A History of the World You Won’t Be Able To Put Down

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Geography Is Destiny: Britain and the World, A 10,000-Year History By IAN MORRIS

A review by MONICA WEST

If you are interested in the history of the world, you will love this book. It was a stretch for me to pick it up at the library. It was a huge leap of faith to think it would be interesting.

Have you ever played or been interested in the game of chess? I know a little about chess, its pieces or how the game is played and did not know that it would be like this book.

Monica West

 History and the geography of the world players like the British Isles, America, Russia and China and the Middle East areas of our present-day world.

The book looks at times and leaders who have moved pieces around the world stage from the beginning of people who were hunter gatherers to the massive populations of today.

Counterscarp is the name of the game that we (humans) have been playing since the beginning of time. It is best explained by William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth the First’s most trusted advisor in 1567.

 He warned her “that allies in the Low Countries and Germany constituted the very counterscarp of England” and preserving a counterscarp of allies might be the safest way to keep Spanish power away from the North Sea coast and therefore away from the Isles.

She then sent money and troops to help Dutch rebels. It is the same as in 1949 when Prime minister Harold Macmillan told the Council of Europe that “Britain’s frontier is not on the Channel; it is not even on the Rhine; it is at least on the Elbe.”

 Cecil and Macmillan did not know that counterscarps had already been Britain’s bulwark against invasion for 7,000 years. Order emerges out of chaos. Prehistoric people did not know about this but practiced it for thousands of years.

What they all had in common was geography. The foragers kept out the thieves and foraged from both farm and sea. It was a win-win for both. In each case of hunter gatherers, farming stopped advancing when reaching the edge of a waterway.

These foragers were the counterscarp of newly minted farmers without anyone intending it around 5520 BCE. It collapsed in 4,200 BCE. For whatever reason it collapsed, it was gone.

In 1940 German tanks breached Britain’s counterscarp (Low Countries) and for the British it was catastrophic. Winston Churchill then speaks of fighting in France in the fields and in the streets. For the people of 1940, Churchill organized his countrymen to fight.

 For the Foragers in 4,200 BCE there was nothing to be done. The counterscarp had collapsed. The British in 1940 stood the test and what they have done since has been so interesting. Margaret Thatcher understood the importance of this in 1975 when she declared on the eve of the first Brexit vote, “Britain is inextricably part of Europe and cannot be taken out of it, for Europe is where Britain is and where it has always been.”

 She named it Thatcher’s Law. Ian Morris tackles this history book with tons of notations and interesting and funny quips about policies, times, and men and women that we all have met through different media introduced to us in newspapers, news organizations, and books in school and from libraries.

 He spins history like a good old-fashioned writer with personal anecdotes of place and time and space. The game of chess is played with some calm and matter of fact moves as well as gutsy moves that may or may not work to furnish the win at the end of the game.

 So, it is with countries with all sorts of governances and ideals. All countries know they need counterscarp. Do they know how to keep the peace and keep their counterscarps in place and in play? You will be interested and in awe of this well-written five-star book.

Monica West reviews books for InDepthNH.org. Monica is known for her love of history and her lifelong love for reading. She has a bachelor’s degree in History, with a minor in English. “My years of reading for leisure and pleasure have given me the insight to read a book and analyze the author’s baggage, cargo and ability to write the language of his/her mind and utilize the gift of prose to educate and entertain the reader. Go get a book, read it and enjoy the adventure.”

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