The Age of Walls

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 09 Oct 2018

Member Reviews

So much of my reading about the rise of fascism has been focused on current-day United States - I appreciated the breadth of subject matter in terms of historical context and geographic scope.
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I remember being intrigued by Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography a couple of years ago and he has a new title, THE AGE OF WALLS, about How Barriers Between Nations Are Changing Our World.  He begins with a chapter about the Great Wall of China, "built around a simplistic idea: on one side of it was civilization and on the other barbarity." There, he discusses numerous challenges – ethnic unrest, disparity between rural and urban areas or between young (more educated and technologically savvy) and old – facing China today. THE AGE OF WALLS continues with chapters profiling the USA, Israel/Palestine, Africa, and more.  Near the end, Marshall looks at walls in Europe and the UK which is highly relevant given the ongoing Brexit negotiations. I particularly liked how he repeatedly sets a historical context and also the parallels which Marshall encourages his readers to draw between various regions.  For example, he quotes David Goodhart writing about group identity and the UK with "the people who see the world from Anywhere and the people who see it from Somewhere," describing the Anywheres as tending to do well at school and university, feeling at home wherever they go, "whether that's Berlin, New York, Shanghai, or Mumbai. On the other hand, Somewheres … live within twenty miles of where they grew up and identify with locality, region and country."  This clearly impacts worldviews, attitudes towards migration, and prospects for working together to combat poverty around the globe. THE AGE OF WALLS received a starred review from Booklist.
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Five ILLUMINATING Stars. “The Age of Walls (How Barriers Between Nations Are Changing Our World)” is is a book by talented, globe-trotting, author Tim Marshall who authored the best seller “Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps that Explain Everything about the World”. It is a brilliant examination of current events, in general and specifically, covering many countries and regions around the world. In this often surprising geographical and geopolitical study, the author investigates ‘walls’ around the world that separate countries and in some cases, unusual types of walls and barriers within countries. He also examines internal and external socio-economic and political forces which cause the erection of various types walls. Instead of walls ‘coming down’ as in the case of the Berlin Wall, the oppressed masses fleeing north towards Europe and the United States, and westward towards India, among other countries, are used as one of the reasons for walls ‘going up’. And author Marshall points to many unlikely places where countries are erecting walls. Indeed, dozens of nations have walls, with at least half, so far, going up in the early 21st Century. And he investigates ‘barriers’ within nations that affect internal and external viewpoints of that nation, whether based on economics, class, race, culture, politics, and more. There are very useful maps and photographs included in each chapter. It’s a good idea to keep a separate world map handy when reading this book and just follow along, although he gives many general and more specific maps. Throughout the book he gives the history of an area and the rationale for the fences and walls and historical and prevailing attitudes.

He eventually gets to many famous walls, like the Berlin Wall, Hadrian’s Wall, the US/Mexico border wall, the Israel/Palestine wall, and so on, but he begins with the most famous wall of them all: “The Great Wall of China”, where the author provides what many will view as new information about this ancient and extensive mega-artifact.  And then he gives a fascinating examination of China and its many regions, where there are other walls which are socio-economic ‘divides’ and buffer zones, and even a digital ‘firewall’ that intentionally blocks out much of the external internet from Chinese access, among them. 

This is followed by the USA and Trump’s border wall ambitions as far as Mexico is concerned. He gives a thumbnail history of the border wall across presidencies, the two-way aspect of the wall and some of the many racial, cultural, political, ethnic divides in the US, and more. Then he examines one of the ultimate, enduring ‘hot-button’ international issues, “Israel and Palestine”, and yet another form of wall. This wall is perhaps more ‘in your face’ than all others, being so close and 26 feet high with razor wire at the top, and his description is much more detailed than we allowed to see on TV news. India and its neighbors are next and they get an exhaustive examination, along with their many types of walls, as does Africa where entirely different but more common types of walls are being erected. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the demise Soviet Union, and the rise of the European Union get a trenchant, informative appraisal by author Marshall as he examines the enormous influx of immigrants, refugees, and nationalism issues. There is a paucity of mention of South America except for an instance on the Uruguay and Paraguay border.

   Along the way in this book, we meet “the Walled-Off Hotel” in Israel; a proposed wall meant to ‘sever toes’ of climbers on the USA-Mexico border; a more natural and deadly wall in Morocco; countries with multiple layered walls of different types; “small walls”; the Kuwaiti sand berms; the longest border fence in the world (you’d probably never guess where it is); the longest mine field in the world (guess again); ’high tech’ border walls; mined borders; electrified fences; the border where they actually shoot people trying to enter; and many more fascinating examples of walls and barriers. And there are the political and social considerations of nations and regions that he examines: the many complexities among Jews and Palestinians, the genesis of Pakistan, the genesis of Afghanistan, “climate refugees”, caste systems, religious differences, racial and ethnic divides, eye-opening accounts of present day and ancient Africa, the UK, Ireland, the EU, and places where hordes of refugees are seeking a better way of life, and most poignantly, the symbolic and actual fate of refugee Felani Khatun.

So many walls in so many near and far-flung places and so much evidence of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’, as well as mankind wanting to protect itself from ‘others’. My Highest Recommendation. Five INTENSIVE Stars. (Scribner, Simon and Schuster. 288 pages with black and white maps, graphs, and photographs. Text-to-Speech, Word Wise, Screen Reader, Enhanced Typesetting, and Page Flip are enabled/supported; X-Ray and Lending are not.)
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Interesting exploration of the way that people have constructed division with physical boundaries. It is clearly very timely and engaging and a nice short length but felt incomplete.
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