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The Power of Geography - By Tim Marshall

The Power of Geography by Tim Marshall

I read this book as part of the Political Teacher Book Club (@bookpolitics) and once again I have found their suggestions to be thought-provoking and enlightening. All of the Twitter teacher book clubs seem to offer something really important and I have learned so much from their recommendations, even in areas that I thought I knew quite well. Goes to show that you never stop learning, so without further ado – my notes from Tim Marshall’s excellent book.

Note: The biggest takeaway for me from this book was the chapter on the Sahel. I was desperately ignorant of this region and it explains many of the factors behind the appalling plight of migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Europe – and the knock-on political impact this is having. As a result, I decided to do my very own little bit to assist this dire situation. I stumped up $215 dollars in Kiva loans (which are to be recycled once repaid) and created a new Sahel Fund team on the website to encourage others to do the same while also signing up to a modest monthly donation to TreeAid, a UK Charity involved in establishing the so-called ‘Green Wall’ across the Sahel to provide livelihoods and stem the impact of desertification.


Interesting as it is increasingly becoming the front line in the battle between liberal democracy and Xi Jinping’s model of autocracy. Things to note:

1. Original migration was, famously, convicts but then shortly after came a gold rush bringing in Europeans and Asians. After WW2 an influx of ‘Ten Pound Poms’ (so-called because a ticket to Australia cost only a tenner) came. Thereafter a restrictive immigration policy designed to keep out Asians was introduced. All new incomers had to be able to write 50 words in a European language of the immigration officer’s own choosing – so even Asians that could speak English could be excluded by asking to write words in Italian – or Greek – or whatever the official came up with.

2. Direct sea travel between Australia and Asia actually has to pass through a handful of bottlenecks in the islands immediately to the North of the country – this going to be the front line in any future conflict as control of these would enable China to effectively blockade Australian imports.

3. Despite being mineral-rich Australia lacks oil and relies on shipments of refined oil from Japan and South Korea (easy for China to intercept). Australia has a strategic reserve of only 2 weeks – after which it would almost certainly need to sue for peace.


1. Only stopped being Persia in the 1930s. Geographically very harsh, most people live in small mountain communities with distinct cultures and languages - has always encouraged the rulers in Tehran to rule by force to keep the different groups together.

2. Surrounded by a ring of mountains with a salt plain in the middle, excellent natural defenses, only the waterway near Iraq allows for easy access in and out which is why it has always been the focus of fighting.


1. There is a vicious civil war across the region. The Fulani are a people without a state and their nomadic lands stretch across all of the Sahel countries. They were the first people to adopt Islam in West Africa and used to control a large Empire. Longing for these days and their Islamic roots make them perfect targets for Boko Haram. They are fighting wars in all of the Sahel nations and cause troubles in the south for the North African nations too.

2. Add them to the devastation of climate change in the region. With no gov control illegal logging and environmental damage, especially around rare earth mining etc is causing huge soil erosion. Forcing more people out of the region and across the Med to Europe.

3. French military efforts to keep order are a poor sticking plaster and a "green belt" plan to reforest the region has suffered many failures and faces huge logistical problems.


1. There was a satisfying last chapter on space and how this is destined to be (if it isn’t already) a hugely important strategic area. I had heard this before but assumed that space – and earth orbit – to be so vast that it would be difficult for anyone nation to establish a foothold. I was wrong. Very wrong.

2. Low Earth Orbit is key to leaving the earth. Most beyond Earth voyages are likely to take off from this domain – the energy needed to break orbit is so vast it is more economical to reach orbit first before refueling and setting off. He who controls Low Earth Orbit – controls everything. Russian satellites already stalk US ones and have successfully trailed shooting down other satellites – satellite to satellite combat.

3. There are only 5 ‘liberation points’ where the Earth and Moon’s gravity cancel each other out – allowing satellites to sit permanently without burning any fuel – these are strategic choke points in the vastness of space. China has already positioned a satellite in the liberation point that exists on the far side of the moon.

4. The US has created the Artemis Accords to create a legal framework for signed up nations (only a handful of western nations) to allow for transparency and co-operation in moon operations – but Russia and China are not a part and it looks as if there will be a 3-way competition for dominance of space.

5. Reasons to be thankful for space investment that I did not know:

a. Satellites were used to discover the hole in the Ozone layer – vital to life on earth – proving that space technologies may have already saved our species once.

b. Water Recovery Systems on the ISS can recycle 94% of all water onboard – a useful technology for barren areas on Earth.

That’s all folks.

Hope it helps.


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