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War in Human Civilization Hardcover – 12 Oct 2006

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 840 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; First Edition edition (12 Oct. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199262136
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199262137
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 4.3 x 15.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,335,185 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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...a towering and triumphant achievement...acute, scholarly, and wide-ranging:it is certainly one of the most important works on the subject written since 1945. Gat is at the top of his brilliant form, linking a variety of disciplines in a rich and comprehensive study of this most pertinent of issues. (Richard Holmes, The London Review of Books, Vol 29, No 5)

An immensely ambitious work covering not only history but archaeology, anthropology, ethnography, demography and economics, to name but a few... its weight of learning is borne aloft by the author's enthusiasm for his subject and takes his readers with it. If only there were more scholars like this! (Michael Howard, TLS Books of the Year)

There's any amount of fascinating insight to be found in this big and enormously ambitious interdisciplinary study. (The Scotsman)

A book of extraordinary ambition, erudition and range... Every student of war will be obliged to engage with this remarkable piece of scholarship. (Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, King's College, London)

A work of extraordinary scope and formidable erudition... Gat definitively unravels the riddle of civilization and war. (Professor Robert J. Lieber, Georgetown University)

A towering and triumphant achievement... acute, scholarly, and wide-ranging: it is certainly one of the most important works on the subject written since 1945. Gat is at the top of his brilliant form, linking a variety of disciplines in a rich and comprehensive study of this most pertinent of issues. (Professor Richard Holmes)

About the Author

Azar Gat is Ezer Weitzman Professor of National Security in the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University. He has published widely in the field of military strategy and thought, including A History of Military Thought: From the Enlightenment to the Cold War, also published by Oxford University Press, and has taught and lectured at Freiburg, Oxford, Yale, Ohio State, and Georgetown universities.

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Is war grounded, perhaps inescapably, in human nature? Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By F Henwood TOP 500 REVIEWER on 7 Jan. 2012
Format: Paperback
This is an exhaustive survey of the `riddle of war', an attempt to answer the age-old question - why do we fight and kill? This is not military history but a dense, empirical work that combines a range of disciplines to offer a synthesis of the forms warfare has taken over the span of human history. It is hardly light reading, and demands the reader's attention, but the author's prose style does not descend into pretentious bunk. The book is divided broadly into three parts: first of all, an examination of warfare before the state, the second part deals with the relationship of warfare with state formation, and the third part deals with the relationship between warfare and modernity.

We are not the only species (contrary to what was once thought in the 1960s) to fight and kill other members of our own species. Much of human history is not recorded, but what evidence there is does not suggest that we were a pacific and peaceful species prior to the advent of agriculture and the state around 10,000 years ago. War did not arise concurrently with the invention of agriculture and the state - rather war was dramatically transformed in scale, and more noticeable in the historical record. This is not to say that prestate peoples are more bestial than us, it just that violence in the absence of a state has a compelling logic of its own, in the absence of a supra authority that can put an end to our tendency to settle disputes violently. A premptive strike to neutralize a perceived aggressor makes a lot sense where there is no police force that can deal with the threat.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The above just about sums it up - but this is no easy read and seems to repeat itself at times.

Gat also has a bit of an obsession with the 'Prisoner's Dilemma' and the 'Red Queen' concepts but this does not detract from the fundamental nature of the book as a descriptor of war and its causes through history.

If you are looking for an 'easy read' then this is not for you but if you are looking for the standard academic work and one that will provide an excellent source of reference with a bibliography for further reading then this is money well spent.
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By Sally on 6 Oct. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Azar Gut has written the definitive account of the origins of war in human society. Its in the genes or, rather, the propensity toward and choice of violence to attain one's goals is in the genes but we also have 'negotiation genes' and 'peaceful coexistence genes' (my description not the author's). We can, if we choose to, control our choices but controlling the choices of others is a different matter. Possibly we all evolve together or not at all.

This work represents a combination of history, prehistory, anthropology, psychology and political science. A truly amazing book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By M. J. O'Connell on 28 Jun. 2011
Format: Paperback
Great, exhaustive work that is not for the feint of heart, or to be more exact, the general reader. Undoubtedly authorative and highly educational. I confess to giving up on finishing this inteligent but hard-going work. If you're super smart, unlike myself, and wish for a comprehensive understanding of the place of war in human history, go for it. If your less super, perhaps give it a miss.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 13 reviews
59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
Superb and comprehensive 5 Jan. 2007
By K. Kehler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I had a bit of time over the holidays so I read two new massive tomes on warfare, Gat's and one by Max Boot. Gat's stunningly comprehensive work is so good that it manages to make other 500+ page books seem positively lightweight and journalistic in comparison. This treatment of the history of war and warfare, or 'human belligerency' as Gat puts it, would overwhelm the non-specialist (it clocks in at about 820 pages), if it weren't for the author's ability to synthesize material, sum up scholarship and, last but not least, write some of the clearest and most lucid prose I've seen in the social sciences in ages. He makes forays into evolutionary theory, state formation, antiquity, technology and the rise of science, prehistory, the transition to agriculture, democratic peace theory, etc. The chapter on tribal warfare (in Agraria and Pastoralia, as Gat puts it) is -- as the saying has it -- worth the price of admission alone. His careful demolition of radical Rousseauist idealism is equally fascinating, but he is no simplistic, knee-jerk Hobbesian.

Gat is philosophically astute as well as deep; he knows history as well as theory; and he even treats, if briefly, the question of the causes of war. Above all, the book is animated by his personality: one can surmise that, yes, he's quite intellectual, but his is a mind that is always probing, curious and interesting. (There's a picture of the author on the back flap. He is youngish but he has bags under his eyes. He must read and write around the clock. I for one am grateful.) This is my book of the year.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
This is NOT light bedtime reading! 14 Dec. 2006
By Paladin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book actually contains all of the complete details necessary for a comprehesive 2-semester interdiciplinary course on war - at the graduate level. And even if you are a "war college" graduate from any military service - you've never read about war the way Azar Gat presents War. Reading Azar Gat requires one to study and reflect upon the massive amount of supporting comprehesive details that he so skillfully presents -as well as the overall perspective he supports. In this particular case, Gat presents a very detailed perspective of War based upon a cogent argument of complex bio-cultural interaction. He starts at the very beginning of primitive wars (primates/Homo Erectus), and works all the way on up to modern war as we know it. (And don't be fooled - because it's not Darwin's brand of evolutionary theory anymore either.) It is a very complex in presentation - but necessarily so in order to professionally justify a rather basic argument built upon well documented facts, propensities, predispositions and trends of human nature/nuture as they affect the phenomenon of war. It is an argument that is anything but mere opinion. This is an excellent 'insightful' book for mandatory reading at the highest levels of government or military - in any government or military. Surprisingly despite the complexities, it is quite understandable, for you often walk away with many thoughts like - "Well that's what I suspected all along." The price is a mere pittance vis-a-vis the facinating and illuminating content of this book. Anyone who reads "War in Civilization" will never look at War the same way again - including the current wars that are going on right now. You WILL have to read this book at least twice! It's a Keeper!
38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Way beyond 5 Stars ! The one book that senior career Military Professionals should read ! 6 Dec. 2006
By i-Palikar - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is truly a "shock and awe" book! Once again, Azar Gat will stun and amaze you with 800 pages of pure intellect to the Nth degree! I was always very impressed by his other books on war. Yet, with 28+ years of active duty military service and a personal library of 1000+ books on various military subjects - I have NEVER been more impressed by such a comprehensive interdisciplinary treatment on the "enigma of Warre". This book seamlessly blends psychology, sociology, archeology, anthropology, and history, along with a myriad of other relevant disciplines to provide the most extensive examination on the general theme of war that I have ever experienced. I am now totally convinced that all senior military officers should only study the broad scope of war from such a well-informed interdisciplinary approach {long before they delve into any details with the devil). This book is anything but a `same-old-same-old' standard perspective of war. This book will force a truly open-minded reader to reassess every facet of war - and every predisposition encountered about war. I believe that this book is "the" seminal document to begin a reeducation and reassessment of our all of our so-called `modern-day' beliefs, motives, policies, strategies, operations and tactics about war. This book should be a mandatory read for all senior officials at the Whitehouse, DOD, DoS,DNI, NSA, CIA, FBI, and ALL intelligence agencies. This book should be a mandatory read at every service staff college and war college. Get it - read it - read it again and again - and you will ponder new perspectives about the riddle of war for years to come.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
A Must Read 26 Feb. 2008
By D. Sayranian - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The first line of Azar Gat's tome, War in Human Civilization, asks a seemingly innocuous question, "Is war grounded, perhaps inescapably, in human nature?" By examining a daunting array of fields--cultural and biological evolution, psychology, archeology, history, political science, sociology, and ethology--Gat constructs a comprehensive analysis of war unprecedented in scope and brilliance.
War in Human Civilization is split into three parts, "Warfare in the First Two Million Years: Environment, Genes, and Culture," "Agriculture, Civilization, and War," and "Modernity: the Dual Face of Janus." Gat begins by examining the fundamental motivations for violent conflict in nature. Adhering to the tenets of biological evolution, violent encounters were the product of competition for reproductive success--access to females and the resources necessary to attract and support them--and somatic resources, food. Gat proposes an "evolutionary calculus" in which the motivations for violent conflict are the direct or subsequent necessity of fitness. The evolutionarily selected behaviors that lead to violent conflict are (1) competition (2) retaliation to injure the enemy and/or reestablish deterrence, and (3) kin-based altruism, dictating that one's willingness for self-sacrifice decreases as the cost-benefit of genetic similarity decreases. Simply, the fight for survival and the protection of offspring, siblings, cousins, and so on, are innate.
Gat utilizes the ideologies of Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In drawing a distinction between hunter-gathers and pre-state agriculturalists, he finds that the Hobbesian view of intrinsic violence "closer to the truth," but not entirely dominating. He examines archaeological and historical data and reveals that state-based warfare is actually less lethal than pre-state violence, contrary to the Rousseauite thesis of a naturally peaceful man coerced into conflict over state-imposed materialism. In other words, civilization has, by coercive power, enforced (internal) peace, the reality of violent conflict more manifest in the dominating fear of it than its actual practice. However, Gat also recognizes the potential for error in using archaeological evidence that may neither be comprehensive nor representative. The sheer scale of state-based warfare renders it more "spectacular" while the mortality rate (among a much larger population) decreases. From this foundation Gat analyzes the relationship between cultural and biological evolution. Both are reproductive, restrained, and unendingly competitive systems, though cultural reproduction occurs far faster as transmission is possible horizontally from any mind to another. Culture, according to Gat, is largely restrained by biological predispositions that, in turn, affect the selection of biological traits. This, importantly, can even be harmful to our biological fitness, as selection against these traits--such as a taste for sugary foods that previously served to favor ripe, and thereby nutritionally valuable, fruit--is weak. Gat identifies the advent of agriculture and animal husbandry and the development of the state and civilization as the two most influential "'take off' transitions" in human culture.
Production in the form of agriculture and animal husbandry led to population increases and the concentration of peoples and resources. This concentration allowed resource monopolization as well as the differential concentration and appropriation of the limited surpluses. Here the Rousseauite notion comes into play, proposing that "existing natural differences between people were enormously magnified and objectified by accumulated resources." This, in kind, reinforced stratification by creating dependence on a few monopolizers necessary for subsistence. Coercive mobilization of peoples, resources, and the growth of scale increased the size of violent conflicts. Professional fighting forces were established along pseudo-kin lines (soldier brotherhood), dictating that "us" is cohesive against "them." This practice also led to sedentary fortification of settlements and the state-created distinction between murder and feud, and war.
Modern war between nations takes its definitional origins from Prussian military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz. According to Clausewitz war is a political act involving prolonged instances of conflict utilizing violent force or the threat of force to make unfavorable the conditions of resistance to one's will. According to Gat this definition is inadequate, explaining only large-scale war, and ignores the fact that the greater magnitude of state-based warfare is actually less lethal than pre-state violence. Nevertheless, despite his broad and thorough analysis, Gat's loose and implicit definition of war as any form of violent conflict reduces all motivations--political, spiritual, and material--to nothing more than complex manifestations of a desire for sex and survival.
At its most basic, civilization increased the material cost of fighting by harming people and their productivity while adding considerable complexity to the innate motivations of reproductive and somatic resources. Prestige, honor, and power were developed as channels of resource monopolization, demonstrated by rulers' coffers and harems. Cultural links created by language, custom, and even ethnicity and nationalism formed communities similar to kin groups, making defense of these practices and similarities akin to the protection of one's genetic family. Gat views these cultural bonds, religion in particular, as the product of man's biological ability for extreme intellectual adaptation and curiosity: "We are compulsive meaning seekers." The development of written language created another means of connection while permitting the storage and transmission of vast amounts of knowledge, religion and mythology included. Interestingly enough, Gat points out that despite the peaceful creeds of both Christianity and Islam, both structurally accepted war, were utilized in its pursuit, and have been unable to "eradicate the motivations and realities that generated war." War has been a part of human existence for hundreds of thousands of years, but what of its role in the modern world?
In the last section of War in Human Civilization Gat looks to the development of nation-states, the peculiarity of Western success, the impact of technological innovation, and the role of affluent liberal democracies. Immanuel Kant proposed in Perpetual Peace that liberal democracies, particularly constitutional republics, would not war with one another because of the price members of those republics would have to pay to do so. Gat quickly recognizes that some historic republics have been militant and successful contrary to this thesis, but also that quantitative analysis of wars in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries show that very few conflicts were between two democratic states. Gat thoroughly examines the prospect of a democratic peace and delves extensively into the relevant literature and contemporary arguments, pointing out significant exceptions (like India and Pakistan) and errors (oversimplification, assumption, and vague definitions of "war" and "democracy"). In its original form, Gat rejects the democratic peace theory, framing his own in a complex and intricate examination of the organization and operation of modern affluent liberal democracies.
Gat recognizes the significance of globalized commerce, economic interdependence, and the pacifistic tendencies of these societies, and proposes that economic development renders the benefits of peace, and not the costs of war, prohibitive. He supports this claim with evidence of an overall decline in war in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries independent of democratic governments. This suggests that the existence of powerful liberal democracies produces benefits that affect peace globally. The citizens in these democracies, for example, have difficulty justifying killing, conquering, or taking territory. The tolerant democratic process can even be seen as making more palatable and readily practiced negotiation and compromise. Gat's view in this case is highly optimistic, asserting that the tenets of liberal democracy (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) make war unacceptable in all but the most drastic and threatening situations, "sometimes barely even then." In this complex ideological system, Gat is careful to mention a variety of related factors--the sexual revolution, decreasing birth rates, wealth, the shrinking size of the modern family, women's vote, and the advent of unprecedented destructive force in the nuclear age. Gat's affluent liberal democratic peace reconstruction, while more inclusive and explanatory, still remains assailable, if not only for its complexity and admitted exceptions.
In a modern sense, war can be symmetrical or asymmetrical, the force and advantage heavily in favor of one participant. The growing use of terrorism and guerilla tactics, combined with the replacement of the nation by the ideological sect as the center of gravity, has historically proved insurmountable for even the most powerful liberal democracies. Vietnam, Korea, Malaya, Algeria, Afghanistan, and Iraq are prominent examples. Gat's examination of insurgency, terrorism, deterrence, weapons of mass destruction, and the particular character of modern asymmetrical war are provocative. If deterrence, countermeasures, and prevention all fall short of effectively countering assault, then what?
War in Human Civilization is undoubtedly an exhausting and impressive work. "Is war grounded, perhaps inescapably, in human nature?" Gat says yes--and it is natural, explainable, and most importantly exceptional from other forms of conflict in nature because of human culture and the development of civilization through agriculture and animal husbandry, not any quality of its intrinsic character. The motivations and realities are the same. "That `war' is customarily defined as large-scale organized violence is merely a reflection of the fact that human societies have become large and organized." The ultimate causes of war are deeply rooted in our evolutionary history. War is a political act, but the politics that underlie its assumption were created in pursuit of the same elementary biological ends. The same evolutionary calculus that pushes us to crave candy and sex encompasses the array of variables necessary (though not always sufficient) that bring us to war. Gat, using a colossal reservoir of interdisciplinary knowledge, has forever changed our interpretation of war, violence, and our very nature.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
He explains it! 20 July 2007
By César González Rouco - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The comments provided by the other reviewers are fair and accurate, I agree with them, so I would only point out that this book does not merely describe what happened but above all it explains why it happened. I hold it as a masterful work that can be savored by the professional historian and educated layperson alike. My rate is between 5 (content) and 4 (pleasure, sometimes falling to 3, sometimes raising to 5). I highly recommend it.

Other books on war that I would recommend would be "War before Civilization. The Myth of the Peaceful Savage", by Lawrence Keeley; "How War Began" by Keith F. Otterbein; and "War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires" by Peter Turchin.

Additionally, as a complement to "War in Human Civilization", I would also suggest reading the following works, whose scope is as amazingly global as Gat's: 1. Agrarian cultures: "Pre-industrial societies" by Patricia Crone; 2. Economy: "The world economy. A millennial perspective" (2001) plus "The world economy: Historical Statistics" (2003) by Angus Maddison (a combined edition of these two volumes is to appear on December 2007); 3. Government: "The History of Government" by S.E. Finer; 4. Ideas: "Ideas, a History from Fire to Freud", by Peter Watson; 5. Religion: "The Phenomenon of Religion: A Thematic Approach" by Moojan Momen.
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