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War in Human Civilization by Azar Gat

War in Human Civilization (2006)

by Azar Gat

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War in Human Civilization by Azar Gat is really two books in one. Part One is the first book. It essentially answers the question: why do humans fight. Parts Two and Three comprise the second book. They seek to answer the question of how have human civilization and culture interacted with war since the advent of farming and pastoralism.

The answer to the first question is evolution. Gat explains the existence of human violence as an evolutionary response to the scarcity that mankind experienced throughout most of its evolutionary history. While I strongly agree with Gat's thesis, I found his supporting information to be thin. While he effectively refutes the notion that human beings, and most other mammals for that reason, are inherently non-violent toward members of their own species, he does not amass nearly enough support for his contention that our violent natures are the result of inbred evolutionary pressures.

The answer to the second question is far more complicated. In essence Gat states that the "progress" that humans have made since the earliest days of farming has resulted in the creation of ever-more lethal armies, which has, in turn, resulted in ever greater concentrations of political power as societies sought protection in numbers from their enemies. On the other hand, the lethality of such military forces has caused an ever decreasing occurrence of war to the point where it now has not occurred between two Great Powers since the end of World War II.

As thin as the evidence supporting his first thesis was, the evidence supporting the second one is even thinner, to the point of being almost non-existent once Gat reaches the 20th century. At least Gat acknowledges the lack of support in this part and explains it away as something akin to common knowledge.

Despite his failure to provide enough support for his theses, Gat's War in Human Civilization is basically a must-read for anyone interested in the age-old question of why human beings engage in activity as destructive and barbaric as war. ( )
2 vote Bretzky1 | Aug 1, 2011 |
I have been working my way through this for the last several weeks. Short version: it is fabulous. Maybe the best non-fiction book I've ever read. ( )
1 vote ben_a | May 22, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0199262136, Hardcover)

In this truly global study, major military historian Azar Gat sets out to unravel the "riddle of war" throughout human history, from the early hunter-gatherers right through to the unconventional terrorism of the twenty-first century. In the process, the book generates an astonishing wealth of original and fascinating insights on all major aspects of humankind's remarkable journey through the ages, engaging a wide range of disciplines.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:49 -0400)

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