Shaped By Geography

What better way to start a new year than a book that is ”like having a light shone on your understanding”.

Prisoners of Geography Ten maps that tell you eveything you need to know about global politics by Tim Marshall offers prescient insights into the way the land on which we live has always shaped – and constrained us.

Geopolitics describes the ways in which international affairs can be understood through geographical factors; not just the physical landscape – the natural barriers of mountains or connections of river networks – but also climate, demographics, cultural regions and access to natural resources.
Factors that impact, from political and military strategy to language, trade and religion.

Africa is a huge continent. Few people realisese how big it is. This is because most of us use the standard Mercator world map. This method of map-drawing, invented by Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569, found favour because it preserved local angular relationships, making navigation easier.
But it also massively distorts size and distances as you get closer to the two poles, because it’s tough to represent a three-dimensional world in a two-dimensional map.

In fact Africa is three times bigger than the USA. You could fit the USA, Greenland, India, China, Spain, France, Germany and the UK into Africa and still have room for most of Eastern Europe.

Africa is far, far longer than usually portrayed, which explains what a momentous acheivement it was the round the Cape of Good Hope – and is a reminder of the importance of the Suez Canal to world trade, since this reduced the sea journey from Western Europe to India by 6,000 miles.

Why the rules of the race changed.

After Africa’s headstart as the place where Homo sapiens originated about 200,000 years ago, the opposite of what one would expect from the runners first off the block happened. 
This book looks at why – and what’s happenend since …

Humans lost the wanderlust
c. 8000 BCE after some who’d wandered off to places such as the Middle East settled down, began farming and creating cities.

As Jared Diamond puts it
”History might have turned out differently if African armies, fed by barnyard-giraffe meat and backed by waves of cavalry mounted on huge rhinos had swept into Europe to overrun its mutton-fed soldiers mounted on puny horses”. (National Geographic article, 2005)

Prisoners of Geography, Tim MarshallFrom my vantage point at the very bottom of this enormous continent, the book helps us ‘get’ why geography matters. 

Marshall unpacks the impact of the Scramble for Africa in the 19th century. He also quantifies how its current de facto imperialist – China – is exploiting Africa’s minerals, precious metals and oil, in the 21st century.

More On The True Size of Africa
Many have noted how the distortion around the poles makes Africa look smaller than Greenland, when in reality Africa is about 14.5 times as big.

In 2010, graphic artist Kai Krause made a map to illustrate just how big the African continent is. He found that he was able to fit the United States, India and much of Europe inside the outline of the African continent.

Inspired by Krause’s map, James Talmage, and Damon Maneice, two computer developers based out of Detroit, created an interactive graphic that really puts the distortion caused by the Mercator map into perspective.

The tool, dubbed “The True Size” allows you to type in the name of any country and move the outline around to see how the scale of the country gets distorted the closer it gets to the poles. (courtesy of The Washington Post)

Try it out to get a true idea of the sheer size of Africa! 

Home page map
: Levassuer, 1852 – Acknowledgment:  

Top map this page: This important map of the world appeared in 1570 in the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum of Abraham Ortelius, the first known significant collection of maps to be published in one tome, comprising all the elements of the modern atlas. This is why the map Typus Orbis Terrarum is of fundamental importance to the entire history of cartography – Acknowledgment:

Comments are closed.