WAR! WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? by Ian Morris
Kirkus Star

WAR! WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?

Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots

KIRKUS REVIEW

A profoundly uncomfortable but provocative argument that “productive war” promotes greater safety, a decrease in violence and economic growth.

Morris (Classics and History/ Stanford Univ.; Why the West Rules—for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future, 2010, etc.) begins with an account of a near nuclear disaster in 1983 and then proceeds with his thesis that “war has made the world safer.” He recognizes—and alludes continually to—the unpleasantness of his position but charges ahead into the valley of death. He uses the example of ancient Rome—its violent conquests ensured subsequent safety and improved lives for the survivors—then gives us a tour through world history, focusing on such things as the development of weapons and defenses. We learn why chariot fighting rose and fell, the problems of using elephants in battle, the significance of the horse, and the importance of gunpowder and ships, and we get some grim details—e.g., the use of the flaming fat of victims as an early Molotov cocktail. Drawing on the work of Jared Diamond and Steven Pinker and myriads of others, Morris relentlessly develops his thesis, which never decreases in discomfort, though it does become more convincing. Near the end, the author examines evolutionary biology and the balance between violence and cooperation in our rise from what he calls “globs” to the complicated creatures that we now are. Emerging also is his concept of the “globocop”—a country so powerful that it can police the world (to a point) and eventually move us toward “Denmark,” his metaphor for a peaceful, productive place. The author does a bit of crystal-balling at the end. Will there be robo-wars? Will the United States eventually tumble?

A disturbing, transformative text that veers toward essential reading.

Pub Date: April 15th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-374-28600-2
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2014




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