Have you ever thought what a complex world it is we live in Why do some countries look to have it all whilst others seem destined to always struggle Each country has its own history of rivalries and ancient disputes with neighbouring nations - where do these stem from And what about the frequent border changes - why have these occurred and surely they've created additional tensions, haven't they I have an old Reader's Digest Great World Atlas (published in 1961) and a quick perusal of the pages just covering Europe and the southern reaches of Africa is enough to tell me that many of the names therein have long ago been cast onto the geographical scrapheap. Well the good news is that this book provides the answers to these questions and many more.
Broken down into sections covering associated areas of the globe I first learnt how natural geography handed out the lottery prizes. Much of Europe, for example, is blessed by having long rivers, some of which flow into each other, creating natural vessels for moving resources around and thus significantly aiding the establishment of trading routes. Africa, on the other hand, has big rivers but they are all frequently interrupted by large waterfalls and they don't meet up with other rivers, therefore precluding their use for large scale movement of goods. Then there's the climate: again Africa draws the short straw (along with South America) with large areas providing a home for mosquitos which carry diseases such as Malaria and Yellow fever. And what about the land itself Areas of Jungle, desert and high mountains have provided natural boundaries but also create problems for transporting goods and for travel. Yes, when you are born the natural lay of the land and climate will have predetermined - to an extent - how prosperous a country you will be born into.
History provides the second set of answers. Some countries with natural resources of gas, oil and minerals have been able to utilise their good fortune to enrich their nation (though not necessarily the people who live there). Others have been plundered by aggressive predatory forces hell bent on helping themselves to the assets. Boundaries have been changed through occupation and particularly as a result of the World Wars. These changes were often made by lines being drawn on maps without regard to ancient groupings based on tribal and religious backgrounds - the cause of many long standing disputes and conflicts can be traced back to these actions.
The great thing about this book is that the way it is organised allows these elements to be presented in a logical, organised way that not only makes perfect sense but also allows the reader to understand much of the geopolitical bickering that goes on to this very day. It's a brilliant book and it's bang up to date. I'd urge anyone interested in improving their knowledge of the big picture to grab a copy.