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Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War

42 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0805057874
ISBN-10: 0805057870
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Editorial Reviews Review

In this ambitious work, Barbara Ehrenreich offers a daring explanation for humans' propensity to wage war. Rather than approach the subject from a physiological perspective, pinpointing instinct or innate aggressiveness as the violent culprit, she reaches back to primitive man's fear of predators and the anxieties associated with life in the food chain. To deal with the reality of living as prey, she argues that blood rites were created to dramatize and validate the life-and-death struggle. Jumping ahead to the modern age, Ehrenreich brands nationalism a more sophisticated form of blood ritual, a phenomenon that conjures similar fears of predation, whether in the form of lost territory or the more extreme ethnic cleansing. Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War may not offer a cure for human aggression, but the author does present a convincing argument for the difficulties associated with achieving peace. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Social critic and Time magazine essayist Ehrenreich (The Worst Years of Our Lives, LJ 4/15/90) turns her attention here to anthropology, delving into the causes of man's age-old interest in war. Her remarkable thesis is that primitive peoples were defined not so much by a killer predatory instinct as by their role as prey for other animals. Social constructs such as war and ritual sacrifice then developed as ways to reenact the primal emotions of being prey?the terror of facing a hungry beast. Her thesis is fascinating, and the anthropological exposition is well written and convincing, if mainly speculative. Ehrenreich's last section, which uses scattered examples from modern history to illustrate the "sacralization" of war, is also intriguing (if somewhat less convincing). Recommended for both public and academic libraries.?Robert Persing, Univ. of Pennsylvania Lib., Philadelphia
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (May 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805057870
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805057874
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #728,831 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

BARBARA EHRENREICH is the author of fourteen books, including the bestselling Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. She lives in Virginia, USA.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Charles F. Hawkins on July 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
The original thinking that underlies this work should propel Barbara Ehrenreich to the fore of military and combat theorists of any era. Her thought provoking analysis in "Blood Rites" is a refreshing challenge to conventional wisdom about the nature of war and fighting in particular.
As a veteran of brutish infantry combat, I intuitively fell in line with Ehrenreich's reasoning that man (or woman) did not spring combat-capable from the woodlands and savannah of pre-historic times. Yet something happened in the dark recesses of our cultural antiquity to cause a fundamental change in the human psyche so that war and fighting became an accepted norm.
The "Beast" is Ehrenreich's universal term for the enemy--what we term the "threat" in today's military parlance. The Beast--be it sabre tooth tiger or man-eating shark--represented a deity. The Beast could kill early man at a whim; likewise, the carrion of kills left behind by the Beast were also sustenance for early human scavengers. Only a god can give and take life.
Imagine, then, the cultural shock a society must have felt when, finally, one of its members (or group led by one more able) managed to foil the Beast's depredations and kill it. Once the giver and taker of life had been slain by a human it must have seemed tantamount to killing god to others in the society. And, the initiator of this act of ultimate rebellion was very likely a woman.
Ehrenreich works through her ideas in great (and sometimes laborious) detail. But the weight of evidence is compelling, and her analysis is direct and forceful.
Although several years in print, Ehrenreich's literary coin is as fresh as yesterday's mint mark. "Blood Rites" should be read again for the first time by military thinkers everywhere.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By G. Joy Robins on November 9, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I loved Nickel and Dimed but was disappointed in For Her Own Good. Barbara Ehrenreich is a prolific writer and, I guess, not everything can be a gem. Blood Rites is well researched and exciting reading. Ehrenreich attacks the nature and origins of War, a subject on which she is admittedly not an expert. She brings a fresh eye, excellent research skills and the ability to put her conclusions in clear and compelling language.

Her key conclusion is that war grew out of our early experiences as prey turned predators. I don't know if that is as revolutionary an idea as she claims, but she convinced me. War is a religious experience based on the blood sacrifices of early humans to propitiate predator gods. It evolved with human society and now serves the new religion of nationalism, known in the US as patriotism.

While it is a human creation, like Frankenstein's monster, it has taken on a life of it's own and has become the new Beast. It is so enmeshed in our consciousness and culture that we may not be able to stop it. We find ourselves throwing young men and women into its merciless maw at a rate that makes even the bloodiest ancient rites seem tame in comparison.

Ehrenreich draws us to that frightening conclusion and then, apparently in search of a happy ending, suggests that perhaps the modern anti-war movement will grow powerful enough to actually put a stop to it; the war against war serving as the new but benign secular "religion".
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Jerome Horton on April 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Being a Sociology major I found Barbara Ehrenreich's study of the Origins of war most interesting. For the first time, I have found a book that tries to answer the question why do we continue to have wars and what important part of our culture's development do they continue to play? The idea of prey and preditor still exists. The ideas of war being religious and part of the feeling of nationalism helped to make sense of something I could never understand. I have lent out my copy to many. Others I know have bought a copy on my recommendation. It leads to many interesting discussions of war. I have even lent it to a person who spent much of his time in the military. I think it provides food for thought whether you're a militant or pacifist.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 31, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ehrenreich is her usual intelligent and sharp self. This book couldn't be more timely--especially the chapter on "War as Religion, " and the "Ecstacy of War." She describes perfectly the jingoism afoot today and the made fervor for war on all sides with psychological insight. This book is more timely than ever--a must read at this juncture in our U.S. history as Afghan civilians are bombed in order to capture and destroy terrorist criminals who will not be rounded up adequately by bombs. In a war that should be fought with diplomacy and intelligence and United Nations ground troops, the bombing is counterproductive and creates more enemies and terrorists. Living during a war which is greatly about military profiteering and oil reserves near the Caspian Sea, one finds all the answers for the madness of our time and the bloodbath of our history in Erenreich's insightful pages. BLOOD RITES is a brilliant book, and I've read tons of literature on this subject.
Daniela Gioseffi, author of WOMEN ON WAR: International Voices for the Nuclear Age, The Feminist Press, 2002, new edition of the 1988 American Book Award Winner from Touchstone/Simon and Schuster.
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