A creative and scientifically wide-ranging account of Europe’s success as a conqueror.

The Rules of Invasion


A sweeping debut book attempts to explain the politics of invasion in terms of ecological factors.

The possibility that external factors—rather than philosophical or cultural principles—are the primary determinants in societal success was famously explored by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997). Hecht explicitly fashions his book to be both a follow-up and rival to Diamond’s groundbreaking effort. For Hecht, however, the central causal factor is ecological, and he explores the imaginative and counterintuitive thesis that the nature of the landscape itself decisively shapes the ability of nations to become prolific invaders of other countries, extending their reach and power. The author considers the relationships between biodiversity, cultural diversity, and human behavior, concluding that the three are entwined in a complex causal nexus. There is also a multitude of factors that contributes to biogeographic diversity: altitude; heterogeneity of flora and fauna; the practice of agriculture, which tends to diminish biodiversity; the scale of the land available; and many others. An eclectic work, Hecht’s study is strikingly multidisciplinary, drawing from esoteric fields of study like invasion ecology. Some of his ultimate conclusions offer concise explanations that almost court skepticism: the Chinese turn out to be unspectacular invaders because of their dependence upon rice, which weds them to a specific, geographically bound climate. (Grain farming is less labor-intensive and less committal, unleashing the nomadic impulse behind the invasion of foreign territory.) Europeans, on the other hand, are overachieving invaders, given the consideration of 16 different factors. Hecht’s examination certainly doesn’t lack diligence, and he’s scoured an extraordinary pile of disparate secondary literature. He’s impressively keen to withhold the drawing of confident conclusions when the evidence doesn’t warrant it—at one point, he casts doubts on an entire chapter of his own. The writing can be uneven—he vacillates between haltingly dense academic jargon and an overly familiar breeziness. In addition, he has no choice but to acknowledge that however edifying his choice of causal determinants is, it is necessarily limited and reductive: “By circumstance, topography, intellectual thought, means and abilities, and perhaps some luck and quirks of history, nations of Europe became great invaders.” Still, this is a fun and enthralling exploration, and no less so because it inadvertently advertises its own philosophical failings.

A creative and scientifically wide-ranging account of Europe’s success as a conqueror. 

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: 273

Publisher: iBooks

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2016

Did you like this book?

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?