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Robert D. Kaplan has traveled across the world as a foreign correspondent.

For more than three decades, his writing has blended observation and history, a taste for contemporary politics with a curiosity about what comes next in human affairs. Kaplan’s 21 books have touched on subjects that range from the Iraq War and the United States military, to travel dispatches from the Balkans, Asia, and even the American West. The frequency of his output is so high and the quality of the work so good that Kaplan was once included as a “top 100 global thinker” by someone at Foreign Policy magazine. Regardless of how he finished in that tournament of “top” global thinkers, it is enough to say Kaplan ranks among our most thoughtful reporters on world affairs, and that his writing has the power to enlighten readers with greater knowledge and understanding. And his newest book is no exception.

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The Tragic Mind: Fear, Fate, and the Burden of Power  (Yale, 2023), which measures an efficient 150 pages, is a deep meditation on the concept of tragedy as developed by the Greeks, German philosophers, and an array of Western literary figures from Shakespeare to Camus. The book is engrossing, both as a literary survey and a personal essay on what it takes to navigate crises. Kaplan’s insights on developing one’s judgment make for profitable reading, especially for people serving leadership roles in government and the military. I spoke with Robert by telephone. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

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