This review is from: War: What is it good for?: The role of conflict in civilisation, from primates to robots (Hardcover)
If I read a better book in the next couple of years I will be amazed.
The author's thesis about productive war is something that can be argued about, but here it provides a superb framework for understanding the grand sweep of human history and development.
The first chunk of the book allows him to lay out his basic argument; the second then sees him apply it, taking us through primitive societies and the various developments (such as chariots and military discipline) that were the step-changes in warfare, fuelling greater historical shifts between regions and societies. This is fascinating, and the largest part of the book. It also presents his thesis with various challenges, such as the long period in Western Europe where development either went backwards or stood still. There is plenty for the intelligent reader to pick up on and argue about.
I found the next chunk, a discussion of current and future security and warfare trends, to be admirable, coming from a historian whose interests lie so much further back in our past. The final brief chunk, concerning the 'singularity' and the impact of convergence between humanity and technology, was diverting but less convincing.
It's especially highly recommended for those who like a combination of big ideas and the grand sweep of history. It's also best if someone you know reads it at the same time, so that you can enjoy arguing about it afterwards.