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-by Michael Cromartie

New World Disorder

From the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, journalist Robert Kaplan spent most of his time traveling and writing, reporting from dozens of countries. Kaplan first gained recognition with his third book, Balkan Ghosts (1993), which was read by President Clinton (among many others) to get a handle on what was unfolding in Bosnia. His widely noticed Atlantic Monthly cover story, "The Coming Anarchy" (Feb. 1994), became the basis for his most recent book, The Ends of the Earth: A Journey at the Dawn of the 21st Century (reviewed in B&C, Sept./Oct. 1996).

Kaplan's writing is distinguished by an unusual combination of firsthand authority (he has been everywhere, accumulating an enormous fund of experience) and historically informed insight. The Ends of the Earth is animated by a restless, exuberant zest for travel and an equally passionate desire to understand what is happening in the world. Kaplan is an unsentimental observer, suspicious of grand theories. He makes a wonderful guide. Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center talked recently with Kaplan about his travels and what he has learned from them.

Mention quickly for our readers the places that you visited to write The Ends of the Earth.

For this book, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, China, Pakistan, India, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.

It looks like you picked some of the most difficult places in the world. Why these particular countries?

There were several criteria. As I said early in the book, these countries represent the kinds of places where about 90 or 95 percent of the world's children are now being born. Babies are predominantly being born in either the poorest countries, or the poorest sectors of wealthier countries.

Not in Japan.

Right. In other words, Taiwan and Japan may have extremely high population densities, like Rwanda and Sierra Leone, but those densities have been the same for decades. Those populations ...

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