Mountains account for 10 percent of the world population, and 25 percent of its surface, yet they host a strikingly disproportionate number of wars and conflicts. Since World War II, says Judith Matloff, nearly all violent ethnic and nationalist struggles have been in highlands. Throughout history, mountains have been sanctuaries for bandits, revolutionaries, and drug cartels, and no conventional army has ever been able to defeat, militarily, mountain defenders.
Why? The physical, geographic barriers create a psychological, existential one as well. Mountains are often the last place where roads, clinics, and schools are built, and they’re usually the homes of marginalized minorities.
Even the Swiss fit the trend: 180 years ago, civil war tore the area now known as Switzerland. It’s only as peaceful as it is now because they came up with an inventive solution: instead of imposing one national identity on everyone, they decided to establish four languages, two religions, and power shared among the 26 cantons.
Mary Roach (author of Stiff, Spook, Bonk, Gulp, and Grunt) is our special guest co-host, with AJ Jacobs (author of It’s All Relative) as real-time fact-checker. If the promise of tractor beams doesn’t pull you in, our guests also explore robotic fish, counting to infinity, and more.