Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Intriguing Insights, And Yet…

Written by: on February 25, 2023

Maps. They tell us the mysteries of the ground upon which we walk. They also highlight the strategies humans have used to mold and shape their lives in their front and backyards, according to their topography, throughout history. I have always loved maps and associate them with new adventures, unique learnings about the world, trail networks in our local Forest Park, and even childhood treasure maps my brother and I created for each other. When I saw that our two readings this week involved maps, I was intrigued.

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps that Explain Everything about the World

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps that Explain Everything about the World, by Tim Marshall, provided an explanation of the ways in which world leaders have developed their strategies for defense and survival around the geography of their nations. Through the illustrations of ten global maps, Marshall points out that, “The land on which we live has always shaped us. It has shaped the wars, the power, politics, and social development of the peoples that now inhabit nearly every part of the earth.”[1] He goes on to say that the choices our leaders make will always be influenced by the rivers, mountains, deserts, lakes, and oceans that “constrain us all – as they always have.”[2] These maps “demonstrate geopolitical fault lines and where political geography potentials lie.”[3] In the author’s opinion, understanding geopolitics and the ways in which people have lived on their land throughout time are crucial to developing an informed view of the world, now and in the future.[4]

The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology

The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology, by Simon Winchester, is the story of William Smith’s discovery of the various strata of the earth and the hand-drawn map he created to reflect those strata. His groundbreaking learnings allowed people to predict the location of natural resources underneath the surface of the earth and broadened human understanding of our world.[5] Says Professor George Davis of the University of Arizona, Smith’s discovery “changed the world of earth sciences and geology and natural history because he basically uncovered the fact that there are such stratigraphic systematics in any given region…and it’s going to be possible to apply this same kind of methodology to any part of the world. Now, we’re applying it to the sea floor bottom.”[6]

A Personal Reaction to the Content

I found the information in these books fascinating. At the same time, as I read, I had a feeling of unsettledness. For the purpose of this blog, I will focus my reactions on just one of the books, Prisoners of Geography.

On the One Hand

I enjoyed and was drawn into this book and learned insights regarding geopolitics that I had not before considered. I especially found Marshall’s discussions on the importance of oceans interesting. I must admit, it had never occurred to me that the extensive Atlantic and Pacific coastlines provide the United States with specific advantages over most other parts of the world. Immediately, my perspective changed on how our leaders have shaped their military and economic strategy throughout our country’s short history. The importance of countries having access to warm water ports also caught my attention. For example, he quotes Peter the Great as encouraging his descendants to do whatever it takes to access warm water, so that they can engage in trade year-round.[7] This explains, in part, Russia’s invasion of Crimea which secured their access to the Port of Sevastopol.[8]

Marshall frequently refers to the disadvantages of the landlocked states. Douglas Webster, professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University, notes that in regard to ocean access, Marshall’s argument is in line with the current thinking of international development agencies.[9] He goes on to cite a report entitled, “The Role of Geographical Factors in Graduation Performance,” which finds that a large percentage of the world’s “least developed countries” are landlocked.[10] As the title of the article indicates, it is interesting to think that a country’s inaccessibility to an ocean could potentially affect the school graduation rates of it’s youth.

On the Other Hand

I appreciate the knowledge gained through this book and at the same time, it bothered me. When I think of the geography of the world, I picture mountains, rivers, oceans, and valleys and the amazing Creator who designed and shaped them. I think of the many ways in which these lands and waters reveal the powerful, vulnerable, peaceful, calm, beautiful character of God. Marshall’s story of geography takes the reader in a different direction. He describes what humans have done and what humans will do, based on the lay of the land where they live. I feel unsettled by this reality. I’m having a difficult time reconciling the use of mountains, oceans, rivers, and plains to fulfill the needs of some, take from others, draw boundaries to keep people in or out, and justify military wars and economic battles. I understand this behavior from a human perspective. What are nations to do in our current world where danger is present and resources can be scarce?

It’s just that, God created the world and everything in it, breathed in life, and called it good. And it seems we have carved it up, battled for it, and called it mine.


I will continue to wrestle with this concept of how leaders, particularly world leaders, in 2023 can lead in our current context and still hold onto awe and respect for a magnificent universe, constructed and formed by a generous and loving God.




[1] Tim Marshall, Prisoners of Geography: 10 Maps That Explain Everything About the World (New York, NY: Scribner, 2015), 1.

[2] Marshall, 2.

[3] Necati Anaz, “Prisoners of geography: ten maps that explain everything about the world, by Tim Marshall,” Strategic Analysis, 40:4, 2016, 334-336, DOI: 10.1080/09700161.2016.1184791, 335.

[4] Marshall, 7.

[5] Simon Winchester, The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology (New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2009), xxi.

[6] Interview with Edmund Nickless and George Davis, “200-Year Anniversary Celebration 2015,” The Geological Society of America, youtube.com/watch?v=5UfGqgbscmQ, 2:33.

[7] Marshall, 19.

[8] Marshall, 22.

[9] Douglas Webster, “Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World,” The American Association of Geographers Review of Books, 5:3, 2017, 192-194, DOI: 10.1080/2325548X.2017.1315255, 193.

[10] Webster, 193.

About the Author

Jenny Steinbrenner Hale

8 responses to “Intriguing Insights, And Yet…”

  1. mm Chad McSwain says:

    Fantastic summary.
    It is a shame that, as the Marshall points out, that geography is the key to understanding our human failings. Reading the book is like a litany of the ways we are in continuous conflict (or avoid it). The only things that seems to create partnerships is our mutual capitalistic motivations. It is a shame that we can not find the innocence of children exploring the woods with our paper maps.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      So true! Thanks, Chad, for your comment. I think you’re on to something in regards to the innocence of children as they enjoy and explore the woods! I actually might be able to use that thought in my NPO!

  2. mm David Beavis says:


    In reading what unsettled you and your conclusion, I thought back to Genesis 1-4. God gives to humanity all that they could ever want, but God sets a limit. Humanity lost sight of all they had access to, and had their minds focused on what they could not have. And thus, as the story goes, there is now striving, greed, and violence, as displayed in the next story of sibling rivalry resulting in death. Isn’t that the story that is repeated over and over? Fighting our “siblings” in order to take what is theirs? I guess the only solution is trusting that our God is very generous, and very wealthy. We have all that we need. Granted, this is easier said from a white male living in a country with access to two great oceans and the incredible river system that is the Mississippi.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Thanks for your comments, David. I like your reference to trusting that God is generous and wealthy. And, I, too, was struck in a new way by the wealth and resources of the US in reading this book. Lord have mercy and give us wisdom.

  3. Tonette Kellett says:


    One of my observations of Marshall included being fascinated with the differences in conclusions between chapter 3 of Marshall’s book on the United States and chapter 4 on Western Europe… one of primarily peace, tranquility and wealth and the other of wars and unrest. And all due to geography. I think there’s more to it, naturally, but it was interesting nonetheless. Both your conclusion, and David’s are appropriate – Lord, grant us wisdom and have mercy on us.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Tonette, Thanks so much for your comments and for sharing your thoughts. I agree. Lord, grant us wisdom and have mercy on us.

      Hope you’ve had a good week!

  4. Alana Hayes says:

    What is a verse that comes to mind when you are praying on your conclusion here:

    “I will continue to wrestle with this concept of how leaders, particularly world leaders, in 2023 can lead in our current context and still hold onto awe and respect for a magnificent universe, constructed and formed by a generous and loving God.”

    Amazing post as always.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Alana, Thanks for reading and for your great question. I think the first chapter of Genesis comes to mind. It’s so full of mystery and awe and power and beauty!

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