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Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Modern Library Chronicles) Paperback – April 8, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


"This is a magnificent achievement" Daily Telegraph "Erudite and eloquent" Economist "Kurlansky writes history with his heart firmly on his sleeve, unashamedly hopeful that people are becoming more tired of war, quicker to condemn it" -- Adam Forrest Sunday Herald "Short and punchy and has a good heart... fascinating, vibrant and thought-provoking" Scotland on Sunday "This book is crammed with historical fact... thought provoking" Financial Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Mark Kurlansky is the New York Times bestselling and James A. Beard Award—winning author of Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World; Salt: A World History; 1968: The Year That Rocked the World; The Basque History of the World; and The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell; as well as the novel Boogaloo on 2nd Avenue and several other books. He lives in New York City.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Chronicles
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Reprint edition (April 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812974476
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812974478
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #238,667 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Mark Kurlansky is a New York Times bestselling and James A. Beard Award-winning author. He is the recipient of a Bon Appétit American Food and Entertaining Award for Food Writer of the Year, and the Glenfiddich Food and Drink Award for Food Book of the year.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By P. A. Thebert on August 1, 2008
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book because I have always been uncomfortable with violence and war in general. I felt that WWII was a just war, for example, but current events less so.
Kurlansky does a great job of detailing the futile history of war, and the potent history of nonviolence. He provides persuasive arguments for how and why nonviolence works. This is much more than Gandhi and MLK fighting for independence or equal rights... nonviolence works in nearly every situation, and Kurlansky states that it is inevitable that we as humans realize someday how poorly violence has worked, and try other options.

One provocative notion in the book is that once a state officially supports a religion, that religion is corrupted. He cites Constantine's embrace of Christianity with making that formerly nonviolent faith into one that supports war to maintain peace. He also cites Islam as a faith that is about peace, but has been changed due to its status as the official state religion in some nations.

An excellent conversation starter!

EDIT: I met the author at a book signing on the National Mall. He said he was glad to hear I assigned this book to my students, "It's the book I would most like students to read."
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By David Evans VINE VOICE on October 17, 2009
Format: Paperback
I learned an immense amount about non-violence from this book. Of course, we read about Ghandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. But the vast majority of the time is spent on less famed examples. We learn of non-violent resistance in Eastern Europe during the Cold War and under Nazi occupation during World War II. We learn of a non-violent army led by Abdul Ghaffar Khan in India that allowed themselves to be mowed down by the British with nary a violent move, leading to 80,000 more joining their number (149-150). Kurlansky explores the history of justification for war within the Christian church (and the strong-willed dissidents). He also examines non-violent alternatives to the actions chosen by wars that are often defended: World War II, the American Revolution, the American Civil War. I occasionally felt my interest flag, but only briefly. The book is accessible and generally well paced.

Two complaints:

1. It seems clear that Kurlansky is a fan of non-violence. That is not in and of itself problematic; in fact, I am quite sympathetic. However, occasionally it feels like he isn't exploring the full picture. For example, he cites a peaceful demonstration before the American Revolution, refusing to let judges chosen by the Crown to be seated in their courthouses, as an example of a non-violent victory: Yet he admits that the colonists had weapons, although they didn't use them. The threat of violence is not non-violence. I admit, though, that I am forgiving of his occasional inconsistency: This is a book demonstrating possibilities more than proving a point.

2. Euro centricity. There is time spent on Latin America and Asia (not much on Africa as I recall) but the lion's share is spent on North America and Europe, and the other areas are often touching those (i.e.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Review For Ewe on January 19, 2012
Format: Paperback
This book is extremely broad, covering human history from the beginning of polytheistic religions until the (almost) present day. The author is funny, articulate, and never dwells on any one topic too long and thus refrains from being dull. But this is precisely the problem. With a book on one of the most serious of topics set on being entertaining, the author's arguments can't help but be cheapened, reminding one of the plastic siding on the house you wish you had stopped renting long ago.

The author has a skimpy bibliography for a work claiming to be "THE history" (no, not "a history," but THE history) and does not bother to use citations for quotations or ideas as controversial as "more Jews were saved by nonviolence than by violence" during World War II (133). Sometimes this flaw takes the form of a "take-home lesson" style sentence that is frankly propagandist and ultimately lazy. "History teaches that somewhere behind every war there are always a few lies used as justifications," is a potent claim that was buttressed by one example (albeit without citations) that is not directly referred to again (39).

This book is a good example of one that will make you believe in a cause that you know very little about. If you want inspiration, read this. If you want knowledge, read something else.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Carol J. Stahl on September 10, 2013
Format: Paperback
Non-Violence: The History of a Dangerous Idea written by Mark Kurlansky mars his subject by its glaring gap in his catalog of non-violent campaigns. The book's blurb describes this as a discussion of "a distinct technique for overcoming social injustice. . ." yet Kurlansky makes no mention of the only proven successful non-violent social justice campaign in the United States. This non-violent effort began in 1848 and culminated in 1920. The 65th U.S. Congress proposed the XIX Amendment to the State legislatures on May 21, 1919. The U.S. Secretary of State proclaimed this amendment in effect on August 26, 1920. Success!

The U.S. women's suffrage campaign spanned five generations and required 72 years of persistent effort. Over those years activists worked in every state and lobbied every state legislature. Suffragists were demeaned by slavery abolitionists for staying focused during the civil war and reconstruction years. The abolitionists considered women's centuries of subordinate legal status less significant than their campaign. The XV Amendment that all U.S. citizens' right to vote "not be denied on account of race, color, or previous conditions of servitude" put into effect in 1870 is indicative of this prejudice. With more compassion in the abolitionist camp, the XV could have included the word "gender."

When suffrage activists staged marches and public demonstrations police in major cities rode horses over them, public media of the era reviled them, church pulpits denounced them, judges placed them in insane "asylums" or jails. There institutionalized activists were held without notification to their kin and frequently in solitary confinement.
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