The Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia: A Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy


Author of Balkan Ghosts, Robert D. Kaplan now travels from West Africa to Southeast Asia to report on a world of disintegrating nation-states, warring nationalities, metastasizing populations, and dwindling resources. He emerges with a gritty tour de force of travel writing and political journalism. Whether he is walking through a shantytown in the Ivory Coast or a death camp in Cambodia, talking with refugees, border guards, or Iranian revolutionaries, Kaplan travels under the most arduous conditions and purveys...
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Author of Balkan Ghosts, Robert D. Kaplan now travels from West Africa to Southeast Asia to report on a world of disintegrating nation-states, warring nationalities, metastasizing populations, and dwindling resources. He emerges with a gritty tour de force of travel writing and political journalism. Whether he is walking through a shantytown in the Ivory Coast or a death camp in Cambodia, talking with refugees, border guards, or Iranian revolutionaries, Kaplan travels under the most arduous conditions and purveys the most startling truths. Intimate and intrepid, erudite and visceral, The Ends of the Earth is an unflinching look at the places and peoples that will make tomorrow's headlines--and the history of the next millennium.

"Kaplan is an American master writing  from hell...Pertinent and compelling."--New York Times Book Review

"An impressive work. Most travel books seem trivial beside it."--Washington Post Book World

The bestselling author of Balkan Ghosts takes readers on a journey through troubled regions where age-old cultural rivalries threaten to reshape the world of tomorrow. From West Africa to the fundamentalist enclaves of Egypt and Iran to the culturally explosive lands of Central Asia, the people who will remake our world tomorrow are profiled.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
After his recent travels through troubled southeastern Europe, Kaplan (Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History) has taken on an even more ambitious itinerary-some of the most inhospitable regions of the globe, both geographically and politically. Starting in West Africa, where he finds that border regions are so porous as to make the concept of countries "largely meaningless,'' he braves the Egyptian desert, then advances through Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, sprawling Turkestan, China and Pakistan and on through Southeast Asia. He advises at the outset that his book "folds international studies into a travelogue.'' Readers looking for an easy ride had better fasten their seat belts, for the author treats us to all sorts of speculation on the condition of humankind as the century is about to turn, along with generous dollops of history. Intermingled with graphic descriptions of exotic locales are highly personal ruminations, one of the most interesting of which is that in some of these lands, "the village came to the city and . . . vanquished it'' by overwhelming modern urban middle-class values. A challenging and engrossing read. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Kaplan, author of Balkan Ghosts (LJ 2/15/93) and a contributing editor to Atlantic Monthly, provoked extensive debate when he initially set out the theme of this book in an article in that magazine. Kaplan journeyed across a mosaic of the world torn by war and cultural conflict-West Africa, Egypt, Iran, Central Asian republics, India, and Southeast Asia. He found cultures and societies in dramatic, often violent change. Kaplan argues that patterns of traditional ethnic conflict will influence much of non-Western international affairs in the 21st century. Like any travel journalist, Kaplan spoke to many people to contribute to his impressions, but one senses that he rarely got below the surface to discover the strength and resiliency of the cultures he encountered. The narrative is fascinating; the conclusions merely impressionistic. Of interest to larger public libraries.-Bill Rau, Takoma Park, Md.
Kirkus Reviews
A "brief romp" through West Africa, Egypt, Iran, Central Asia, western China, Pakistan, India, Vietnam, and Cambodia by Atlantic Monthly contributing editor Kaplan (Balkan Ghosts, 1993, etc.).

You have to hand it to Kaplan. He travels light, he travels dirty, and he goes to places that most travelers would thankfully avoid. He has also done his homework and has a useful frame of reference in which to fit his experiences and observations. Many are valuable. His comments on West Africa evoked wide discussion when they appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. In assessing the value of a diplomat's optimism about Africa, he asks drily, "How did he arrive at the airport?"—a reference to the crime, bribery, and anarchy often associated with mere arrival in Africa, but which high-level diplomats usually avoid. In considering levels of crime in various poor and overcrowded cities, he punctures easy explanations based on cultural factors by comparing similarly horrendous crime rates in Cambodia and Sierra Leone (he had believed that crime rates would be lower in Cambodia, with its ancient civilizations based in written language). Contrary to expectations, in Iran he notes how the country and its culture "appeared minimally affected fifteen years after the revolution." He contrasts the attention given to AIDS with that given to the 100200 million people who contract malaria every year and the 2.5 million people who die annually of the disease. His most enduring impression is of the weakening of state structures throughout the area and the growing strength of ethnic and religious identity.

He covers a much wider area than he did in his more valuable Balkan Ghosts, and his expectations about finding general paradigms are disappointed. Nor are his efforts to make his discoveries relevant to the US very convincing. But for sheer entertainment, vigor, sharp observation, and thoughtful comparison, Kaplan takes a lot of beating.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679751236
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/1997
  • Series: Vintage Departures
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 983,018
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert D. Kaplan is chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor, a private global intelligence firm, and the author of fourteen books on foreign affairs and travel translated into many languages, including The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate; Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power; Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History; and Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos. He has been a foreign correspondent for The Atlantic for more than a quarter-century. In 2011 and 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Kaplan among the world’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers.”
From 2009 to 2011, he served under Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as a member of the Defense Policy Board. Since 2008, he has been a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. From 2006 to 2008, he was the Class of 1960 Distinguished Visiting Professor in National Security at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis.
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Table of Contents

Pt. I West Africa: Back to the Dawn? 1
1 An Unsentimental Journey 3
2 Sierra Leone: From Graham Greene to Thomas Malthus? 32
3 Along the Gulf of Guinea 70
Pt. II The Nile Valley: The Hollow Pyramid 89
4 "Oriental Despotism" 91
5 Islamic Coketown 101
6 Voices of the "Tormented City" 119
Pt. III Anatolia and the Caucasus: The Earth's Strategic Core? 127
7 "The Still Point of the Turning World" 129
8 Mother Lode 142
9 By Caspian Shores 163
Pt. IV The Iranian Plateau: The Earth's "Soft Centre" 173
10 A Country of Flowers and Nightingales 175
11 The Revolution of "the Hand" 188
12 Bazaar States 199
13 Qom's Last Tremors 215
14 The Heart of Persia 225
15 The Tower of Qabus 237
Pt. V Central Asia: Geographical Destinies 243
16 Russian Outpost 245
17 Pre-Byzantine Turks and Civilization Clashes 256
18 Clean Toilets and the Legacy of Empires 273
19 China: "Super-Chaos" and "Physical-Social" Theory 290
20 Strategic Hippie Routes 302
21 The Roof of the World 312
22 The Last Map 325
Pt. VI The Indian Subcontinent and Indochina: The Way of the Future? 339
23 Journey in a Plague Year 341
24 Rishi Valley and Human Ingenuity 354
25 Bangkok: Environmental and Sexual Limits 369
26 Laos, or Greater Siam? 390
27 Cambodia: Back to Sierra Leone? 401
28 Jungle Temples and the "Milk of Chaos" 421
29 One Death at the Edge of the Earth 429
Acknowledgments 439
Bibliography 443
Index 461
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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2004

    A truly accurate analysis

    Kaplan paints a picture of lives cursed by poor political systems that, at the time I read the book, was almost too hard to believe. So I had to check things out for myself. After living in West Africa for five months I can tell you, he nailed it. If you're not up for a rough trip through the Third World, read this book. It's the next best thing than experiencing it yourself.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2004

    A Provocative Travelogue

    Kaplan presents more than a travelogue of some of the most inaccessible places in the world, he also makes a compelling case about why these forgotten pockets need to be of more than passing concern to citizens of developed countries. While the author's characterization of these 'frontiers of anarchy' is provocative, his arguments cannot be ignored.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2001

    And Dante Thought He Knew Inferno

    This is one of the most thought provoking and dangerously depressing books to be published in the last decade. Kaplan clearly outlines the decay of the most far flung peripheries of the planet. This alone seems harmless, yet the reader becomes keenly aware that what's true for Sierra Leone might just become true of the United States. Just as Dante showed us the danger of sin in the Catholic world, so does Kaplan show us the danger of modernity in our modern world.

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    Posted December 1, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2008

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