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

4.11  ·  Rating Details ·  1,204 Ratings  ·  73 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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David P
Nov 29, 2012 David P rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 16, 2010 Hadrian rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, travel
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.
Sep 24, 2007 Kerfe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jul 24, 2013 S. rated it it was amazing
☆☆☆☆☆--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
Mar 20, 2008 Jim rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Feb 27, 2011 Matt rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 26, 2009 Anna rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2009
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
Dec 29, 2014 Florence rated it really liked it
Mr. Kaplan's travels took him through Africa, the mideast, India and Asia during the mid nineties. He traveled by land, whenever possible. These regions have undergone much change since he visited them. Still, it was interesting to read his predictions for the nations he visited and compare them to what actually transpired. He was optimistic that the Islamic Revolution in Iran was losing steam and that relations with the US would soon improve. Other predictions weren't so far off. He sensed an u ...more
Jan 08, 2008 L.J. rated it really liked it
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
Kelly Spoer
Woah. I should probably re-read this one. I don't remember it at.all. But ALL OF THE QUOTES!

"The Nomads are makers of history. Refugees are its victims."

"This was a frightening beauty. It reflected authority without wisdom or balance. The calligraphy suggested such an over-abundance of the *word* that language itself seemed to lose meaning."

"'Pakistan is like an out-patient who refuses his lithium...'" (Washington Post correspondent Steve Coll)

"A school need not be a classroom and a teacher. Nor
Ed Gibney
Oct 12, 2012 Ed Gibney rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 27, 2009 Wendyhgarland rated it it was amazing
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.
Nov 30, 2011 Matthew rated it really liked it
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
Lance Lasalle
Back in the early-to-mid nineties, freed by the end of the Cold War, travelling third-world journalist Robert Kaplan set off on a long journey across some of the war-torn and economically ravaged countries in the Old World(and a few not-so-bad off): Western Africa, Egypt, much of Central Asia, and Indochina, offering his observations and thoughts.

Kaplan is a superior writer who really knows how to show instead of tell. At times his prose verges on the poetic

. There is a running theme throughout
Feb 21, 2017 Hutchoo rated it it was ok
An interesting premise is lost to superficial (and now outdated) writing about countries that happen to form a path from West Africa to Cambodia. For the sake of the continuity of his travel he dedicates a considerable amount of time to talking about countries like Turkey and Iran, two countries with little credibility as 'frontiers of anarchy', but ignores places like the former Yugoslavia. One can detect a Eurocentric bent to his writing, and his chapters on Asia reek of Orientalism. Ultimatel ...more
May 29, 2011 R rated it liked it
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
Michael Clifford
Jun 12, 2016 Michael Clifford rated it really liked it
This book was a tough but interesting read. The author present a kind of geopolitical travelogue of Africa, the near and middle east, Central Asia and Southeast Asia. In each country he presents how the economy, the government, and the people. Many of these countries were formed either after colonialism or the collapse of the Soviet Union and have no real historical/ethnic reason for being a country. This was fascinating to me because I assumed there was some valid reason for a country to be a c ...more
Dennis Nehamen
Nov 17, 2013 Dennis Nehamen rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 25, 2013 Jan rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 02, 2011 Du rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Nov 13, 2015 Kirsten rated it really liked it
I have some issues with Robert Kaplan. I think every Balkanist - and everyone who's not a realist - likely has some issues with Kaplan. But this book gets four stars because it challenged me to think and consider. This may be an older read, but Kaplan's ideas about the fluidity of borders and the ways cultures interact at the margins are essential for anyone interested in geography, international relations, or international politics. And it also makes "Revenge of Geography" easier to understand.
Sep 19, 2012 Diane rated it really liked 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
Aug 30, 2007 Solomon rated it really liked it
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
Aug 23, 2007 Christina rated it it was amazing
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.
Mar 08, 2007 Julie rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 06, 2011 Jimileek rated it really liked it
Shelves: asia, africa
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.
Apr 15, 2011 Jeanine rated it really liked it
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.
Feb 02, 2011 Bridget rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011
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.
Aaron Crossen
May 04, 2007 Aaron Crossen rated it really liked it
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...
Dec 18, 2007 Daric rated it liked it
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
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