• The Return of Marco Polo's World

  • War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-First Century
  • By: Robert D. Kaplan
  • Narrated by: Eric Jason Martin
  • Length: 9 hrs and 24 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (244 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

A bracing assessment of US foreign policy and world disorder over the past two decades from the bestselling author of The Revenge of Geography and The Coming Anarchy.

“[Kaplan] has emerged not only as an eloquent defender of foreign-policy realism but as a grand strategist to whom the Pentagon turns for a tour d’horizon.” (The Wall Street Journal)

In the late 13th century, Marco Polo began a decades-long trek from Venice to China along the trade route between Europe and Asia known as the Silk Road - a foundation of Kublai Khan’s sprawling empire. Now, in the early 21st century, the Chinese regime has proposed a land-and-maritime Silk Road that duplicates exactly the route Marco Polo traveled. 

Drawing on decades of firsthand experience as a foreign correspondent and military embed for The Atlantic, Robert D. Kaplan outlines the timeless principles that should shape America’s role in a turbulent world that encompasses the Chinese challenge. 

From Kaplan’s immediate thoughts on President Trump to a frank examination of what will happen in the event of war with North Korea, these essays are a vigorous reckoning with the difficult choices the US will face in the years ahead.

Praise for The Return of Marco Polo’s World:

“Elegant and humane...[a] prophecy from an observer with a depressingly accurate record of predictions.” (Bret Stephens, The New York Times Book Review)

“These essays constitute a truly pathbreaking, brilliant synthesis and analysis of geographic, political, technological, and economic trends with far-reaching consequences. The Return of Marco Polo’s World is another work by Robert D. Kaplan that will be regarded as a classic.” (General David Petraeus, US Army, Ret.)

“Thoughtful, unsettling, but not apocalyptic analyses of world affairs flow steadily off the presses, and this is a superior example.... Presented with enough verve and insight to tempt readers to set it aside to reread in a few years.” (Kirkus Review, starred review)

“An astute, powerfully stated, and bracing presentation.” (Booklist)

“This volume compiles sixteen major essays on America’s foreign policy from national security commentator Kaplan.... An overview of thoughtful, multilayered positions and perspectives evolving through changing circumstances.” (Publishers Weekly)

©2018 Robert D. Kaplan (P)2018 Random House Audio

What listeners say about The Return of Marco Polo's World

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    4 out of 5 stars

Essays on the Region of the Silk Road

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 Road, Ancient Samarkand and Bukhara: these images and thoughts stir my mind. So…any chance I have to read more about the topic, I am game.

“The Return of Marco Polo's World: War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-First Century” by Robert Kaplan certainly draws from this issue of the Silk Road, but dwells mostly on the modern version and its geopolitical machinations. This is not a book which moves through a thesis in straight form but is rather a compilation of Kaplan’s writings over the past ten years or so. Many of these directly address the Marco Polo geography (think Central Asian “Stans, Iran, Western China, etc.), but at times goes beyond this region. It definitely addresses U.S. and Chinese policy in the region to a great extent. A few of Kaplan’s points that stuck out to me are the following:

• Central Asia will be the place that reveals to us who has the upper hand in regional power.
• Pakistan will be the register that proves if China's “One Belt One Road” policy will work.
• The United States must move from a policy of domain control to one of domain denial in Asia.
• Assessing the Samuel P. Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” more than 20 years later.
• The dangers of Utopianism and the advantages of Realism in a Global context.
• The next 30 years of China's future will not be as easy as the last 30 years of Chinese history.

If any of these points strike your interest and find you wanting to know more about the topic, than I can highly recommend this book. It is a quick read. And, while I was hoping for a bit more than a compilation of essays in this book, it did inform me a great deal beyond my studies of the region. My only real complaint was that many of the essays are dated at this point, and a lot of history has happened in the interim; meaning, the book as a whole may not always read as up-to-date as the reader would wish.

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highly opinionated provocative but interesting

very good series of essays with a prescient description of Trump. totalitarianism could rear its ugly head again

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Narrator sounds like a robot.

Book was good and insightful, but the narrator was so monotone. Please add some energy next time.

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Another excellent book from Robert Kaplan

Another excellent treatment of world history and politics by Robert Kaplan. Covers a lot of ground, and he tends towards a conservative viewpoint, but he knows what he's talking about.

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Informative, educational and skilfully narrated

A very insightful piece of work utilizing various notably political scientist, academics, and historical events in tandem with geography and potential future outcomes of recent events. The book was easy to listen to and provided examples and recommended readings based off the author's work.

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Fantastically illuminating!

Must read. Jan packed with incredible information. One of the best geopolitical books I’ve read!

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A Bit Disjointed

It was classic Kaplan with incredible insight but I found it difficult to follow. Made up of his magazine features I could not find unifying themes to take me along any progression of a theory.

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Balanced Realism

A good balance different political schools of thought and survey of international politics and diplomacy.

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Great Perspective and Outlook on complex strategy

I really enjoyed hearing an explanation of the strategic thought and developments from various strategic thinkers. Hearing the impact culture has on the thoughts of the region and the importance of the Persian Gulf and Asia really puts into perspective some countries decisions recently.

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Another excellent book from Robert D. Kaplan

Recommend Marco Polo’s World as a single point of reference on today’s world, and as a gateway to his other recent books: especially Monsoon, Asia’s Cauldron, and The Revenge of Geography.

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  • Dan
  • 03-01-21

Deterministic, hubristic, poor

Unfortunately Robert Kaplan writes with tremendous hubris and determinism about cultures, governments, and events about which he clearly knows little. Reading this book without being equipped with knowledge to dispute it will do worse than leaving you uninformed - it will leave you misinformed.

As a military officer, the awe with which he writes about soldiers as superhuman, brave, or particularly conservative do not match up with my experience. In fact it nauseated me and made it apparent that this is what happens to societies with such a stark civ-mil divide.

Remember this quote: “the society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.” I would change that quote in light of this book: “the society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by misinformed pundits and its fighting done by fools with hero complexes.”

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  • Benjamin Long
  • 02-04-21

Seemed to be utter claptrap. Could barely get through it.

Recommend avoiding at all costs. Weird that this is even published outside. Not sure what else to say.

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  • Darius Defoe
  • 08-24-19

Should be shorter

First off, this is not a novel - it is a collection of essays, most of which Robert D. Kaplan had written for the Atlantic magazine during the Obama years. While Kaplan’s combination of humanism and realism is refreshing, there is not much in here that couldn’t be explained in half as many words. Most of his ideas - perhaps like many good ones - are simple and could be grasped by a four year old. Even his excellent chapter on Vietnam war veterans and their heroic albeit forgotten sacrifices is bogged down by constant repetition to drive his point home. Nevertheless, I will continue to read him because of his charisma as a narrator and his fearless commentary.

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  • Pen Name
  • 07-25-18

One the best books I’ve ever read

Some of the parts are articles from the past. This doesn’t matter because the level of analysis is outstanding. It’s an audiobook I will be revisiting more than once.