IT may not surprise you to know that when I’m on holiday, I tend to get stuck in to a book or two. This year, the holiday book that made the most impact on me was a book called Prisoners of Geography by foreign-affairs reporter Tim Marshall.

Subtitled ‘Ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about politics’, the book offers a whistle-stop tour of world history from a more physical perspective. Marshall uses the landscape as his starting point, exploring how mountains, rivers, deserts and oceans have helped to shape the fortunes of nations, and explain why some conflicts are inevitable and others are unlikely to occur.

Prisoners of Geography is one of those books that leaves you feeling that little bit cleverer for having read it. It is an idea that is a simple but powerful one. Once you start thinking about it, a lot of history makes geographical sense: the importance of Crimea to Russia (Sevastopol being their only warm-water port); the challenges of Afghanistan (which everyone from Alexander the Great to NATO have discovered); why neighbours and rivals China and India are unlikely to go to war (the Himalayas creating a natural deterrent to conflict). Geography, Marshall argues, might not be the determining factor in world affairs, ‘but it is certainly the most overlooked’.

The premise of the book focuses on world affairs, but it got me thinking as to how its central idea might work on a more local level too. Because when you start thinking about it, geography plays its overlooked part in how we live our lives. I wrote a couple of months ago about how I’d been to an Arts Council Symposium for the South West, where the discussion centred around how arts in the region suffered from being spread over such a wide and disparate area.

On a county level, Salisbury can sometimes feel set apart when it comes to Wiltshire. Situated in its south-eastern corner, the vast sweep of Salisbury Plain can leave it feeling isolated from the rest of the county, and a world away from where decisions are made. Transport connections play a part here, but you’re far more likely to go to Bournemouth or Southampton for a night out than get in a car and drive to Swindon.

Geography played its part in the foundations of Salisbury, too – five rivers meeting on a wooded plain, as Barney Norris’ book has it. And it continues to do so, for better and worse: the water meadows protect us in a way that other cities have suffered from building on flood plains. Churchfields, meanwhile, remains a curiosity: an industrial estate whose access is hemmed in by railway bridges and wildlife.