John Gray

The Great Game Goes On

After Tamerlane: The Global History of Empire

By

Allen Lane / The Penguin Press 592pp £25 order from our bookshop

Halford Mackinder is not much read these days. The British geographer and imperialist’s emphasis on the enduring strategic and political importance of the earth’s physical features and resources pricked the complacency of his Edwardian contemporaries, and his ideas had a certain vogue in the interwar years. Notoriously, the Nazis adopted a crude version of his view that whoever controls Eurasia – the ‘world island’ stretching from the Volga to the Yangtze – controls the world. In the aftermath of the Second World War it was widely assumed that geopolitics of this kind was obsolete. Values of democracy and human rights rather than the distribution of resources would shape the future. In fact the struggle for control of natural resources did not abate. An Anglo-American coup removed the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 and re-established Western control of the country’s resources, while the Gulf War of 1990–91 aimed solely to secure global oil supplies. Mackinder’s ideas may have been rejected, but the geopolitical facts on which they were based continued to shape international relations. 

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Why did the 'bold and determined' Empress Matilda never manage to become Queen regnant? Peter Marshall reviews a n… ,
    • From the Archive: Martyn Bedford on Ian McEwan's 'Atonement' ,
    • In 'Silenced Voices' reports the ongoing story of the human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been… ,
    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,