From Publishers Weekly
Kurlansky applies the microhistorical approach of his bestellers (Cod
) to the loftier subject of nonviolence—which, he observes, is so "profoundly dangerous" to the powers that be that it has never existed as an idea in and of itself, only as the absence of violence. "Active practitioners of nonviolence are always seen as a threat," he says, and the conflict between authority and nonviolent resistance becomes a "moral argument" that, all too often, the nonviolent lose by abandoning their ideal in the name of self-defense. But as he studies the history of nonviolence from the dawn of Christianity to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Kurlansky can also point to prominent victories, like Gandhi's quest for Indian independence and the Eastern European resistance to the Soviets. There are plenty of missed opportunities, too; the American Revolution, he suggests, need not have escalated into war; "protest and economic sabotage" might have forced Britain to withdraw from the colonies. Sometimes, Kurlansky's impassioned rhetoric turns argumentative, and his "lessons"—e.g., "behind every war there are always a few founding lies"—offer scant practical guidance to those wanting to take up the nonviolent mantle themselves. (Sept. 5)
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Kurlansky's particular point is the last of the lessons referred to in the subtitle: "the hard work of beginning a movement to end war has already been done." All the lessons he notes are important, but he is at his best when retelling popular stories of nonviolence practiced at various times and places over the course of several thousand years, though from a scholarly perspective his language is woefully imprecise. If he introduces readers to the deep, multicultural roots of nonviolence and prompts examination of the variety of governments that have found nonviolence threatening, the level of public discourse on violence may rise. If his blanket dismissal of pacifism as passive provokes nonviolent activists to respond, perhaps what may be learned about the lies behind all wars will lead to wiser decisions by more citizens. And if the casual reference to "the 58,000 people who were killed" in the Vietnam War prompts second thoughts about who should count among those caught up in the march of violence, all the better. Steven SchroederCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved