Why Leaders Fight by Michael C. Horowitz

Why Leaders Fight

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An exacting analysis of the way state leaders influence geopolitical events and, in turn, history at large.

For some years, leadership was widely discounted as a determinant in international affairs, dismissed in favor of institutional or structural factors. Authors Elis (a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan), Horowitz (Political Science/Univ. of Pennsylvania; The Diffusion of Military Power, 2010), and Stam (Democracies at War, 2010)—all experienced scholars with a collective background in political science, public policy, and government—argue that the impact of leaders has been too hastily neglected: “It is easy to take the role of leaders for granted, seeing them constrained by circumstances, by the international and domestic political contexts in which they operate.” To this end, they compile an exhaustive data set on world leaders called Leader Experience and Attribute Descriptions. Drawing from behavioral psychology, which connects the decisions someone makes and his or her personal history, the authors assess a wide array of biographical concerns including gender, childhood wealth, education, parentage, military service, and age, among many others. They also devote special attention to the elements that potentially contribute to a leader’s response to risk of both the economic and military varieties. Ultimately, they believe that while even the most powerful leaders are saddled with constraints, they still influence world events as much as anything else. Examining a host of historical leaders, including Winston Churchill, Nikita Khrushchev, John F. Kennedy, and some obscure ones as well, the authors advance an even more fundamental philosophical argument—history is finally shaped by people, not merely impersonal historical forces. The prose is consistently lucid, and the research is a model of scrupulous investigation. Also, the book manages to evince a willingness to buck long-standing convention without using strident rhetoric. One quibble: the authors often take issue with the preference many scholars have for systematic modeling over a more nuanced appreciation of personal idiosyncrasy; however, they never address the potential problem that LEAD attempts to reduce human agency to precisely the same kind of predictive modeling. Nonetheless, this is a valuable contribution to the study of leadership and international relations in general.

A thoughtful re-examination of the causal agents that move history.

Pub Date: Sept. 29th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-107-02293-5
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
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