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Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace Paperback – April 10, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0195384611 ISBN-10: 019538461X

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (April 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019538461X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195384611
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 1.1 x 5.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #537,470 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"This is a passionate book containing a tidy account of systems of war and peace."--New Scientist

"This book offers a refreshing and timely look at the evidence that we have warfare in our genes. Clearly, the assumptions of those who argue this position exceed the facts. Using anthropological data, Fry argues forcefully that our species has not only a strong desire for peace, but also plenty of ways to achieve it."--Frans de Waal, author of Our Inner Ape

"If you believe humanity is doomed to war, read this book. If you want to convince others that it is not, read this book. Fry does two very important things in Beyond War. He shows that humans are not innately warlike and are fully capable of living in peace. And he shows how past scholarship has been biased by an assumption of a 'beast within.' His magisterial tour of the evidence is clear, sensible, and entertaining."--Brian Ferguson, author of Yanomami Warfare: A Political History

"Few questions are as controversial and consequential as whether war is 'natural.' In this important book, Fry does a fine job of demystifying the argument, while making a strong case for optimism. Human nature is a slippery thing, a concept often misused, yet crucial to understanding our past, present, and future. Beyond War will help scholar and lay-person alike to grasp hold."--David P. Barash, author of Madame Bovary's Ovaries: A Dawinian Look at Literature

"An important and timely volume, [Beyond War ] a valuable addition to the perennial debates on warfare."--American Anthropologist

About the Author

Douglas P. Fry teaches in the Faculty of Social and Caring Sciences at Åbo Akademi University in Finland and is an adjunct research scientist in the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology at the University of Arizona. A renowned anthropologist and a leading authority on aggression and conflict resolution, he has worked in this field for over twenty-five years and has published many articles and books on this subject.

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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on June 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Douglas Fry is professor of anthropology at the Abo Akedemi in Finland and an adjunct research scientist at the University of Arizona. His long-term interest is in understanding conflict and conflict resolution. His goal in this book is to counter what he calls the "neo-Hobbesian" view that prehistoric human communities, overwhelmingly hunter-gatherer in organization, were overwhelmingly fierce and war-like. He does this mostly by reviewing what we know about existing simple societies of the hunter-gatherer type.

Fry's is a marvelous way to gain insight into human possibilities. We lived most of our evolutionary history in hunter-gatherer societies, so human nature is without doubt the product of the social relations of hunter-gatherer life. Fry shows, through analyzing a welcome variety of small-scale societies that virtually every such society has complex and sophisticated rules for avoiding and resolving conflict, and there are many such societies that simply do not engage in warfare. Fry therefore uses anthropological evidence to persuade the reader that warfare in human society is not inevitable, and that human nature includes many tools for the peaceful resolution of conflict.

A second claim Fry puts forward in this book is that warfare is in fact uncommon in modern-day hunter-gatherer societies, and probably was uncommon in our Pleistocene hunter-gatherer past, To show this, he provides much argument but little evidence. Moreover, my colleague Samuel Bowles has recently completed a careful study of the extent of war among both prehistoric and historic hunter-gathers and comes to the opposite conclusion (Samuel Bowles, "Did Warfare Among Ancestral Hunter-Gatherers Affect the Evolution of Human Social Behaviors?" Science 324:1293--1298.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Ryan on August 31, 2007
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There are plenty of self-proclaimed "realists" advancing the argument that war comes naturally to human beings, but few scholars with the knowledge to effectively question that view and the writing ability to make their challenge a pleasure to read. Fry is one of them.

I won't get into the debate itself, better to buy the book and let Fry lay it out for you. I would, however, disagree with the previous reviewer about the importance of defining "war" before concluding that it is pervasive in human life. As Fry shows quite convincingly, you can only make the case for the universality of "war" if you define it as just about any lethal violence between three or more people. So a jealous man and his brother killing a third man (even within the same community) is considered to be "war" in these studies. Very misleading, dishonest science.

The example from New Guinea is equally misleading. The reviewer is correct about the aggressive relations between groups there, but does he really think a tightly-packed island is a relevant model for the conditions in which human beings evolved? The world was a big, empty place from the perspective of early humans. Walking away from conflict was always an option. By the time studies were conducted in New Guinea, population density had reached a point where there was no place left to go in order to avoid conflict. This is more relevant to present conditions than to prehistory.

But the reviewer's point about whether or not there is a universal human propensity to behave aggressively toward those not in our group (language, culture) is a good one. My reading of Fry's argument is that he acknowledges that humans have the "capacity" for violence, but not necessarily the "tendency.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Carolyn Polikarpus on September 5, 2010
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I am reading this for a course on Peaceful Societies and it has a very interesting perspective, is clearly written and will be an important part of my final paper. Recommended for anyone interested in helping create a more peaceful world based on realistic principles.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By JKJ on May 25, 2008
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Like many people, I'd come to believe that human nature is essentially war-like. After reading this book, I now understand that the vast majority of humans prefer peace, harmony, and postive problem-solving. The one problem we can't seem to solve (which is not addressed in this book) is how to choose leaders who prefer negotiated problem solving rather than violence.
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More About the Author

Professor Douglas P. Fry has recently returned to the United States to Chair the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He also maintains an affiliation with Åbo Akademi University in Vasa (Vaasa), Finland. Doug Fry is a passionate teacher and is known by his students for his somewhat unusual sense of humor. He received Åbo Akademi University's teaching excellence award in 2005 and regularly weaves anecdotes and human interest tidbits into his lectures and writings on war and peace.

As an anthropologist, Fry has written extensively on aggression, conflict, and conflict resolution in journals such as "Aggressive Behavior," "American Anthropologist," "Bulletin of Peace Proposals," "Child Development," "Journal of Aggression, Conflict, and Peace Research," "Sex Roles," among others. In 2012 and 2013 he has authored and co-authored with Patrik Söderberg articles in the leading journal "Science" titled "Life without War" and "Lethal Aggression in Mobile Forager Bands and Implications for the Origins of War." Fry regularly lectures on peacemaking in the USA, Europe, Japan, and beyond. Fry believes that anthropology, literally the study of humankind, has important insights to contribute to understanding war and peace: "In our ever-more global 21st century, many of the challenges facing humanity demand broader contexts. The macroscopic perspective of anthropology, with its expansive time frame and culturally comparative orientation, provides unique insights into the nature of war and holds some concrete lessons for how to develop a more safe and peaceful world."

Fry's most recent book is called "War, Peace, and Human Nature" (Oxford University Press), and brings together renowned scientists and scholars from different fields to focus on war and peace. Fry is the author of "Beyond War" (2007, Oxford University Press), "The Human Potential for Peace" (2006, Oxford University Press) and co-editor with Graham Kemp of "Keeping the Peace: Conflict Resolution and Peaceful Societies Around the World" (2004, Routledge) and co-editor with Kaj Björkqvist of "Cultural Variation in Conflict Resolution: Alternatives to Violence" (1997, Erlbaum). His ability to make complex topics interesting and to explore the serious subjects of war and peace with a blend of realism and hopefulness has received praise from luminaries such as Jeffrey "End of Poverty" Sachs, Frans "Age of Empathy" de Waal, and Robert "A Primate's Memoir" Sapolsky. Fry also is an Associate Editor of the "Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace, and Conflict," (2008, 2nd edition, Elsevier/Academic). In his spare time, which is rather limited, Fry enjoys traveling, cooking and especially eating, socializing and grooming with other primates, and engaging in occasional bouts of playfighting.

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