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The Return of Marco Polo's World: War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-First Century

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  559 ratings  ·  92 reviews
A bracing assessment of U.S. foreign policy and world disorder over the past two decades, anchored by a major new Pentagon-commissioned essay about changing power dynamics among China, Eurasia, and America--from the renowned geopolitical analyst and bestselling author of The Revenge of Geography and The Coming Anarchy.

In the late thirteenth century, Marco Polo began a deca
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 6th 2018 by Random House (first published March 2018)
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Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: societies
Because the realist knows that he must work with elemental forces rather than against them, he also knows, for example, that order comes before freedom and interests come before values. After all, without order there is no freedom for anybody, and without interests a state has no incentive to project its values.

Check your idealism at the door and get ready for a hard dose of unflinching realpolitik.

There was a time when the word Conservative had intellectual depth to it, a principled set of
Jun 06, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first essay, which compromises about 25% of the book, is new (as far as I can see). The rest are pieces previously published in various magazines. I enjoy his thoughts, but since some is recycled (and the North Korea stuff from 2008ish feels ANCIENT at this point), was a bit let down.

My favorite moments are when Kaplan walks into a hotel in some foreign country and throws 50 books on the history of the country at me while describing history, geography, culture, etc., etc., while he's there.
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
What to make of an establishment foreign policy wonk of the realist school. I am one part interested to see his view of power politics in the global arena but wince at where its applications leave collateral damage. I am interested in the abstract theory but am horrified at the applications in Vietnam, Iraq and other areas of misadventure. I can even understand how political leaders have to have a different moral calculus than the ordinary person but it is disturbing to hear defenses of Kissinge ...more
James Murphy
May 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As always, I learned many things from Kaplan's book--facts, frames of reference, history--while at the same time recognizing that I already share some of those perspectives. The opening piece, carrying the title of the book, describes the old Silk Road that Marco Polo traveled to China and his return via the Indian Ocean. Kaplan is an adherent of the "World-Island" school of geopolitics which thinks of Afro-Eurasia as the most important land mass on the globe and the Indian Ocean as the most imp ...more
John DeRosa
Jul 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Laced throughout with juicy strategic morsels
Charles Gonzalez
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
So if this volume is not on every legislators and Administration bookshelf then the future failures of American foreign and strategic policy will have been preordained. Kaplan hits at the heart of the American conflict - between our geographically inspired idealism and the hard won realism that was our birthright from the Founders. One reads this volume of essays and wonders at the what may have beens while appreciating the special nature of our exceptionalism. Kaplan is no straight-jacketed int ...more
May 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Want to read a geopolitical book that looks at various dimensions and challenges in Eurasia from China, the Middle East, Iran and the steepe? If so this book might be for you. The author is a bestselling author on foreign policies and travel, a political risk consultant, former visiting professor at the Naval Academy (2006-2008) and journalist. Readers don’t have to agree with everything he has to say and still walk away learning a lot and being challenged in a good way in thinking about interna ...more
David Wineberg
Dec 25, 2017 rated it liked it
For decades, Robert Kaplan has immersed himself in conflict. He is an acknowledged expert, and in The Return of Marco Polo’s World, he looks both forward and backward. What he sees is more of the same, but geographically shifting to Eurasia.

The best section by far is the first, where he analyzes the state of the world and projects future conflagrations from past experience and current developments. China is his focus, with its national policy on trading along the Marco Polo Silk Road, west towar
Jul 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Robert Kaplan has really fashioned himself as the American liberal establishment's own version of Marco Polo, so its fitting enough that he has now written a book titled after his progenitor. Not a travel book however, this is an uneven collection of essays of his written over the past several years and anchored by a Pentagon commissioned study on the coalescence of the Eurasian continent. I found the study to be an underwhelming reflection on things that are very obvious to any reader of the ne ...more
Ronit Konch
Interesting take on the future of the world and the challenges facing it, albeit from a strictly American and security point of view. The name of the book comes from the opening piece which is the most comprehensive of the articles. Makes the case for a world order in which America will continue to play an important role though its relative power will decline leading to a more anarchic world (taken to mean there will be no single authority) where increasing economic prosperity and globalization ...more
Dave Schoettinger
Sep 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
The reference to Marco Polo in the title of this work has nothing to do with the popular swimming pool game. Instead, the author is referring to Central Asia no longer being part of the Soviet Union or, before that, the Russian Empire, so that overland travel between the Mediterranean and Chine is once again viable as it was 700 years ago when Marco Polo and other merchants made that trip.

Robert Kaplan is a devotee of geopolitics and in the tradition of Mahan and Mackinder, Kaplan has a tendenc
Apr 21, 2020 rated it it was ok
A 'Greatest Hits' collection of essays that's disjointed and stale.

Essay collections from contemporary geopolitical thinkers are risky propositions. There's a risk that what you're writing about gets OBE (overcome by events) but also a risk that merely recapping what you wrote over the past year presents too limited a perspective to be useful.

Kaplan's 2018 collection of essays is more the former as it includes essays going all the way back to 2006 which appear positively quaint in hindsight.

Jul 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Being a collection of essays could obviously use more structure. However, it does say in simple and clear language things that are worth saying. To put it differently, it simplifies the world without being ahistorical of strong evidence.
Kevin Christiansen
Solid collection of essays from Kaplan. A nice overview on international relations with an emphasis on realism.
Patrick F
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the best essay collections I've read yet; especially pertaining to international relations, history, and U.S. foreign policy. This is as realist as one gets.
George Siehl
Robert D. Kaplan's books remain addictive. This one deserves five stars on the basis of intellectual content and quality of writing. The last star is withheld because it is lacking maps, unlike his earlier Monsoon, which featured a map for every chapter. This book consists of a declassified report he wrote for the Defense Department, along with reprinted Kaplan articles from magazines over the past two decades. Each chapter would be greatly enriched by maps of the quality of those in Monsoon. Ra ...more
Rebecca Wilkins
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
This is probably my 8th Kaplan book and I was really looking forward to something new especially in light of the changes in the US since 2016. I was disappointed to find this to be a collection of his essays that have been published elsewhere and I have already read or essays written as long ago as 2001. "Most people think that they generate their own ideas; in fact, their ideas are prepared by others who think for them." I wanted to Kaplan to think for me as he has become my geopolitical profes ...more
Margaret Sankey
Nov 16, 2017 rated it liked it
I'd rate this higher if I hadn't seen all these essays before--this is a collection of Kaplan's pieces, largely for The Atlantic, on his belief in Central Asia as an emerging center of gravity, and China and Russia's roles there as regional hegemons, as well as promotion of American naval reach as a lifeline. There's a roundup book review about Vietnam memoirs that is worth revisiting, but I don't think he's got a good handle on recent studies of Mongol rule if he's going to make Marco Polo exte ...more
Suvanga Parajuli
Apr 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
This collection of Kaplan’s essays is a good anthology of commentaries on American foreign policy and national interests, written from a realist point of view. Especially the first chapter and those on Kissinger, Huntington and Mearsheimer as well as the one on counterfactuals make an interesting read.
Joseph Spuckler
Oct 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Return of Marco Polo's World: War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-First Century by Robert D Kaplan is a collection of articles on foreign policy. Kaplan is an American author. His books are on politics, primarily foreign affairs, and travel. His work over three decades has appeared in The Atlantic, 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. His more con ...more
Steve Greenleaf
Robert D. Kaplan's latest book (2018) is a collection of essays that he's written for publications such as The Atlantic, The American Interest, The National Interest, and the Washington Post. These essays provide an excellent entry into his observations and thinking if you're not already acquainted with his work, and they offer a delightful refresher if you're already acquainted with him, as I am. Kaplan describes himself (no doubt accurately) as a "foreign correspondent." But he's a foreign cor ...more
Lianne Burwell
May 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Return of Marco Polo's World was a book I felt a little conflicted by.

First off, the essays that made up the middle of the book, originally published in The Atlantic, are based around a number of subjects. There are articles about various thinkers and advisors who tried to guide US foreign policy in a very pragmatic direction. Following high morals just does not work, since what works in North America and Europe isn't necessarily going to work in other parts of the work, and trying to force
Jeff Beardsley
May 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
One literary topic that I have been fascinated with for many years is that of the Silk Road; both the ancient and modern variants. I have been fortunate enough to travel through many regions connected with the Silk Road (though Western China has yet to feature in those travels), and have learned much about its geography, history, culture, politics and its people. About 10 years ago I even completed my Master’s Thesis on an issue related to this topic. Great Game, Iron Silk Road, One Belt One Roa ...more
Mar 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Curiosity – and a joyful quest for wonder. For wonder is not something that hangs low on branches for the feckless or lazy to grasp. Wonder is a reward for hard work, searching and understanding and discovery – a journey which begins with curiosity.

Robert D. Kaplan has two main, overarching theses that come through in all of his books. The first is what he sometimes calls “the revenge of geography”. That place matters, the mountains and the dales and the passes – the seas and the straits and the
Mar 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The standouts of this volume, and indeed, what are unique to this volume, are the titular Return of Marco Polo's World and Marco Polo Redux, the former in itself justifies the purchase of the book, even if one does not read the whole thing.
As for the rest, should one persevere? Well yes and no. For this reader, yes as Kaplan's writing style is immensely readable and informative, however, the earlier chapter, War and Its Costs, becomes very familiar very fast, and at times seems like an extended
Aug 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: listened-2018
Kaplan is insightful as usual in this quick read. However, his collection of reflections and insights into the war and strategy in the 21st century are not necessarily unique or very deep. Kaplan suggests that the US must adopt a Realist view of foreign policy, but does not fully address domestic political constraints, what the US should do, or even what endstate the US should pursue to achieve its national security goals in East Asia. If the US reserves the right for itself to project military ...more
Steve Majerus-Collins
This is a collection of essays that Robert D. Kaplan wrote during the past couple of decades, many of them pieces I read years ago. Kaplan has a fine sense of history and a hard-nosed realism that often leads him to breathtaking clarity about events that seem to be spinning out of control across the globe. He is firmly in the camp of foreign policy realists and skeptical of the idealistic streak that runs through America's stance on issue after issue. The funny thing is, he's not wrong. The tren ...more
Reader Variety
May 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: commentary, essays
Superb summary of the development of Realist thought, and how the Realist approach viewed and views the pressing issues of the modern age. Refreshing that Kaplan can point out where he has erred, and include a variety of his previous issues that are intertwined.

He explains the tenets of the Realist school early: respect for the limits of democracy, recognition of interests vs. values, understanding the psychological toll of warfare, need for a strong navy.

Kaplan sees the world today as a result
Scott Martin
Jul 01, 2018 rated it liked it
(Audiobook). This work is a compilation of essays written by Robert Kaplan, attempting to offer an assessment of US foreign policy and where it might go (or should go) in the future. It combines journalistic story telling with academic analysis. Kaplan takes a realist view of international relations, where nation states are constantly striving to deter and establish their security in a hostile and competitive world. His works span the years from the Cold War to the presidency of Donald Trump. It ...more
Aug 24, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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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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“The EU gave both political support and quotidian substance to the values inherent in NATO—those values being, generally, the rule of law over arbitrary fiat, legal states over ethnic nations, and the protection of the individual no matter his race or religion. Democracy, after all, is less about elections than about impartial institutions.” 2 likes
“The more urbanized, the more educated, and even the more enlightened the world becomes, counterintuitively, the more politically unstable it becomes, too.*42 This is what techno-optimists and those who inhabit the world of fancy corporate gatherings are prone to miss: They wrongly equate wealth creation—and unevenly distributed wealth creation at that—with political order and stability.” 2 likes
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