Five questions for... Tim Marshall

Five questions for... Tim Marshall

Journalist and author Tim Marshall is releasing an abridged version of his bestselling book on geopolitics, Prisoners of Geography, which is aimed at children and illustrated by Grace Easton and Jessica Smith. He talks to us about working on it here.

Why did you decide to publish Prisoners of Geography in this new format? 

I have to give credit to my publishers Elliott & Thompson for the idea, which like many good ideas was obvious once you'd thought of it. It's a natural fit. Everyone loves maps, and the bite-sized chunks of geography and politics fit perfectly alongside the beautiful drawings. I was on board straightaway and enjoyed the challenge of bringing the topic to a younger audience by paring down the text to focus on the essentials while preserving the clarity of the information. 

How has the book changed from its original edition?

It's a very different book in many ways: different feel, different look, different size. The most obvious change is that instead of accurate scale maps we have the lovely colour artwork by Grace Easton and Jessica Smith which leap out from the page. What I hope is similar is that it still has the ‘Oh yes! Of course!’ factor. By that I mean getting people to realise the implications of information they already know – for example, most people are aware that many of Africa's rivers have waterfalls, but don’t immediately make the connection that this makes it difficult to move cargo along them to develop trade. 

Were you surprised by the response to Prisoners of Geography?

Very pleasantly surprised. I thought it was a good book, and I always try to write clearly about complex subjects some people regard as difficult – such as international relations – but I was expecting it to appeal to a somewhat niche market, not become a bestseller in several countries! I think it came out at a time when politics and international relations were changing quickly and seemingly erratically, so people were looking for a book that could explain the context and logic behind these changes. 
What do you think the role of geopolitics is in today’s world?

I think it’s the same as ever, really. My own view is that geography is not the determining factor in global politics, but it is an important one, and is definitely the most overlooked. All the way back in ancient Greece, for example, Aristotle was using population figures and territory size to explore the ideal way to govern and defend a country. The creation of the Suez Canal completely changed the way trade and international relations operated, cutting days off the time needed to transport goods. And in modern times the need for a warm water port drove Russia to claim Crimea. The actors change, technology changes, sometimes even the geography changes, but geopolitics is still important in order to understand the full picture. 

What do you hope to achieve with the new edition of the book?

I can do no better than paraphrase from my 'Note from the Author' in the new book: "The greatest reward I received from the original edition of Prisoners of Geography was from young students telling me it had inspired them to go to university to study related subjects. If this colourful edition creates similar sparks in younger minds then that too will be the highest possible reward."

Prisoners of Geography: Our World Explained in 12 Simple Maps is published by Simon & Schuster and Elliott & Thompson on 31st October.