When Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016, the 48 percent who wanted to stay and the 52 percent who wanted to go each accused the other of stupidity, fraud, and treason. In reality, the Brexit debate merely reran a script written eight thousand years earlier, when the rising seas physically separated the British Isles from the European continent. Ever since, geography has been destiny―yet it is humans who get to decide what that destiny means.
Ian Morris, the critically acclaimed author of Why the West Rules―for Now, describes how technology and organization have steadily enlarged Britain's arena, and how its people have tried to turn this to their advantage. For the first seventy-five hundred years, the British were never more than bit players at the western edge of a European stage, struggling to find a role among bigger, richer, and more sophisticated continental rivals. By 1500 CE, however, new kinds of ships and governments had turned the European stage into an Atlantic one; with the English Channel now functioning as a barrier, England transformed the British Isles into a United Kingdom that created a worldwide empire. Since 1900, however, thanks to rapid globalization, Britain has been overshadowed by American, European, and―increasingly―Chinese actors. But in trying to find its place in a global economy, Britain has been looking in all the wrong places. The eight-thousand-year story bracingly chronicled by Geography Is Destiny shows that the great question for the coming century is not what to do about Brussels; it's what to do about Beijing.