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Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War Paperback – May 1998

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Holt McDougal; Reprint edition (May 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805057870
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805057874
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2 x 23 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,688,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'An extraordinary book, original and witty ... A shocking and gripping narrative' IRISH TIMES 'With her vintage combination of daring, originality and common sense ... Barbara Ehrenreich's BLOOD RITES is one of those rare books that make you question everything you thought you knew' SUSAN FALUDI --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of nine books including THE HEARTS OF MEN and FEAR OF FALLING, which was nominated for a National Book Critics' Award in 1989. She has written for the GUARDIAN, TIME, THE NEW YORK TIMES and MS. She holds a Ph.D. in Biology from Rockefeller University. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Unlike Ehrenreich's later more famous books, such as Nickel and Dimed or Bait and Switch: The Futile Pursuit of the Corporate Dream, Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War is not based on the author's own first hand experience but is exclusively based on desk research.

The main premise - that our warlike passions stem from our ancient fear of being the prey of the larger and stronger predators that roamed the plains together with prehistoric man - is certainly intriguing. There is plenty of anecdotal support for the possibility both from ancient literature and more modern sociological writing that Ehrenreich brings to bear when developing the theme.

It is hardly a scientific treatise, as it does not compare the theory developed to alternative ones, so one can find it intuitively appealing and like it but it will remain difficult to make an informed choice on whether the theory offers better explanatory power than alternatives, unless you are already an expert in the field. For that part alone, the book deserves 4 stars in my opinion, as it is at least interesting, and it brings some fresh perspectives (and interesting historical trivia) to bear.

Where the book starts unravelling in my opinion is the second part, which purports to apply the prey theory to war.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 41 reviews
36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
(Wo)man Kills God 27 July 2000
By Charles F. Hawkins - Published on
Format: Paperback
The original thinking that underlies this work should propel Barbara Ehrenreich to the fore of military and combat theorists of any era. Her thought provoking analysis in "Blood Rites" is a refreshing challenge to conventional wisdom about the nature of war and fighting in particular.
As a veteran of brutish infantry combat, I intuitively fell in line with Ehrenreich's reasoning that man (or woman) did not spring combat-capable from the woodlands and savannah of pre-historic times. Yet something happened in the dark recesses of our cultural antiquity to cause a fundamental change in the human psyche so that war and fighting became an accepted norm.
The "Beast" is Ehrenreich's universal term for the enemy--what we term the "threat" in today's military parlance. The Beast--be it sabre tooth tiger or man-eating shark--represented a deity. The Beast could kill early man at a whim; likewise, the carrion of kills left behind by the Beast were also sustenance for early human scavengers. Only a god can give and take life.
Imagine, then, the cultural shock a society must have felt when, finally, one of its members (or group led by one more able) managed to foil the Beast's depredations and kill it. Once the giver and taker of life had been slain by a human it must have seemed tantamount to killing god to others in the society. And, the initiator of this act of ultimate rebellion was very likely a woman.
Ehrenreich works through her ideas in great (and sometimes laborious) detail. But the weight of evidence is compelling, and her analysis is direct and forceful.
Although several years in print, Ehrenreich's literary coin is as fresh as yesterday's mint mark. "Blood Rites" should be read again for the first time by military thinkers everywhere.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
War, the Predator Beast 9 Nov 2005
By G. Joy Robins - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I loved Nickel and Dimed but was disappointed in For Her Own Good. Barbara Ehrenreich is a prolific writer and, I guess, not everything can be a gem. Blood Rites is well researched and exciting reading. Ehrenreich attacks the nature and origins of War, a subject on which she is admittedly not an expert. She brings a fresh eye, excellent research skills and the ability to put her conclusions in clear and compelling language.

Her key conclusion is that war grew out of our early experiences as prey turned predators. I don't know if that is as revolutionary an idea as she claims, but she convinced me. War is a religious experience based on the blood sacrifices of early humans to propitiate predator gods. It evolved with human society and now serves the new religion of nationalism, known in the US as patriotism.

While it is a human creation, like Frankenstein's monster, it has taken on a life of it's own and has become the new Beast. It is so enmeshed in our consciousness and culture that we may not be able to stop it. We find ourselves throwing young men and women into its merciless maw at a rate that makes even the bloodiest ancient rites seem tame in comparison.

Ehrenreich draws us to that frightening conclusion and then, apparently in search of a happy ending, suggests that perhaps the modern anti-war movement will grow powerful enough to actually put a stop to it; the war against war serving as the new but benign secular "religion".
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War 3 April 2000
By Jerome Horton - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Being a Sociology major I found Barbara Ehrenreich's study of the Origins of war most interesting. For the first time, I have found a book that tries to answer the question why do we continue to have wars and what important part of our culture's development do they continue to play? The idea of prey and preditor still exists. The ideas of war being religious and part of the feeling of nationalism helped to make sense of something I could never understand. I have lent out my copy to many. Others I know have bought a copy on my recommendation. It leads to many interesting discussions of war. I have even lent it to a person who spent much of his time in the military. I think it provides food for thought whether you're a militant or pacifist.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Insight into War as Religion and More 1 Nov 2001
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ehrenreich is her usual intelligent and sharp self. This book couldn't be more timely--especially the chapter on "War as Religion, " and the "Ecstacy of War." She describes perfectly the jingoism afoot today and the made fervor for war on all sides with psychological insight. This book is more timely than ever--a must read at this juncture in our U.S. history as Afghan civilians are bombed in order to capture and destroy terrorist criminals who will not be rounded up adequately by bombs. In a war that should be fought with diplomacy and intelligence and United Nations ground troops, the bombing is counterproductive and creates more enemies and terrorists. Living during a war which is greatly about military profiteering and oil reserves near the Caspian Sea, one finds all the answers for the madness of our time and the bloodbath of our history in Erenreich's insightful pages. BLOOD RITES is a brilliant book, and I've read tons of literature on this subject.
Daniela Gioseffi, author of WOMEN ON WAR: International Voices for the Nuclear Age, The Feminist Press, 2002, new edition of the 1988 American Book Award Winner from Touchstone/Simon and Schuster.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Great stuff! 6 Feb 2000
By Margaret Trawick - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read it from beginning to end without a break and was enthralled. Sure, this book has some weak spots, but what book doesn't? As a professional anthropologist, I usually find pop-anthropology embarrassing, but this book is different. Sometimes something can be right in front of your eyes all the time, but you never really notice it. Then someone directs your eyes to it, and suddenly not only do you see that thing, but you see everything else in a new light. Well, Ehrenreich's new book is like that. I for one have gained some valuable new insights from it.
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