Bookworm Edition: Who are the real prisoners?

Geography was not my favourite subject in school and the title of the book, “Prisoners of Geography” by Tim Marshall pretty much reflects my feelings towards the subject. And partially why I bought this book.
I wanted to test my triggers towards my love-hate relationship of politics and my lack of interest in geography. I was disappointed. No triggers came up (I’m growing it appears) and I enjoyed the learnings.

I learn about countries in different ways…reading about their history, speaking to people (sometimes) and travelling (I am also learning that if you travel with a closed mind it doesn’t make you well-traveled or worldly, it just makes you well…irritating). Ah…and…there’s the trigger.

I’d never thought much about how geography and the placement of countries affected politics, history, people or the future so this was a good introduction. The chapters are split according to either country or region and each one is a good summary of how geography plays a role in decision-making. Of course, if this book is the only exposure one’s had to countries and politics, it may make it seem like geography is the only reason for the decisions made. Your choice to believe this view or not.

What I absolutely enjoyed is besides the increase in yearning to travel to every continent (#sigh), I also now have a bigger appreciation that every country, every nation has its ups and downs, its pros and cons. Every country has its own story and this book about geopolitics reflected this to me even more.

What grabbed me was how easily we believe ideas simply because it’s what we’ve been shown repeatedly…and when we’re shown the “truth” or an alternative, we shy away from it. As I read about each region, I started to wonder about how what we’re taught in schools or read in the news affects our mindset. For example, the idea that the world map we use does not show the actual size of Africa or that Russia is big, but not that big. “The world’s idea of African geography is flawed. Few realise just how big it is. This is because most of us use the standard Mercator world map.” Now, more questions for me rose…I grew up in Africa and wondered why are we not taught this in schools? What impact would it have to millions of children knowing they grow up in a continent that isn’t as small as the world says it is? I learnt more about Europe and American history in schools than I did about African history…maybe it’s just the schools I went to or curriculum I followed, who knows. But shouldn’t this be different? Isn’t it important? If it wasn’t for someone or something that influenced my thinking, I wouldn’t have probably bothered to dig deep or dig further. Read, Listen, Understand.

This isn’t a self-help or self-growth book. There’s no pointers on how to make yourself a better person. It’s a book about geography and governments and us, the people, who get caught up in the middle. And maybe that’s the point. If we learnt more about why governments make the decisions they make, we’d realise all of us on the ground are being swayed by a sense of patriotism or national identity and not in reality by lines drawn on a map. At the end of the day, we’re simply humans trying to figure out where we fit in according to those lines that we had very little influence over…and is that actually more important than accepting how human we all are?

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