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On the Origins of War: And the Preservation of Peace Paperback – January 1, 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (January 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385423756
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385423755
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #129,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This book is best read as a counterpoint to Paul Kennedy's 1987 study, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Kennedy emphasized the primacy of domestic politics; Kagan, professor of history and classics at Yale, focuses on international relations, pondering why states choose to go to war. He sees the determining factors as those enunciated by Thucydides: "honor, fear, and interest." War cannot be eliminated because peace is not regarded as an absolute good, yet particular conflicts can be averted, according to Kagan. He analyzes five wars, ranging across 2500 years and involving widely different kinds of governments. He begins with the Greek city-states that fought the Peloponnesian Wars and moves to the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage, before jumping to the 20th century for the two world wars and the near-war of the Cuban missile crisis. The wide temporal gap between the ancient and the modern examples highlights Kagan's thesis that peace does not keep itself: "A persistent and repeated error through the ages has been the failure to understand that the preservation of peace requires active effort, planning, the expenditure of resources, and sacrifice, just as war does." A thoughtful review of an age-old phenomenon. Illustrations not seen by PW.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In his latest work, Kagan continues the theme of a parallel between ancient and modern history, which he brought forward in Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy (LJ 11/15/90). Studying the international systems in place at the time of the Peleponnesian War, World War I, the Second Punic War, World War II, and the Cuban Missle and Berlin Wall crises, Kagan concludes that peace is an active process requiring constant attention; it is not merely the absence of war. Kagan's overall premise will be certain to spark discussions in academic circles, and his discussion of the events that led to a near-war in the 1960s, particularly the tacit acceptance of the construction of the Berlin Wall by the Kennedy administration, may provoke a more public controversy as well. This work deserves a place in history collections. While his style is academic, his message is of importance to all in this post-Cold War world. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.
Stanley Planton, Ohio Univ., Chillicothe
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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In each case he examines the nature of the rivalry between the great powers in question.
Graham Henderson
The sections of this book explaining the origins of the First World War, the Second World War, and the Cuban Missile Crisis are especially good.
T. Green
You can definitely draw conclusions from it, I just wish the author discussed his philosophical views and reasons for them a little bit more.
ZaneOriginal

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Graham Henderson on July 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a spectacular book and one that all Westerners need to read in the wake of the events of last September. Donald Kagan has become somewhat celebrated of late. His recent book (written with his son) "While America Sleeps" has been justly praised and arrived at an extremely apros pos moment in American and world history.
But it was this book, "On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace" that first brought Kagan to the attention of the world. Kagan is a classical historian - he is the Bass Professor of History, Classics and Western Civilisation at Yale. I have reviewed the first volume of what might justly be called his magnum opus ("The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War") elsewhere.
This is NOT a history of war; this is a history of how it is that people come to fight wars. And while people often refer to this book as "One the Origins of War", I think that would be to miss the point. For this book is more about the preservation of peace than anything else. Elsewhere I note that Kagan has been critiqued for not spending any time discussing the wars themselves -- and the aftermath of the wars. But this is ridiculous. This misses the entire point of what Kagan is trying to do here. If that is what you are looking for -- look elsewhere and do not fault Kagan for failing to provide it.
Drawing heavily upon his classical training, Kagan compares the origins of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) with those of the First World War. He then compares the origins of the Second Punic War (218-201 BC) with those of the Second World War. His final chapter deals with the Cuban Missile Crisis (and relies heavily on recently declassified Soviet and American documents).
There is a sort of systematic approach.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By T. Graczewski VINE VOICE on December 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
Donald Kagan's "On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace" is a fabulous book with an important message. Derived from his popular undergraduate class at Yale, the book uses an eclectic mix of great power case studies to illuminate the importance of actively and energetically working to maintain great power peace is an international system that is inherently unstable and competitive.
Kagan's basic thesis is that war is a natural component of human society. Moreover, wars are just as likely to arise over intangible issues such as prestige, power, respect and honor as they are over more tangible concerns like land and natural resources. He demonstrates that attempts to avoid war through unilateral disarmament and conciliation -- although well intentioned -- are ultimately chimerical and doomed to failure. Kagan notes that many wars may be "unnecessary" and therefore avoidable, but war as an instrument of policy and change is permanent. Thus, the objective of statesmen should be to fight only those wars that are necessary, while maintaining a strong and credible defense to keep the peace. As Kagan writes "the preservation of peace requires active effort, planning, the expenditure of resources, and sacrifice, just as war does."
As for the individual case studies, I found them to be a bit longer than necessary, but each one was well-crafted and powerfully argued. The book does assume a certain familiarity with the subject matter, so the content may be a little overwhelming for those less-steeped in military history or foreign affairs.
The chapter on the causes of the Peloponnesian War is a gem, but essentially a synopsis of Kagan's seminal work in that area.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Michael Wendt on January 4, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you are at all interested in international relations, politics, or war as subjects for study, why haven't you read this book? Kagan, without ever pressing home some pet thesis, lays out in detail the events leading up to four wars that were and one that wasn't. Aside from learning many lessons from these individual histories - states and individuals almost never truly want war, "honor" construed as a potential or actual presence in international affairs (deference, prestige, etc.) often winds up being crucial in triggering a conflict, wishful and idealistic thinking or a failure to recognize a threat to a rival nation's security or honor have often contributed mightily to growing conflicts, and many others - one will also get a vivid, in-depth account of some critical moments, accounts that are likely to stick in your mind better than a more general history. While some of Kagan's points may seem to lean toward the trivial when taken out of context and looked at in the clear light of day, it is the very fact that over many years and many events, a slow buildup toward war involves these very things - that at the time are much harder to see clearly - that contribute to movements that end in war. To see the many missteps in detail in these cases is fascinating. With the exceptions of Chamberlain and some of his cronies, and especially Kennedy, very few of the men in this book come off as anything approximating downright foolish; nevertheless, in these pages you will find many men, through many small mistakes, leading their nations to war.
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