Is geography destiny? Could it be that the contours of the land mold the way we see ourselves and the world around us? Many of the following authors would argue that this is indeed the case.
Here are thirteen of the best books on geography exploring the invisible connections between who we are and where we are from.
How Geography Shapes America's Role in the World
Robert D. Kaplan
We think we know our own backyard, but do we? In Earning the Rockies, Robert D. Kaplan takes a cross-continental journey across the United States in search of a better understanding of the unique challenges that shaped our country and its people. From parched flatlands to ice-crusted mountains, the North American landscape was a challenge for the pioneers of the past, and that experience helped shape the perspective of their descendants — some of whom still deal with similar issues today.
Mapping the Future of Global Civilization
Advances in technology and a growing global marketplace are making the world a smaller and more interdependent place than it has ever been. Geography may have shaped the world of yesterday, but tomorrow will be shaped by “connectography”: an invisible map of pipelines, data cables, and supply routes. Khanna argues that the United States is being left behind in this new world, and the only chance it has of catching up is by connecting with its continental neighbors.
A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America
North, South, East, and West: We’re not so different — or are we? In American Nations, Colin Woodard makes the case that the United States isn’t that united. America as Colin sees it is a patchwork of very different regional cultures, each with its own perspective on where the country should be going. Seen through this lens, the so-called “culture war” takes on a new, regional context in which political differences may not be as simple to solve as we’d like. Are these fractures in the American foundation repairable?
What if happiness isn’t a state of mind? What if it’s a place? That’s what self-described “grump” Eric Weiner sets out to discover in The Geography of Bliss. During his journey, Weiner visits some of the so-called happiest places on Earth, as well as a few of the least. Along the way, he learns lessons in resilience, humor, and how culture and geography both contribute to how we perceive our place in the world.
If you’ve ever jokingly blamed “something in the water” for the way people behave, then you’re going to love The Geography of Genius. Author Eric Weiner travels the world in search of the hidden connections between where we live and what we create. Could it be that creative meccas like Renaissance Florence and modern day Silicon Valley have more in common than we think? If so, what is it, and how can we use that hidden element to foster ingenuity and personal growth in our own lives?
What if the ways that we see the world are to some extent determined by where we grew up? This is the question that Richard Nisbett sets out to answer in The Geography of Thought. Nisbett looks to ancient philosophy and modern behavioral science to explain how and why the great cultures of the East and West see the world so differently, and what we can all do to bridge the divide between us. In a small world made ever smaller by globalization, Nisbett’s observations are more valuable than ever.
What were the factors that allowed some civilizations to dominate others, and how did they make the world we live in today? In his modern classic Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond explains how an uneven distribution of natural resources, geography, and pure chance created circumstances favorable for technological innovation and expansion for some cultures and not others. In presenting this thesis, Guns, Germs, and Steel lays waste to self-serving, spurious narratives of racial and cultural superiority.
Whether they’re on our phones or in our glove boxes, for most of us maps are just tools for getting from one place to the other. For a small but very committed group of people, they’re much more. Meet the “mapheads”: a community that includes geocachers, world travelers, digital cartographers, and geography geeks of every stripe. Follow “Jeopardy” champion Ken Jennings as he blazes a trail through a world that you never knew existed, and may even find yourself wanting to join.
A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States
George R. Stewart
Looking to get lost for a while? Check out George R. Stewart’s Names on the Land: a surprisingly entertaining account of the people and events responsible for naming the places around you. There’s a story behind every single dot on your road atlas, and Stewart’s book collects some of the most surprising of the bunch. Never dull, and often quite amusing, Names on the Land is a pleasant journey off the beaten path.
Harm de Blij
To what extent does where we were born dictate who we will become? In The Power of Place, author Harm de Blij explains why variances in climate, the uneven distribution of natural resources, and the very landscape itself shapes our culture, language, and who we perceive ourselves — and others — to be. The world isn’t as small or connected as we might imagine, warns de Blij, and continuing to act as if it is may have serious implications for our future.
We tend to think of the borders between nations as being abstract political constructs, but they can be just as much a product of geography as ideology. Rivers, mountains, deserts, and more dictate the shape of a country and the goals of its leaders to a much greater extent than you may realize. In Prisoners of Geography, Marshall explores this hidden dimension and explains how it helps to shape the world we live in today.
What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate
Robert D. Kaplan
National borders change more frequently that natural ones. In The Revenge of Geography, author Robert D. Kaplan argues that the natural landscape offers clues to the conflicts of tomorrow that politicians overlook, and that political policy that fails to take geography into account can only lead to disaster. Completely avoiding conflict may be an impossibility, but we can be better prepared for them by acknowledging the role that geography plays.
It might be hard to believe in an era of ubiquitous GPS, but some of the world’s most fascinating places still can’t be found on any map. In Unruly Places, Alastair Bonnett is your guide to a secret world of imaginary islands, micro-nations, nomadic communities, and other geographic oddities. Whether by intention or accident, these places have escaped the world’s mapmakers, and some of them may be closer than you think!