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War. Famine. Poverty. A scan of international news blurbs will grimly confirm that The Coming Anarchy, a collection of Robert Kaplan's essays from the past decade, is as relevant in its recent paperback issue as it was a year ago -- an ominous, 12-dollar primer on what troubles likely await humanity in the years ahead.

And what are those troubles? Consider a recurring premise of post-apocalyptic action cinema: Following a nuclear war or some other cataclysm, a society emerges in which a cultural and technological elite has walled itself off from crime-ridden rabble that have been relegated to gutted cities and scorched countryside. The latter suffer as a matter of course, while the elite lounge about in monochrome bodysuits (or some fashion variation thereof), chatting in effete British accents.

Kaplan's predictions are, of course, considerably more complex than the plot of late-night-cable sci-fi, but in essence not that different: Much of the world, he says, already is in piss-poor shape and will only get worse as overpopulation, ethnic strife and environmental ruin, among other factors, fracture national borders and set off political and social meltdown. But with modern transportation and communication, the affluent will be able to develop a social and economic interconnectedness independent of geography, while the rest of humanity stumbles along on a dirty, violent and increasingly crowded planet. In examining this dusky future, Kaplan also gives readers a hefty dose of realpolitik as he looks at America's evolving role on this world stage.

As an author and journalist who has made a career reporting from the cities and blighted outback of the developing world, Kaplan has been able to masterfully blend foreign-policy analysis with the rich detail of superior travel writing. Though The Coming Anarchy contains a bit more scholarly discourse than his anecdote-rich books, it still is for the most part an engrossing read that, if nothing else, will give pause to commonly held notions of democracy and the prospects for peace on earth.

The end of the Cold War, Kaplan warns, has only made the world more unstable:

"... [J]ust as after World War I and World War II," he says, "our victory has ushered in the next struggle for survival, in which evil wears new masks."

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