War and Our World

War and Our World

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by John Keegan

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John Keegan, widely considered the greatest military historian of our time and the author of acclaimed volumes on ancient and modern warfare--including, most recently, The First World War, a national bestseller--distills what he knows about the why’s and how’s of armed conflict into a series of brilliantly concise essays.

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John Keegan, widely considered the greatest military historian of our time and the author of acclaimed volumes on ancient and modern warfare--including, most recently, The First World War, a national bestseller--distills what he knows about the why’s and how’s of armed conflict into a series of brilliantly concise essays.

Is war a natural condition of humankind? What are the origins of war? Is the modern state dependent on warfare? How does war affect the individual, combatant or noncombatant? Can there be an end to war? Keegan addresses these questions with a breathtaking knowledge of history and the many other disciplines that have attempted to explain the phenomenon. The themes Keegan concentrates on in this short volume are essential to our understanding of why war remains the single greatest affliction of humanity in the twenty-first century, surpassing famine and disease, its traditional companions.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Keegan, bestselling historian of the First and Second World Wars, synthesizes his views on war and peace in this series of five lectures given in 1998 and now published as a set of essays. Drawing on a lifetime of study and writing, Keegan ranges widely over his subject, delving into the history of war, the character of a professional soldier, the diverse views of anthropologists on the origin of social violence, the advent of high-tech warfare and many other relevant issues. Keegan argues that war takes so many forms and mutates so rapidly that it is impossible to define precisely. The author's best descriptive definition is that war is "collective killing for some collective purpose." Today, Keegan believes, the most catastrophic form of war, the use of nuclear weapons, is unlikely to occur, although he does not address the recent entry of India and Pakistan, among other nations, into the nuclear club. Currently, war occurs most often in multiethnic, underdeveloped areas of the world and is driven by poverty, ideology and cultural insecurity. Keegan puts the death toll in the world's wars over the past 50 years at some 50 million. One practical suggestion he offers is to control the proliferation of assault rifles, whose low price, high rate of fire and nearly universal availability have made large-scale slaughter possible anywhere. War and Our World is replete with such insights and ideas, lucidly expressed by a master in his field. (June 1) Forecast: Michael Howard's equally succinct The Invention of Peace (Forecasts, Feb. 26) deals with a similar subject, but Keegan'sthanks to his reputation, in particular, the huge success of The First World War (Vintage, 2000), which sold more than 222,000 copies to become a New York Times bestsellerwill outsell it by far. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
This slim volume is a wonderful distillation of the key ideas behind the denser books written by the world's most prominent living military historian. Basically the text for a BBC lecture series, each of the five 15-page chapters tackles a key question about war in human history. Keegan's discussion of the origin of war is certainly helpful for all students, but his points and arguments about war and its relation to both the state and the individual are particularly cogent. Discussion is clear but not simplistic, and the big ideas are put in clear historical context. A useful book for any student who has studied lots of wars but never looked at war itself as a subject in any depth. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1998, Random House, Vintage, 87p. bibliog., $10.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Daniel J. Levinson; History & English Teacher, Thayer Acad., Braintree , September 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 5)
Kirkus Reviews
Short, graceful ruminations from one of our greatest military historians on the ugliest of topics: the nature and impact of armed conflict. Unlike the epic histories for which he is best known, Keegan (The First World War, 1999, etc.) fashioned these essays for delivery over the BBC as the 1998 Reith Lectures. Yet, though his medium is different, he speaks in the same assured voice, with absolute command of his material and respect for the awful gravity of his subject. He concentrates not on stories but five themes: war's impact on the modern world, its origins, relation to the state, effect on the individual, and prospects for its abolition. The development of agriculture, he infers from archaeological evidence, may have led to defenses against roaming hunters. War's very savagery led men to agonize over its morality, and eventually elaborate rules governing its conduct were created—notably by Christianity (which required penance for shedding a fellow Christian's blood) and Islam (whose holy book forbade violence against all who submitted to Muslim rule). Only in the 19th century did war become a feared mass killer, following the Civil War and the Clausewitz dictum that war is the continuation of politics by other means (which Keegan charges with "polluting civilized thought about how wars could and should be fought"). The author grounds his overarching theories with some particularly vivid anecdotes. A telegraph boy on a bicycle, he notes in one searing image, became an "omen of terror" for parents and wives during the two world wars, for he frequently brought news of the death of sons and husbands in the armed forces. Although pessimistic about the possibility of endingwar completely, Keegan believes that fears of the horrors of the last century will result in war's ebbing as a destructive force. To that end, he urges restricting the distribution and production of cheap arms such as the mass-produced assault rifle. Keegan aficionados will prefer his larger-scale chronicles and analyses, but neophytes will savor these exquisitely crafted miniatures.
From the Publisher
“Majestic.... A superb sweep of history.”–The Times Literary Supplement

“The most readable and the most original of living military historians.”–The New York Times Book Review

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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