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Summary

A bracing assessment of US foreign policy and world disorder over the past two decades, anchored by a major new Pentagon-commissioned essay - from the renowned geopolitical analyst and best-selling author of The Revenge of Geography and The Coming Anarchy.   

“Elegant and humane...[a] prophecy from an observer with a depressingly accurate record of predictions.” (Bret Stephens, The New York Times Book Review)

In the late 13th century, Marco Polo began a decades-long trek from Venice to China. The strength of that Silk Road - the trade route between Europe and Asia - was a foundation of Kublai Khan’s sprawling empire. Now, in the early 21st century, the Chinese regime has proposed a land-and-maritime Silk Road that duplicates exactly the route Marco Polo traveled.

In the major lead essay, recently released by the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, Robert D. Kaplan lays out a blueprint of the world’s changing power politics that recalls the late 13th century. As Europe fractures from changes in culture and migration, Eurasia coheres into a single conflict system. China is constructing a land bridge to Europe. Iran and India are trying to link the oil fields of Central Asia to the Indian Ocean. America’s ability to influence the power balance in Eurasia is declining.

This is Kaplan’s first collection of essays since his classic The Coming Anarchy was published in 2000. Drawing on decades of firsthand experience as a foreign correspondent and military embed for The Atlantic, as well as encounters with preeminent realist thinkers, Kaplan outlines the timeless principles that should shape America’s role in a turbulent world: a respect for the limits of Western-style democracy; a delineation between American interests and American values; an awareness of the psychological toll of warfare; a projection of power via a strong navy; and more.

From Kaplan’s immediate thoughts on President Trump (“On Foreign Policy, Donald Trump Is No Realist”, 2016) to a frank examination of what will happen in the event of war with North Korea (“When North Korea Falls”, 2006), The Return of Marco Polo’s World is a vigorous and honest reckoning with the difficult choices the United States will face in the years ahead.

“These essays constitute a truly pathbreaking, brilliant synthesis and analysis of geographic, political, technological, and economic trends with far-reaching consequences. The Return of Marco Polo’s World is another work by Robert D. Kaplan that will be regarded as a classic.” [General David Petraeus (US Army, Ret.)]

©2018 Robert D. Kaplan (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic reviews

"An eclectic collection of elegant and humane essays... Above all there is his fascination with the decisive impact of geography on the calculations, ambitions and illusions of statesmen and societies.... [A] prophecy from an observer with a depressingly accurate record of predictions. When it comes to curbing our enthusiasms, Kaplan's achievement is to throw so much shade with so much verve." (Bret Stephens, The New York Times Book Review)

"Thoughtful, unsettling, but not apocalyptic analyses of world affairs flow steadily off the presses, and this is a superior example.... Presented with enough verve and insight to tempt readers to set it aside to reread in a few years." (Kirkus Review)

"An astute, powerfully stated, and bracing presentation." (Booklist)

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One the best books I’ve ever read

Some of the parts are articles from the past. This doesn’t matter because the level of analysis is outstanding. It’s an audiobook I will be revisiting more than once.

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  • Jeff Beardsley
  • 19-05-18

Essays on the Region of the Silk Road

One literary topic that I have been fascinated with for many years is that of the Silk Road; both the ancient and modern variants. I have been fortunate enough to travel through many regions connected with the Silk Road (though Western China has yet to feature in those travels), and have learned much about its geography, history, culture, politics and its people. About 10 years ago I even completed my Master’s Thesis on an issue related to this topic. Great Game, Iron Silk Road, One Belt One Road, Ancient Samarkand and Bukhara: these images and thoughts stir my mind. So…any chance I have to read more about the topic, I am game.

“The Return of Marco Polo's World: War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-First Century” by Robert Kaplan certainly draws from this issue of the Silk Road, but dwells mostly on the modern version and its geopolitical machinations. This is not a book which moves through a thesis in straight form but is rather a compilation of Kaplan’s writings over the past ten years or so. Many of these directly address the Marco Polo geography (think Central Asian “Stans, Iran, Western China, etc.), but at times goes beyond this region. It definitely addresses U.S. and Chinese policy in the region to a great extent. A few of Kaplan’s points that stuck out to me are the following:

• Central Asia will be the place that reveals to us who has the upper hand in regional power.
• Pakistan will be the register that proves if China's “One Belt One Road” policy will work.
• The United States must move from a policy of domain control to one of domain denial in Asia.
• Assessing the Samuel P. Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” more than 20 years later.
• The dangers of Utopianism and the advantages of Realism in a Global context.
• The next 30 years of China's future will not be as easy as the last 30 years of Chinese history.

If any of these points strike your interest and find you wanting to know more about the topic, than I can highly recommend this book. It is a quick read. And, while I was hoping for a bit more than a compilation of essays in this book, it did inform me a great deal beyond my studies of the region. My only real complaint was that many of the essays are dated at this point, and a lot of history has happened in the interim; meaning, the book as a whole may not always read as up-to-date as the reader would wish.

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  • Geoffrey C. Graham
  • 09-04-18

Another excellent book from Robert D. Kaplan

Recommend Marco Polo’s World as a single point of reference on today’s world, and as a gateway to his other recent books: especially Monsoon, Asia’s Cauldron, and The Revenge of Geography.

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  • heather
  • 16-04-18

Ugh

I generally eat this kind of work up, not this one though. The author uses big words to seemingly impress himself, not the reader. His understanding of the US Navy, Naval strategy and tactics is non existent, but he blathers on anyway. Had to stop listening, could not finish, will not finish. Plz give me my 1 credit back that I wasted on this pile of verbal refuse

2 of 7 people found this review helpful