Bissell on Kaplan

Tom Bissell’s essay on Robert D. Kaplan, in the current issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review, opens thus:

Throughout his long career Robert D. Kaplan has consistently benefited from the fact that no one has any idea what, exactly, he is. A humble travel writer? A popular historian? A panjandrum analyst of developing-world politics and personalities? The 2001 reissue of Kaplan’s Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan (1990) tried to settle the matter. The back-cover copy refers to Kaplan, pretty much definitively, as a “world affairs expert.” Kaplan’s prolific writing would appear to bear out such stature. The subtitles of his eleven books mention twenty countries or regions. The Mediterranean? Check. Kaplan has even lived there. Central Asia? Too late. Kaplan covered it. Southeast Asia? Nope. Annexed by Kaplan. North Africa? Kaplan. West Africa? Sorry. South America? What do you think?

Bissell reviews all the books that have resulted from these peregrinations, and finds that “Kaplan is worse than a bad writer or thinker. He is a dangerous writer made ever more dangerous by the fact that he is taken seriously.” Kaplan is currently the editor of the Atlantic Monthly.

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