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Cowardice: A Brief History Hardcover – September 28, 2014


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Looking for something great to read? Browse our editors' picks for 2014's Best Books of the Year in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, children's books, and much more.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (September 28, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069113863X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691138633
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #222,423 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"[A] philosophical meditation on behavior usually considered too contemptible for serious consideration ... Cowardice: A Brief History is most valuable ... for the way it refuses to settle any ... issues. Like a geologist turning over a fragment of igneous rock, Mr. Walsh considers his subject from every angle, and then considers it again... Clearly, cowardice is an indispensable concept for living a life that we may bravely face."--Randall Fuller, Wall Street Journal "Walsh's well-written and wide-ranging study of cowardice offers some valuable insights into one of the military's--and society's--last taboos."--Australian "In Cowardice, Chris Walsh, associate director of the College of Arts and Sciences Writing Program at Boston University, provides a fresh and fascinating examination of the use of the term on--and off--the primal theater of cowardice, the battlefield. Drawing on research in evolutionary biology as well as an informed interpretation of American history and literature, Walsh analyzes the relationship between courage and cowardice, the tendency to characterize men and not women as cowards, and the distinction between physical and moral cowardice. Most important, Walsh argues, provocatively and persuasively, that over the past century the idea of cowardice has faded in significance, especially in military settings, and reappeared with somewhat different connotations."--Glenn Altschuler, Psychology Today "Given the pervasiveness of this feeling in our culture, it's somewhat astonishing that Walsh's book appears to be the only full-length study of cowardice in existence. Fortunately, he's packed a tremendous amount into 190 pages. The book offers a brisk survey of how the word has infiltrated our cultural notions of valor, and draws on authors ranging from Aristophanes to Dante to Stephen Crane, and philosophers from Confucius to Kierkegaard."--Steve Almond, Salon "[A] lively commentary on the concept of cowardice... Chris Walsh deftly unpicks the competing moral codes underpinning notions of cowardice and its opposite, courage."--Joanna Bourke, Literary Review "The discourse of cowardice may not bring easy answers to dilemmas so vexing as this one, but if it brought a little more honesty, that would be no small contribution. The somewhat paradoxical problem with facing up to cowardice, as Walsh's excellent book shows, is that it usually requires great courage."--Hedgehog Review "In this elegant and thoughtful discussion that draws on literature and films as well as military case law, Walsh thoroughly explores how the concept of cowardice has evolved as a result of changes in the way societies understand morality, human nature, and the nature of war. In the end, he argues, societies need a firm concept of cowardice; without it, they cannot grasp what it means to act courageously."--Lawrence D. Freedman, Foreign Affairs "[A]n entertaining and insightful guide to a heart-pounding subject."--Jennifer Michael Hecht, American Scholar "[Cowardice is] a thoughtful and engaging book."--Kyle Williams, Boston Review

From the Inside Flap

"With impressive insight and sensitivity, Chris Walsh holds up for careful examination one of war's last remaining taboos. That Cowardice simultaneously illuminates and discomfits is a mark of its success."--Andrew J. Bacevich, author of The Limits of Power and Breach of Trust

"We think we know the face of courage, but do we dare look into the face of fear? In Cowardice, Chris Walsh leads us on a journey from Dante's Inferno to Joseph Heller's Catch-22, with wide-ranging stops in between to examine this most taboo of emotions in life and literature. Sifting evidence from many disciplines, as well as accounts of desertions, derelictions, and courts-martial from more than three centuries, Walsh offers a nuanced and humane portrait of the feeling that may remind us most--and most uncomfortably--of our humanity."--Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life

"Thoughtful, penetrating, erudite, and gracefully written, Chris Walsh's analysis of cowardice sheds new light on an ancient and momentous human obsession."--Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works and The Better Angels of Our Nature

"There is a tough argument at the heart of this brilliant little book, but what will keep readers turning the pages is Walsh's astonishing resourcefulness as a reader (there is a surprise on almost every page) and the wisdom and lucidity of his style. Unexpected, unnerving in a way, yet wonderful."--Jack Miles, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of God: A Biography

"This is a probing look at the role cowardice plays in life. Ranging widely through literature and history, Cowardice has a freshness that is at once stylistic and substantive. Walsh demonstrates the formidable presence of cowardice and the imagination and effort required to live courageously."--Eugene Goodheart, Brandeis University

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By D. on November 5, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This slender volume offers a great deal more than its modest title would lead one to believe. It is more than a mere history: it is an analysis of a concept that has become, perhaps, the last great insult in our culture.

Walsh begins with physical courage, and a poke in the popular media's collective eye. Were the 9/11 terrorists "cowards"? They put their physical selves to the ultimate test, the very act that is defined as the opposite of cowardice when performed by winners of the Medal of Honor. Why is it cowardice when the actor is an enemy?

From this vantage point, Walsh explores the idea of cowardice in several aspects. If I had a quibble, it is that I would have liked more of this book.

Then, of course, it would not have been a "brief" history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By SteveB on December 6, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I love this book. I am always in the middle of some piece of fiction and nonfiction and this book puts it all together. The best history is biographical and this book is full of references to turning points in peoples lives where we each could imagine ourselves and wonder what would happen in that split-second between cowardice and bravery. Fiction and history are covered from ancient Greece to modern American foreign-policy to indigenous Pacific islanders. it's wide-ranging and extremely entertaining. There is even reasoned evolutionary analysis of the roots of cowardice. Great and fun read!
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Omnivoreader on October 9, 2014
Format: Hardcover
A book like this was long in coming. Very impressive work and research by Dr. Chris Walsh.
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