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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Monsoon review

I finally got around to finishing Robert D. Kaplan's Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, which I’d mentioned a few times recently. It’s certainly a book worth reading; it’s hard to imagine what reader would not learn a great deal from it, as the subject matter ranges across thousands of miles and hundreds of years. Kaplan’s known for writing that combines far-flung travelogue with geopolitical strategy. In the past, some of his work has had a hawkish cast. Less so this book, which focuses on soft power and gives China’s government more of a benefit of a doubt than it probably deserves, in light of its stepped-up assertiveness in the past year.

Kaplan is surely right that the Indian Ocean will be highly important -- politically, economically, militarily – throughout this century, though I share the Washington Post reviewer's suspicion that he’s conflating places he finds interesting with those that are or will be important in the wider world. Having spent time in some wonderful places in Nepal and northern India last year, I can see how easy it would be to blur that distinction. Nevertheless, this is a valuable book about a vast region that’s too readily relegated to the bottom of our mental maps.

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