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

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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