Picks and Pans Review: The Ends of the Earth
Shunning destinations favored by Fodor's, journalist Robert Kaplan journeyed 12,000 miles to lands where the air was dirty, the food poor and the hardship of life never hidden. He traveled with only a knapsack, a notebook and the goal of discovering what life in the 21st century will be like. His impressions laid out in The Ends of the Earth are completely enthralling.
Starting in West Africa and heading east to Cambodia, Kaplan examined the disastrous effect high birthrates and diminishing resources have had in some of the poorest and richest countries in the third world. His guides—diplomats, students, businessmen and their wives—help him weave a fascinating blend of travelogue and political commentary. In Iran he examines the consequences of the 1979 revolution and finds a surprisingly progressive, even conciliatory society, where moderates argue with radicals in attempts to spur economic reform. In Central Asia he sees crime and drunkenness filling the vacuum left by the breakup of the Soviet empire.
Kaplan's images are mesmerizing, beautiful and sad. His conclusions, grounded in the grit of life, are never highbrow or abstract. The world he brings home in The Ends of the Earth demands our attention. As borders and distinctions between countries rapidly disappear, the lives—and deaths—of strangers, no matter how foreign or far away, have urgent implications for us all. Overpopulation, disease and environmental degradation travel quickly and without passports. (Random House, $27.50)