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The Ends of the Earth: A Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  981 ratings  ·  61 reviews
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 c ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published January 28th 1997 by Vintage (first published February 1996)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,998)
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A very rushed and superficial narrative through remote corners of the world, filled with little banalities like how dusty it is near the Sahara and dirty toilets in Central Asia.

Though I must add that the chapters on Iran are actually rather nice, and filled with more substantive details about the people of Iran and what they think about the world. A very empathetic look at people where politicking has forced us to view each other as enemies.
This is a depressing book.

A journey through parts of Africa, the Mideast and Asia, it chronicles the depths to which many of the world's peoples, nations, and their environments have sunk, with little to give hope for their renewal or survival.

Some of the intertwined causes: poverty, tyrannical governments, depletion and destruction of resources (the Soviet Union gets lots of points here for "ecocide" as the author terms it), overpopulation, joblessness, loss of family and cultural ties, ethnic
David P
To quote a Chinese curse, we live in interesting times. Within our lifetime the population of the world has doubled or tripled, and many regions are already badly overcrowded. There is no room left for it to double again, something has to give. The West enjoys a measure of stability and prosperity, but much of the less fortunate "third world" lives on the brink, its population still rising and its quality of life still dropping. Where is this leading us? How do people live in those countries, r ...more
If ever there was a travel writer determined to discourage travel, it is Kaplan. Yes, he warns you right from the beginning about his plans to visit the more remote and economically distressed areas, as he covers countries in West Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Indochina. What is generally a compilation of travel essays, it often morphs into a wearying monologue on the tragic results and predicted apocalypse of overpopulation, crumbling and corrupt government, and bad architecture. O ...more
Jan 08, 2008 L.J. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: International Affairs/ Relations studies
A book I read just as I finished my IA degree in '97, and given to me from a friend with similar interests. I had previously read Balkan Ghosts, and Kaplan is a hard writer to read as his style is not page turning, attention grabbing sensationalism but straight forward reportage peppered with educated social commentary. He is a brave soul for his ambition to work in places most journalists wouldn't venture too, and he doesn't pick the most front page conflicts to talk about either (Iran and Cent ...more
Excellent book that I would recommend to any traveler. The author, Mr Kaplan, is incredibly well-read and well-spoken. Kaplan travels a lot and he wrote quite a few travelogues. This one is about his trip to West Africa and Central Asia. To countries the likes of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Togo, Iran, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Pakistan, Thailand, or Cambodia.

The author writes about his experiences and the people he met, but almost always provides an interesting historical perspective.

Here are a
☆☆☆☆☆--Robert D. Kaplan's 1996 ENDS OF THE EARTH is his best work, a true "tour de force" as he backpacks, budget airlines and jeeps his ways from Tehran to Kazakhstan to Thailand. the scope and reach of his travels--Iran itself being worth the price of admission--earns him full accolades as he dares to go where nobody else does and reaches into host culture as well as his vast readings in order to deliver the precise balance of ethnic, class, cultural, and national conflict that characterizes e ...more
The first Robert Kaplan book I read - well written, about parts of the world you might never hear about (and most likely don't know much about). NOT dull non-fiction - reads more like a travelogue. I read "Balkan Ghosts" after this and it was great too.
This book is outstanding. Anyone interested in international affairs, political systems, and the politics of geography should read this. As with most books, I approached "The Ends of the Earth" as a cynic needing to be won over. This book is not a page-turner; Kaplan's prose is cumbersome and laden with so many prepositional phrases that eventually I found myself skimming to get to the "points" (either that or have my eyes glaze over). But once I got used to it, I became absorbed in Kaplan's obs ...more
The Ends of the Earth follows the travelogue-to-places-often-ignored-byeconomist-optimists-combined-with-political-and-anthropological-observation pattern of Kaplan’s previous books Balkan Ghosts and Eastward to Tartary. However the book is not as focused as those books, due to wider spread of his travels and observations on what he has called (in his 1994 Atlantic Monthly cover article) and continues to call “The Coming Anarchy”, and thus the book is somewhat overwhelming. The book is best read ...more
An interesting read in 2011 about traveling to the poorest and most war-torn parts of the world of 1994. Robert D. Kaplan's writing comes off as well-informed and academic (though he's a reported by background). While his Malthusian leanings are the most egregiously inaccurate near 20-years later, the rest of the book's prognostications seem spot on, seeking to find an essential character in each region and projecting it forward. The optimism of China and India contrasts with the lassitude and a ...more
Ed Gibney
Kaplan's travel journals were popular reads among Peace Corps Volunteers when I was serving in Ukraine. The places he went, the history he surveyed, his grasp of cultures and long trends - they all contributed to a deep understanding of places on earth that are normally well outside an American's grasp. Peace Corps made you see what a tourist you were on all your other trips around the world, and that made you long for books like this to help you dive beneath the surface. Once there, the thought ...more
Dennis A Nehamen
To me this is another of those wonderfully informative books. Frankly, traveling with Kaplan on his journey make me grateful to be sitting in the safety and comfort of my back yard. There was no way the man made up the adventure, which is what made it all the more frightful and threatening. That aside, it was an amazingly informative venture in that when the author was finished he'd shared enough of the frontiers of humanity to edify people who will never travel to see it first-hand that it's a ...more
Chris Thorsrud
Kaplan takes the reader to various corners of the world where different levels of anarchy exist. The book was written over 17 years ago, I wonder how these same places are now. Eye-opening, the book details the dark side of people, human nature, evil and destruction. Should be read by everyone.
What a book. Wow. I loved it. Robert Kaplan has such a gift for words as well as for finding the worst elements of a country and investigating and reporting it. He explores and reports from such an interesting point of view. His immersion is succulent and engrossing.

As for the readbility, the best way I can describe it, is that I started the book at page 70 at 8 pm, thinking that I would read 30 or so pages, and then switch to another book. 4 hours later I hit page 329 and realized I was tired a
Interesting to read about travel to places I will likely never go. Eerily prophetic Kaplan's journey changed his thesis and provokes thinking about current problems and particularly overpopulation and it's impact on environment
Great travel and geo-political writing. Kaplan travels on the ground, with the local people, and talks to people who matter. His analysis is always grounded in history. He's always on the gloomy side though when it comes to the future. Ethnic strife, drinking water wars, oil wars, failed states, anarchy etc.. He has even been called a ' pandemonium prophet'. Having travelled a lot myself, especially in Asia, I can understand his worries, but predictions for the future often fail to take account ...more
Shelli King
An interesting perspective. I read this for a class in Middle East Geography. It really gave a more personal flavor to the people and environment. It is a bit superficial in places, but otherwise I enjoyed it.
Liv Houlihan
I loved this book, as I got to learn about all these interesting corners of the earth and edges of civilization that fascinate me yet I have no practical interest in visiting.
He is a brilliant writer. I was not able to relate so much through his travels through Russia and Asia so this book became a little dry for me, but I did enjoy it.
Written in the mid-1990s, the author toured Africa, Turkey and the Caucasus, Iran, and South Asia and reports on his findings. He was somewhat prophetic in some of his observations, but I prefer his books where he focuses on one region of the world. This book tries to cover four very different regions, and he doesn't compare them very much, so it wasn't clear why he combined them all into one book. I thought he could have made a better argument about each of the four regions if he hadn't tried t ...more
Kaplan's overarching theme is that culture is in many ways the most determinate factor affecting the world's societies. Each country he visits in the book is almost like a case study that supports this theory. The book was written in 1996, and so the reader cannot help but notice that many of Kaplan's predictions have proven true. Great section on Iran and central Asia broadly, but the sections on Africa - the first few chapters - suck. Annoyingly, for all his insights, his prose is dry and word ...more
Sep 28, 2007 Christina rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People interested in travel
Robert Kaplan really gets around! He seems to have a knack for showing up in volatile countries just before everything explodes. This is a fascinating book and provides an look inside some of the most unknown and god-forsaken places in the world. His thesis is that the nation state is starting to disintegrate as people line up along lines of nationality or religion. He is optimistic about the future of certain countries but fairly negative about others. This was an extremely informative book.
First off, this book is a bit dated as it's from 1994. So I think this explains a little bit of his "end of the world" stuff with Africa and how off some of his commentary on Cambodia is. However, it's an enjoying read and like other Kaplan books it gives you a good overview of a region that, at least for me, piques my interest in new places. Some of his predictions on Egypt are especially prescient given recent events, and I wonder if he'll be proven true regarding Iran.
Really, this is three stars only in comparison to everything else Kaplan has ever written (that I've read). A less biased review would be four stars. I felt that this book has been rendered ever so slightly irrelevant by the passage of time, whereas his other works seem to stand up pretty well even after a decade or more.

It was also uneven at times - the parts about Africa were great. Egypt - meh. Central Asia - brilliant. Iran - meh. Southeast Asia - brilliant again.
Anuj Bhargava
Almost prophetic in hind sight.
This sort of took me forever to read, but in the end was worth it. A mix of travel writing and political/social commentary on the countries he passes through, it's full of overwhelming information about the complicated turmoil that is the "developing" world. Written in the early 90s, much of the trip talks about the recent fall of communism, but the problems certainly haven't changed much in the last 15 years. Actually, it's mostly worse I think.
Aaron Crossen
Interesting book documenting the economic and cultural problems undermining the development of coherent and competent governments in the third world. A profoundly pessimistic thesis of anarchy and collapse drives Kaplan to look for bright spots in his journeys. For example, the social glue of Islam that holds secular Turkey together in the face of economic modernity and its accompanying horrors, i.e. huge slums. Highly recommended...
I'll buy any book Robert Kaplan publishes. I love that he freely admits in his intro that he was wrong about the conclusions he drew in an earlier book he published. He weaves history, geography, politics, personal experience, in a way that should appeal to academics/geopolitical wonks and travel literature lovers but doesn't put the lay reader to sleep. I feel so smart aFter I read his works. Outstanding.
Dec 18, 2007 Daric rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone
I personally dislike Kaplan's painfully liberal attitudes, which are reflected in his writings. If you can ignore that (or if you're an idiot and you agree with him) the book does give a detailed look at how different the third world is. A must read for anyone who has never traveled outside the US. If you count Cancun as outside the US or even exotic, you are who I mean.
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Robert David Kaplan is an American journalist, currently a National Correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly. His writings have also been featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New Republic, The National Interest, Foreign Affairs and The Wall Street Journal, among other newspapers and publications, and his more controversial essays about the nature of U.S. power have spurred debate ...more
More about Robert D. Kaplan...
Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate Imperial Grunts: On the Ground with the American Military, from Mongolia to the Philippines to Iraq and Beyond Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus

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