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War! What Is It Good For?: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots Hardcover – 15 Apr 2014

4.1 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 15 Apr 2014
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (15 April 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374286000
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374286002
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 4.1 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,019,959 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ian Morris teaches classics, history, and archaeology at Stanford University. Born in Stoke-on-Trent in 1960, he now lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California. He has won awards for his writing and teaching, and has directed archaeological digs in Greece and Italy. He has also published 13 books, which have been translated into 13 languages. His newest book, "War! What is It Good For?" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Profile 2014), looks at war from prehuman times to our own, making two controversial claims--first, that war has helped humanity as well as harming it; and second, that war is now changing out of all recognition.

Product Description


Morris is the world's most talented ancient historian -- Niall Ferguson Praise for Why the West Rules - For Now: 'A great work of synthesis and argument, drawing together an awesome range of materials and authorities -- Andrew Marr A provocative and extraordinary contribution to wide-screen comparative history ... a true banquet of ideas. -- Boyd Tonkin Independent One doffs one's hat to Morris's breadth, ambition and erudition Sunday Times An astonishing work -- David S. Landes, author of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

A bold and controversial rethinking of the role of war in human history and how it will shape our future, sure to provoke debate, from the bestselling author of Why the West Rules - For Now. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Format: Hardcover
The United States of America and the European Union share a western view of the world in which a democratic political order and the wealth engines of capitalism have made overt interstate violence obsolete. On this view, the great wars of the twentieth century were the last expressions of such violence and the culmination of a long historical process that began when human beings first let themselves be herded into organised states. Mass killing in warfare now seems abhorrent to us because modern political states have made it obsolete.
That claim is only the minor part of the message of the book War, by Stanford professor Ian Morris. The claim will probably find general agreement among the thinking public, in the western world at least. Citizens in democratic states with free markets recognise that their best interests lie in peaceful trade and cooperation. A Pax Americana has stabilised the free world and allowed a new and higher form of civilisation to flourish. Who among us would wish to disagree with that?
The major part of the message Morris delivers is more controversial. War, he contends, was the enabler for the evolution of modern states, which following Thomas Hobbes he calls Leviathans. Winning wars meant organising one’s own side more effectively than the enemy could organise its opposition, and this asymmetry became a ratchet in which bigger generally meant better. Might was right, and the biggest bully ended up taking all. Now we enjoy the peace and protection offered by the meanest monster on the planet, namely the sole remaining military superpower, the United States, Globocop.
Morris presents this message in a chatty style, replete with repetition to hammer home his core message, in the evident hope of making the book a popular bestseller.
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Comment 15 of 16 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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The main claim of this book is very controversial, it states that war has been good for mankind, in fact it is the reason for our current increases in safety and prosperity. BS you shout, but let me explain:

There are two kinds of bandit, the first is the roving kind that just comes along, kill lots of people, steals everything then runs off. The second kind is the stationary bandit, they come along, kill lots of people, takes over by putting in place government and robs the population via taxes.

The stationary bandit wants to protect their population from roving bandits (they will steal wealth that the stationary bandit would have got via taxes) and suppresses violence between the population (well-behaved subjects were easier to govern and tax than angry, murderous ones.) This means the stationary bandit controlled areas are a lot safer to live in. This is very important when you take in to account archaeology findings that suggest Stone Age man lived in small groups and their lives were very violent with 10-20 percent dying a violent death. With stationary bandits, populations don't have to worry about violence as much, they can get on with doing their jobs, living safer and more prosperous lives.

Of course people are not going to just let the stationary bandit take over, thus war is how the stationary bandit takes control of the population and impose government with taxes to exploit the population, but at the same time protects them from violence from roving bandits and each other. The population is now a lot safer and this creates civilisation. It's government that's the good thing but the author argues that small tribes only submitted to government imposed on them via stationary bandits using war.
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Format: Hardcover
It is difficult to know what to make of this book. On the whole I liked it and agreed with its central hypothesis. However, Ian Morris could have done with an editor who would tell him to cut the whole thing by 20% or so. Chapter six goes into a lengthy digression about chimps and bonobos which, frankly, the book could have done without.

Morris distinguishes between unproductive war, which gives us nothing but murder and mayhem, and productive war, which brings death and destruction but also creates “stationary bandits” who realise they have more to gain from ruling and taxing those they conquer than from slaughtering them. These stationary bandits turn into Leviathans under whose rule – Pax Romana / Sinica / Britannica / Americana etc – society can prosper and people live out their lives in peace.

Under the Leviathan, Stephen Pinker’s other civilising influences (commerce, reason, empathy and feminisation) can do their work and make the world a better place – see

So far so good. Also there is an excellent chapter on the very difficult period Europe and China suffered in the centuries up to 1415, when civilisation after civilisation was battered by the horsemen of the steppes. Morris makes a good case for the view that the invention of the gun saved us.

His chapters on the Pax Britannica and Pax Americana do read a bit like Whig history with their seemingly inevitable progress towards liberty and prosperity, but I can go with the flow here and accept his broad thesis that a world with a Leviathan is better than a world without.
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