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Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways (Issues of Our Time) Hardcover – February 17, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0393060126 ISBN-10: 0393060128 Edition: First

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Product Details

  • Series: Issues of Our Time
  • Hardcover: 348 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First edition (February 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393060128
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393060126
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #922,051 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Children of deposed kings, sovereign nation states, terrorist organizations, alleged witches-all have been targets, at some point in history, of preemptive action. Whether such action was justified whether the results were as intended and whether the political fallout was tolerable are the factors that complicate this alluring concept, as explored by Dershowitz. Though one might expect Dershowitz to capitalize on the obvious example of the invasion of Iraq (as illustrated by the cover photograph of smoke rising over the Tigris), Dershowitz focuses a good share of this cautious study on Israel, where the policy of preemption has been practiced for decades, to varying degrees of success. The country's 1967 strike against Egypt and Syria to begin the Six-Day War comes as close to perfect preemption as any event in recent history, but that success has proved difficult if not impossible to repeat. If this book is divisive, it's only because Dershowitz calls into question any hardline view, pro or con, of a practice that depends on circumstance and calculated risk-and even then hinges on what the public is willing to accept (profiling, assassinations, a nuclear strike) in the name of a safer tomorrow.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

When and how should democratic societies respond to potentially dangerous conduct before the conduct takes place? The latest book from this prolific defense lawyer and legal scholar examines preemptive war, preventative detention, and restrictions on dangerous speech, and claims that in the absence of general legal principles (or even a healthy debate) about preemptive action, society's current trend away from deterrence and toward prevention (as accelerated by the "war on terrorism") threatens longstanding notions of individual liberty and state sovereignty. Attempting to articulate the rudiments of a jurisprudence of prevention and preemption, Dershowitz considers the risk calculus applied by Israel in its various preventative wars and digs into his own previous research into the problematic mathematics of prediction. Although the subject matter dovetails nicely with Dershowitz's recent work on torture and terrorism, this account conspicuously avoids those works' polemics and admits that constructing a jurisprudence for a democracy is a daunting task not well served by narrow political stances. Yet perennially provocative Dershowitz sneaks in a punch or two, speculating aloud about the possibility of preemptive action against Iran's nuclear program and arguing that preemptive war in Iraq may have hindered preemptive action against that nation. Best read in conversation with Richard Posner's cost-benefit argument for prevention in Catastrophe: Risk and Response (2004), this book is an academic and accessible framing of an important debate. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

ALAN M. DERSHOWITZ is a Brooklyn native who has been called 'the nation's most peripatetic civil liberties lawyer' and one of its 'most distinguished defenders of individual rights,' 'the best-known criminal lawyer in the world,' 'the top lawyer of last resort,' and 'America's most public Jewish defender.' He is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Dershowitz, a graduate of Brooklyn College and Yale Law School, joined the Harvard Law School faculty at age 25 after clerking for Judge David Bazelon and Justice Arthur Goldberg. While he is known for defending clients such as Anatoly Sharansky, Claus von B'low, O.J. Simpson, Michael Milken and Mike Tyson, he continues to represent numerous indigent defendants and takes half of his cases pro bono. Dershowitz is the author of 20 works of fiction and non-fiction, including 6 bestsellers. His writing has been praised by Truman Capote, Saul Bellow, David Mamet, William Styron, Aharon Appelfeld, A.B. Yehoshua and Elie Wiesel. More than a million of his books have been sold worldwide, in numerous languages, and more than a million people have heard him lecture around the world. His most recent nonfiction titles are The Case For Peace: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Can be Resolved (August 2005, Wiley); Rights From Wrongs: A Secular Theory of the Origins of Rights (November 2004, Basic Books), The Case for Israel (September 2003, Wiley), America Declares Independence, Why Terrorism Works, Shouting Fire, Letters to a Young Lawyer, Supreme Injustice, and The Genesis of Justice. His novels include The Advocate's Devil and Just Revenge. Dershowitz is also the author of The Vanishing American Jew, The Abuse Excuse, Reasonable Doubts, Chutzpah (a #1 bestseller), Reversal of Fortune (which was made into an Academy Award-winning film), Sexual McCarthyism and The Best Defense.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Izaak VanGaalen on July 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In this recently published book, Harvard law professor and lawyer Alan Dershowitz raises some questions about our fundamental assumptions about preventing harmful behavior from individuals and states. He asserts that in the age of terror traditional assumptions no longer suffice and that new tools of jurisprudence are needed to respond to a new kind of threat.

The traditional assumption has been to rely on the rational person standard of behavior which presupposes that a rational person would be deterred from inflicting harm by the threat of punishment. Under this theory the perpetrator would do a cost/benefit analysis of his or her actions and act accordingly. Now, however, in the age of suicidal terrorists with possible access to weapons of mass destruction this assumption no longer holds.

Given these circumstances, Dershowitz argues that there is now a potential need for profiling, preventative detention, forceful interrogation, restraint on free speech, targeted assasinations of terrorists, and preemptive military action. More importantly, he argues that we need a new jurisprudence to regulate these actions in these areas.

For Dershowitz the old maxim that it is better to release ten guilty than to detain one innocent no longer applies; it is better to detain one innocent then to let ten terrorist attacks occur.

The legal mechanism that Dershowitz proposes to regulate the actions of the state are as follows: "the seriousness of the contemplated harm, discounted by the unlikelihood that it would occur in the absence of preemption, would be greater than the likelihood of the harms caused by successful preemption, discounted by the likelihood (and costs) of failed (and successful) preemption.
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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book is probably the most important one Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz has ever written. In "Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Way," Dershowitz analysis one of the most crucial, yet most unexplored paradigm shifts of our time: the shift from deterrence to preemption - a paradigm shift that greatly influences both our domestic and foreign policy, as the White House reaffirmed just last week in its strategy report on national security. And yet, as Dershowitz convincingly shows, to this date there is no jurisprudence that would govern preemption.

In his magnum opus, Dershowitz not only shows why we need a jurisprudence of preemption. Employing historical analysis and legal acumen, he also outlines how we could think of such a jurisprudence.

With the concern of a civil libertarian, Dershowitz carefully examines the many areas of preemption, which are not regulated by, and thus not subject to, the rule of law, ranging from detention over compulsory vaccinations to humanitarian intervention to stop genocides. Although these topics have been discussed a great deal in the public sphere, no attempt has been made to construct a systematic morality and jurisprudence of preemption that would put these issues in context. Dershowitz has now filled this gap.

With "Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Way," Dershowitz showed once more why he is widely considered as one of the greatest public intellectuals of our time.

A must read for everyone interested in law, morality, and public policy!
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13 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Upstater on March 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Not only is this the first serious attempt to outline how we should think about preemptive and preventive military action, but it's a fascinating historical and philosophical examination of the entire field of preemptive state action. Dershowitz makes good use of his legal background in analogizing ways in which the criminal justice system uses and misuses preemptive profiling, detention, and civil commitment to foreign policy and military questions.

As always with Dershowitz, the style is fast, direct, and accessible. All in all, an unusually thoughtful book and a thoroughly enjoyable read.
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7 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on May 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As the military world moves increasingly towards making preemptive moves in the name of 'preventing' war, PREEMPTION: A KNIFE THAT CUTS BOTH WAYS becomes an increasingly important study. Author Alan M. Dershowitz is a lawyer and educator who traces society's shift in its approach to controlling dangerous human behaviors, from the local to the world level. A number of current examples charts these moves, from the tendency to profile suspicious behaviors to instigating proactive measures rather than reactive responses. Contrasting this approach to Cold War and other approaches, Dershowitz places in perspective past history, present actions and possible future scenarios.

Diane C. Donovan, Editor

California Bookwatch
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