On this page we will review books about history and geography which we recommend.

Please see the Maps page for books of maps and books about maps.


Origins by Lewis Dartnell

Lewis Dartnell’s 2019 ‘Origins – How the Earth Shaped Human History’ explores how the geography, geology and earth systems – such as winds – have shaped our evolution and the development of human societies and civilizations. The global system of trade winds enabled the European exploration and then domination of the globe. Mountains proved to be barriers to the dissemination of knowledge in place like New Guinea, while the steppes in Asia and Europe facilitated the transmission of ideas. A great and essential read.


The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan

Peter Frankopan’s 2015 new history of the world, The Silk Roads, is history on a grand scale. Dealing with all world history from the time of Alexander to the present, he examines the trade routes which have delivered religion, fur, slaves, death and destruction, and energy amongst many other things throughout the sweep of recorded history, from a decidedly non-eurocentric viewpoint. It is erudite, filled with historical details, while remaining entirely readable. This is history (and geography) as it should be. There are weaknesses, however, and the book is not the last word on its topics. This is a key text for a geo-historian.

The Silk Roads

Black Sea

In this marvelous work of history (and geography), Black Sea: Coasts and Conquests: From Pericles to Putin, Neal Ascherson, takes us on multiple journeys to the places and peoples of the Black Sea, the cradle of European languages and civilization. While not a chronological timeline history of the rise and fall of empires on the coasts of the sea, the book brings together the story of the peoples of the sea in an engaging and enriching manner so at the end you have a picture of what the sea has meant to people and how the sea has been affected by those who have lived on its shores. The sea and its hinterland, now war torn, has been central to the Greeks, Persians, Turks, Russians, Poles among others. The book will introduce you to the distant past of the Kurgan culture, the Greek city colonies, the Scythians and the Sarmatians, and forgotten empires like the Bosporan Kingdom, as well as the more recent history of the Soviet empire and the post-Soviet ehtno-linguistic conflicts of the 21st century. it is a fascinating story of people, language and belonging, as well as the remarkable wave effects on Europe throughout the ages of the Black Sea peoples.

Black Sea


Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

With the fantastic tile of ‘Prisoners of Geography’ Tim Marshall’s 2015 best-seller clearly demonstrated that geography constrains the choice political leaders can make – it shapes the space in which they operate and limits certain courses of action while encouraging others. The geography of a place shapes both the culture and psychology and history of a nation to a very great extent, and leaders have to operate within these constraints. Geography explains much, though not all, of what has happened and what can happen. Highly recommended.

Prisoners of Geography

The Power of Geography by Tim Marshall

Tim Marshall followed up the success of ‘Prisoners of Geography’ with ‘The Power of Geography’ in 2021. I was disappointed. Instead of the focus on regions and on whole continents of Prisoners, Power looked at individual countries (though Australia is also a continent). Greece and Turkey merited two chapters instead of one as Korea and Japan did in Prisoners. This is probably because Prisoners covered the whole globe and so there was no option but to go more granular. However, the choice of countries, 10 which supposedly ‘reveal the future of our world’ was strangely euro-centric – with the UK, Spain, Greece and Turkey, and with North and South America strangely neglected. The Balkans could have been looked at together, as could southern Africa, and the China Sea could have been the focus of another chapter building on the China chapter of Prisoners. Global trade and logistics could have been the focus of another chapter. This was a missed opportunity.

The Power of Geography

Tim Marshall’s third book in his ‘Geography’ series is ‘The Future of Geography’. I was reluctant to buy this book after the disappointment of ‘The Power of Geography’, but I found a hardback at a good price and took the plunge. Apart from three problems with the book I am glad I did. I learned a lot I did not know about the ongoing space race and a lot about the legal morass space is. I am not sure, though, that the book fulfills its subtitle – How power and politics will change our world. The ‘will’ in this formulation is the typical undeserved hubris of the fortune teller, be it gypsy palm reader or ivory-towered academic, or simple journalist huckster. In this case ‘no-one knows nothin‘.

The three jarring notes are these.

In the early part of the book Marshall spends a lot of time bemoaning the weaponization of space but on page 169 he writes ‘The EU as an institution is as dependent on space=based assets as any other major economic player, but it lacks the means to defend them. It keeps talking about the need to ‘guarantee our ability to operate securely’ in space, but there’s rarely progress on actually building anti-satellite weapons, directed energy guns or jammers.‘ So, are space weapons good or bad?

On page 150, discussing the mysterious holes in the ISS, Marshal states that ‘But the idea an American astronaut, in space, had caused it deliberately was beyond ludicrous and suggested that someone somewhere was trying to shift the blame.‘ While the accusation without evidence by the Russians was ludicrous, the concept of an astronaut doing such as thing is not ludicrous in and of itself.

Finally, on page 151, discussing President Putin’s desires, he comments: ‘With all the former Warsaw pact countries joining NATO at the first opportunity, he watched with alarm as, in his view, NATO advanced towards Russia’s borders. ‘ I would have thought that a geographer would have resisted the ‘in his view‘ in that sentence, as NATO has moved towards Russia’s borders. That’s not a debatable fact. Perhaps Marshall is not as disinterested as he might think he is, or perhaps that phrase was a little bit of necessary rhetorical insurance.

Apart from these three points, ‘The Future of Geography’ is worth a read.

The Future of Geography

The RGS Puzzle Book

Puzzle books have seen a recent resurgence over the last few years. The Royal Geographical Society’s puzzle book is a fine addition to the selection. It focuses on puzzles related to 50 famous explorers, many of whom were closely associated with the Society, thus connecting geography, the story of exploitation, and history. It has a good mixture of map puzzles, word games and trivia questions. It also has three colour inserts focusing on the Society’s collections. A great way to spend a winter evening.

The Royal Geographical Society Puzzle Book


Wayfinding by Michael Bond

In this fascinating book, Michael Bond explores how our brains make the mental maps that keep us orientated and help us navigate the world effectively. He emphasizes the importance of such skills as being part of what it means to be fully human, and laments the impact that electronic maps such as Google Maps is having on our ability to navigate successfully. Having followed the directions in Google maps, when we reach the destination, we have no idea how we got there. And this is a major problem for our understanding of the world, and for feeling part of the world. This is another essential book.