book generally wasn’t as tightly written as the previous one. There are some chapters where this wasn’t the case – Turkey and Ethiopia, for instance, which were more compact. In spite of the sense of overwhelm at times (I’m thinking of you, Saudia Arabia),The Power of Geography is an interesting and informative book.

Some highlights:


We tend to think of China and Australia being relatively close to each other but Tim Marshall points out that the map most of us use, the Mercator, distorts our view of the world. He suggests the different perspective to be had from the use of a Waterman map, noting the fact that Beijing is as close to Warsaw as it is to Canberra but it is China that is regarded as our close neighbour.
I learned that Australia, along with New Zealand, the USA, the UK and Canada is a member of what is probably the world’s most efficient intelligence-gathering network: ‘Five Eyes.’ I asked my husband if he knew about this and he did. He also knows where the Sahel is, which shouldn’t have surprised me – he has a mind like a steel trap on more modern history.


I know a little bit about Iran from teaching ESL to a couple who left that country and resettled here. Apparently it was not until 1935 that the land of Persia became known as Iran but everyone I’ve met from Iran (and all of them were born decades after the name change) describe themselves as Persian.

Saudi Arabia

What a complicated and confusing history! Saudi Arabia was created in the twentieth century. Its population then was about two million, and most of them were nomads. Now there are 34 million people living there.
Marshall describes the rise of Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden and the various members of the royal family, notably, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who is reigning now.

United Kingdom

The chapter starts with a quick overview of the UK’s history, beginning with the Greek explorer Pytheas, through the Roman occupation, Viking invasions, the Battle of Hastings, the rise of the British Empire, the two World Wars, up to the present and Brexit.
He considers the question of Scottish independence and the complications that would result – for example, if Scotland insisted that the Royal Navy remove its nuclear-armed submarines from their base at Faslane on the west coast.

Sea power underpinned an empire based on the usual power-building common to all countries, but also the racist assumptions of colonialism. There was, however, one bright point of moral light in the navy’s role. In 1807, having played a prominent role in the slave trade, Britain outlawed it. For the next few decades the Royal Navy actively pursued slave traders, liberating about 150,000 people, while the government paid subsidies to African chiefs to persuade them to end the practice.

Life in these Royal Navy ships is depicted as almost equally harsh and dangerous for the British sailors;
‘Between 1830 – 1865, approximately 1587 men died on the West Africa Squadron, from a variety of causes: disease, killed in action and accidental deaths…’

One of the most fascinating countries represented in this book is Turkey. General Kemal Atatürk was the first president of the Republic of Turkey which was established in 1923. Known as ‘Father of the Turks, he ruled for fifteen years and implemented radical reforms which transformed and modernised the country.

Atatürk understood that language is culture. He was in the business of forming a new culture based not on the multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic Ottoman Empire, but on Turkishness.

In recent times Turkey has turned to the past in order to shape the future. The author describes Erdoğan, Turkey’s Prime Minister, as a ‘neo-Ottoman’ who believes that Turkey is destined to be a global superpower as the West declines.

Ethiopia and Spain are two other very interesting places to delve into – in fact, all of them are, but there is so much detail and changes in their history, not to mention their geographical complexities, to enable a reader without too much background information to take it all in. It’s a book I’d be more than happy to read again in order to digest all the details, or to dip into as a reference when any of the countries are mentioned in the news or current affairs.

Linking to Book’d Out for the 2021 Non-Fiction Challenge: Book Published in 2021

13 thoughts on “The Power of Geography by Tim Marshall

  1. World history and geography is almost too much for me to take in sometimes. I think that is why I prefer fiction to nonfiction. Having a story to hang on to helps me better remember the historical facts. Still, this sounds like a fabulous book and one to keep and refer to.


    • I really need a narrative to take in facts and figures and I think Tim Marshall does that with these two books. The first one was easier because of the countries he covered, but when you think of a place like Saudi Arabia, there are so many individuals and similarly named ones at that, it’s not surprising it’s difficult to get your head around it all. The chapters on the UK, Turkey, Ethiopia and Spain were much easier to get a hold on, and so interesting, too.


    • Hi Sharon, so sorry to hear of your troubles. We are in our second lockdown – this time with the Delta strain & we’ve got quite a few restrictions in place. The worst being we can’t see our family, and we can’t go to church. Hoping to see things relax again soon. Hope you are recovering from your illness and getting some energy back!


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