As a boy, Robert D. Kaplan listened to his truck-driver father tell evocative stories about traveling across America in his youth, travels in which he learned to understand the country literally from the ground up. There was a specific phrase from Kaplanâs childhood that captured this perspective: A westward traveler must âearn the Rockiesâ by drivingânot flyingâacross the flat Midwest and Great Plains.
In Earning the Rockies, Kaplan undertakes his own cross-country journey to recapture an appreciation of American geography often lost in the jet age. Traveling west, in the same direction as the pioneers, Kaplan traverses a rich and varied landscape that remains the primary source of American power. Along the way, he witnesses both prosperity and declineâincreasingly cosmopolitan cities that thrive on globalization, impoverished towns denuded by the loss of manufacturingâand paints a bracingly clear picture of America today.
The history of westward expansion is examined here in a new lightâas a story not just of genocide and individualism, but also of communalism and a respect for the limits of a water-starved terrain, a frontier experience that bent our national character toward pragmatism. Kaplan shows how the great midcentury works of geography and geopolitics by Bernard DeVoto, Walter Prescott Webb, and Wallace Stegner are more relevant today than ever before. Concluding his journey at Naval Base San Diego, Kaplan looks out across the Pacific Ocean to the next frontier: China, India, and the emerging nations of Asia. And in the final chapter, he provides a gripping description of an anarchic world and explains why Americaâs foreign policy response ought to be rooted in its own geographical situation.
In this short, intense meditation on the American landscape, Robert D. Kaplan reminds us of an overlooked source of American strength: the fact that we are a nation, empire, and continent all at once. Earning the Rockies is an urgent reminder of how a nationâs geography still foreshadows its future, and how we must reexamine our own landscape in order to confront the challenges that lie before us.
Praise for Earning the Rockies
âThere is more insight here into the Age of Trump than in bushels of political-horse-race journalism. . . . Earning the Rockies is a tonic, because it brings fundamentals back into view.ââThe New York Times Book Review (Editorsâ Choice)
âA sui generis writer . . . Americaâs East Coast establishment has only one Robert Kaplan, someone as fluently knowledgeable about the Balkans, Iraq, Central Asia and West Africa as he is about Ohio and Wyoming.ââFinancial Times
âKaplan has pursued stories in places as remote as Yemen and Outer Mongolia. In Earning the Rockies, he visits a place almost as remote to many Americans: these United States. . . . The authorâs point is a good one: America is formed, in part, by a geographic setting that is both sanctuary and watchtower.ââThe Wall Street Journal
âAÂ brilliant reminder of the impact of Americaâs geography on its strategy. . . . Kaplanâs latest contribution should be required reading.ââHenry A. Kissinger
âUnflinchingly honest, this refreshing approach shows how ideas from outside Washington, D.C., will balance Americaâs idealism and pragmatism in dealing with a changed world.ââSecretary of Defense James Mattis
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