Language: English | Format: epub | Size: 3.44 MB A powerful and provocative exploration of how war has changed our society-for the better
"War! . . . . / What is it good for? / Absolutely nothing," says the famous song-but archaeology, history, and biology show that war in fact has been good for something. Surprising as it sounds, war has made humanity safer and richer.
In War! What Is It Good For?, the renowned historian and archaeologist Ian Morris tells the gruesome, gripping story of fifteen thousand years of war, going beyond the battles and brutality to reveal what war has really done to and for the world. Stone Age people lived in small, feuding societies and stood a one-in-ten or even one-in-five chance of dying violently. In the twentieth century, by contrast-despite two world wars, Hiroshima, and the Holocaust-fewer than one person in a hundred died violently. The explanation: War, and war alone, has created bigger, more complex societies, ruled by governments that have stamped out internal violence. Strangely enough, killing has made the world safer, and the safety it has produced has allowed people to make the world richer too.
War has been history's greatest paradox, but this searching study of fifteen thousand years of violence suggests that the next half century is going to be the most dangerous of all time. If we can survive it, the age-old dream of ending war may yet come to pass. But, Morris argues, only if we understand what war has been good for can we know where it will take us next.
Starred Review This erudite yet compulsively readable history of war (and actually much more) by archaeologist-historian Morris (Why the West Rules-For Now, 2010) takes the provocative position that, over time, the value of war, despite its horrors, has been to make humanity both safer and richer. He covers a vast span, from primitive (Morris enlists anthropological studies of chimpanzees and early "protohumans" to explain aggression) and ancient civilizations to the "American Empire." War's impact in terms of lives lost (as a percentage of national population) has lessened, Morris demonstrates, and its long-term effects have been, as he puts it, "productive." The thesis is elegantly advanced (there is something to marvel over or even chuckle about on almost every page). Morris is as comfortable referencing Edwin Starr, who sang the song from which the title derives, as he is Thomas Hobbes. Only large centralized states, Hobbes' Leviathans, forged by war, can secure stability. Simply put, "War made the state, and the state made peace." Throughout this rare mixture of scholarship, stunning insight, and wit, Morris cites the widely divergent opinions of past philosophers and scholars, and, though he makes his case convincingly, future (and, oh yes, the future is projected) students, readers, and critics of this book are likely to continue the fascinating argument Morris raises here. War! What Is it Good For? appeals to (indeed, may broaden) the large audience that has made Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997), much quoted in it, a modern classic and should join it on personal and library bookshelves. Mark Levine Review
"A disturbing, transformative text that veers toward essential reading." -Kirkus Starred Review
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