The title seems mildly ironic, but the cover (at least of my hardbound edition) dispels any subtlety: a panorama of an American military cemetery (Normandy?) with an endless sea of white crosses. Without delving into the philosophic trenches of why we kill one another, Sir Michael Howard has written a bracing account of the lengths we've gone (and continue to go) to avoid such tragedies. A brisk historical survey serves as both background and provider of his introductory thesis: while peace is new, modern, and barely tested, war is very old, established, and more entrenched than we realize.
Howard's tone throughout remains refreshingly apolitical. He writes as a scholar, deliberately avoiding the easy stridency his subject offers: how *should* we "invent peace?" Where did our ancestors go wrong? Instead, he simply surveys the landscape and allows readers to (gasp!) draw their own conclusions. This is not to suggest the work lacks recommendations; rather, that they appear pithy and well-reasoned, not sonorous and repetitive. Howard could teach his fellow academics a few lessons about writing for an educated popular audience.
Befitting these methods, the book's style is crisp and concise. Quoting one of the author's best points serves as excellent evidence: "World order cannot be created simply by building international institutions and organizations that do not arise naturally out of the cultural disposition and historical experience of their members." Rarely have I seen a better point made in a single sentence; in a seemingly single stroke, Howard crushes the myth that the U.N. (his obvious target) can somehow impose order on unwilling populations. How many millions of dollars-not to mention thousands of lives-could have been saved by heeding this sage advice?
Though his historical survey generally supports these points, Howard has actually written more an essay than a book. No major fault in that; I learned more about the historical signposts of peace-the significance of Westphalia, the treaties of Vienna and Berlin-than any university has told me. But covering 1200 years of war (and around 300 of stumbling peace) in a little over a hundred pages feels thin-Sir Michael's pedigree notwithstanding. Even leaving the thin treatment of history aside, a richer development of his major points-like the one quoted above-would have been more than welcome.
But these faults pale next to the book's lessons. Anyone concerned about the prospects of peace in our increasingly interconnected world will derive huge benefits from this read. The author's call should especially be heard by those attempting to impose order on a worldly scale (certain groups in New York and The Hague come to mind, along with increasingly powerful non-governmental organizations); this book provides ample evidence for reconsidering their methods-if not their very charter.