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Surrender or Starve: Travels in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  382 ratings  ·  38 reviews
Robert D. Kaplan is one of our leading international journalists, someone who can explain the most complicated and volatile regions and show why they’re relevant to our world. In Surrender or Starve, Kaplan illuminates the fault lines in the Horn of Africa, which is emerging as a crucial region for America’s ongoing war on terrorism.

Reporting from Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia
Paperback, 240 pages
Published November 11th 2003 by Vintage (first published 1988)
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3.67  · 
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 ·  382 ratings  ·  38 reviews

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Shiva Subramanyam
Apr 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
This is heavily biased book. Seems more like a cold war propaganda. Except some basic info on issues between ethiopia and eritrea, writes acts as a spokesperson for Regan administration. People who are interested in neutral reporting, please avoid this book.
Sean Mccarrey
Jan 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
My big issue with this book was the blatant bias Kaplan shows towards the Reagan administrations and colonialism. Despite the obvious flaws in both, Reagan's inability to operate in any diplomatic form on the international stage, and the ills of colonialism, such as murder, systematic destruction, segregation, etc. Kaplan chooses to look past these things. In Eritrea Kaplan makes quite the hooplah over how Italians civilized the Eritreans and how grateful they are for it. Perhaps, Kaplan should ...more
Oct 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
As someone who has been a fan of Kaplan's work for sometime, it was a pleasure to finally read his first book, and a decent entry into the literary world it is.
Concerning mainly Ethiopia, and what would later become the separate country of Eritrea, we are given essentially a journey through history, as Kaplan recounts the long history of divisions in what was then Ethiopia, reaching back to Italian colonial intervention, up to the present, with the Soviet sponsored Dergue government.
What is reve
Nov 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Surrender or Starve: Travels in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea is not, as the title might suggest, a travel book, but rather a geopolitical discourse on a a crucial period in the Horn of Africa's history. At its heart this is predominantly a story of the modern history of Ethiopia between 1984 and 1987 during which the western media beamed in images of a drought-scarred landscape and heart-rending famine scenes that led to the 1985 Live Aid benefit concert which I can still recall some th ...more
Feb 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
Although Kaplan comes across as biased in some sections of the text (his description of the Amharas in Ethiopia as basically an inherently misanthropist race comes to mind as one example), the book is an excellent introduction to the politics of the Horn of Africa (and how the related to the rest of the world) during the 1980s.

Kaplan casts blame for the famine on all of the appropriate sources - from the corrupt African government officials caught up in war, to the naivete and misguided, yet lof
Kojo Douglas
Dec 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
I read this book twice. Once in 2012 when I was moving to Ethiopia, and just this week after working in the Horn of Africa for 7 years (in Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Sudan). It is difficult to read because the long and meandering chapters, and it is extraordinarily outdated because it is mostly (almost solely) concerned with Cold War era politics. It does provide a good snapshot of early 1990s attitudes towards food aid and the geo-politics of international development.
May 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book was an incredibly valuable snapshot of the on-the-ground realities and political intricacies of the Horn of Africa in the 1980's. However, if I hadn't read What is the What and wasn't moving to Ethiopia in August, I might not have been able to read it all cover to cover because it's so heavily laden in comments on the Soviets and Ronald Reagan that aren't affecting the region two decades later.
Aug 02, 2008 rated it it was ok
This book was a useful history lesson, but the writing was relatively dry and I'm not sure the author has proven to be a credible journalist or writer. An interesting and informative critique of much of Kaplan's work can be found here: The Case Against Kaplan. Overall, I agree with the author of the linked article -- this isn't a bad book, but it isn't a great book either.
Magnus Stanke
Aug 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ethopia
I'll not go into detail of how much I disagree with Kaplan on many issues (political and cultural) since, unlike him, I'm neither US American nor of the conservative persuation.

I agree with other reviewers here, there's an unforgivable amount of repetition and the 'Travels' of the title is misleading. However, the fact that a lot of the information here is dated can hardly be held against the book.
So, once I disregard the ideological discrapancies in outlook between the author and myself there
Patrick McCoy
Sep 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
When I bought the book on Rwanda, it was from a book display with books about Africa, I also picked up Surrender Or Starve by Robert D. Kaplan, since I was a fan of his writing for Atlantic Monthly and his other books (The Coming Anarchy, The Ends of the Earth, and Balkan Ghosts). His journalism reads like a travelogue with interesting asides about the history and culture of the region supplemented by political analysis. I find his writing extremely informative. This book is no exception. He set ...more
May 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
I love books that throw cold water in my face and change my perspective on an issue. Robert D. Kaplan, one of our great international journalists, verbally flays the news media and the Carter Administration in his expose of the Horn of Africa tragedy in the 1970/80's. The media reported the famine like it was a natural disaster--similar to the Japanese tsunami. In fact, as Kaplan reports, it was a political famine and the media was derelict by not making an effort to explain this to the western ...more
Anne-Marie Hodge
I picked this up expecting it to be a Theroux-esque travel book, but it is definitely not. It is, however, an eye-opening account of the political machinations that facilitated, and sometimes even created, the Ethiopian and Sudanese famines that the media largely attributed to drought in the late 70s and 80s. I love books that teach me "how much I didn't know I didn't know" about something, and this one definitely counts. Ethiopia is an incredibly fascinating place -- the only African country ne ...more
Kaplan is definitely very far to the right in American politics, but a lot of what he says is right, even in hindsight. Other reviewers are right in that he does often sound like a Reagan spokesman, but the situation in Ethiopia was much more complex than was being told.

I had heard about the East African famines before, even though they occurred over 10 years before I was born. I had always assumed they were simple natural disasters, occurring from over-farming or drought. This book really ope
Apr 17, 2008 rated it liked it
The title of this book is very deceiving....Travels in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea....OK so "Discussions of current affairs in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somlaia and Eritrea" probably would not grab too many eager readers but that in a nutshell was what this book was about. I for some reason was thinking it was a kind of travel book but I should have known what it would have been about since Robert Kaplan wrote it. Don't get me wrong I really found the book to quite interesting. I am not very fam ...more
Theresa Leone Davidson
Sep 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
This was written a while ago, in 1988, and although it has new comments at the beginning and end by the author, journalist Robert Kaplan, it is still a bit dated, with a lot more misery having been inflicted on these countries since. On the other hand, what it does tell about the crippling famine, regional conflicts and general strife in these countries is incredibly sad, very well written, and worth the time and emotional investment.
Sep 18, 2008 rated it liked it
Kaplan's always a good read. This is one of his first books, dealing with the 1980's famine and the original Eritrean war. He seems to have been a bit more conservative politically than he later became, and there are a lot of annoying digs at "humanitarianism." Still, his writing is excellent, as always, and he always manages to incorporate more points of view than most people calling themselves journalists. I learned a lot from a pretty short book.
Kenneth E Mayer
Nov 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting view of Africa in the 1980s

Kaplan has great books because he is on the ground, describing what he sees. This one would have been better if I would have read it years ago. Still, it is a good history of the region. You can tell it was one of the first books that he wrote. Sometimes you lose track of the people he is writing about. But overall, it is a good read, especially if you like his other books.
Oct 14, 2008 rated it liked it
Although a bit dated, ok really dated, this is an interesting read about Ethiopia's famine(s) in the 80s and the civil war. Kaplan crosses the Ethiopian, Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia borders to highlight why the famine was happening and the ill conceived politics behind it. He does a good job of highlighting why the US policy in Ethiopia in the 80s didn't work. There are points that he makes, like how the US was giving weapons to Afghans but not to Ethiopians or Eritreans, that now seem crazy.
Sep 27, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: university, somalia
I wouldn't recommend this to my worst enemy. STAY AWAY FROM THIS BOOK IF YOU CARE AT ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE OF THE HORN OF AFRICA. On the other hand, if your a casual western reader wanting to learn about far away peoples whom you will probably never encounter... knock yourself out. You probably won't care enough and will gladly overlook the offensiveness of Kaplan's portrayal of the people and leaders of this region.
Sep 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
I have my issues with Kaplan and his odd arguments and conclusions (he cites Alan Keyes as a voice of Black American in one passage), nevertheless, his descriptive writing is at its best here and this is one of only three major books about the region and time and political/security situation it describes – it’s basically a must read.
Dec 13, 2011 rated it liked it
Not at all what I was anticipating. Instead of a first hand travelogue, this was much more an analysis of the political and historical climate surrounding the famine of the mid 80's. Unforgiving to both the US and African nations governments, this reporter paints a grim picture of the causes of famine and the results of relief efforts.
Aug 15, 2008 rated it it was ok
Although I usually enjoy Kaplan, he wore me out with this one. He digresses from his forte of providing, in one book, sanpshots of history, travel, and analysis from diverse places. Instead, this book covers the history and analysis of just one (okay, 2) countries across a long timeline. The result is tedious.
Jan 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
Wow- I knew nothing of East African politics and famine issues. Though not as well written and enjoyable to read, it taught me alot about America and Russian politcs in Ethiopia and Eritrea and other East African states.
Aug 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was brilliant. A really interesting insight into the Horn of Africa during the 80's and 90's when the worlds perspective on Ethiopia and surrounding countries was set by World Vision ads of starving children. What really happened? What still happens? Check this book out for sure!
Roman Ginzburg
Apr 16, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: ref-corps
Author tells a very pro-Eritrea story concerning the last forty years in the horn of Africa. To confess, I read about 2/3rds of the book skipping around after the first half because I felt the book became a bit repetitive.
David Smith
Jul 25, 2011 rated it liked it
Words don't come easy on this one. There's a lot of Robert Kaplan in the book, and, while refreshing to know what the author thinks, I need time to digest, and wouldn't mind talking to others about it.
Mar 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
A history of strife and struggle in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea
Although written several years ago, and much has since changed in the region, this book still offers insights into current events in the Horn of Africa.
Jul 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Sep 19, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction, abandoned
i quit. i'm 75 pages in and i have no idea what is going on. this could have potentially been an important book, but it came out as drivel. do not recommend.
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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