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Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (October 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060548193
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060548193
  • Product Dimensions: 2.4 x 3.5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #652,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This edition of Vollman's treatise on political violence, 20 or so years in the making and completed before 9/11, abridges the 3,000-plus pages of the McSweeney's edition, an NBCC Award nominee last year. As he notes in a beautifully composed introduction, Vollman assumes political violence to be a human constant and thus addresses his attention to finding out when people use violence for political ends, how they justify it and on what scales they undertake it. Following 100 or so pages of expansive definitions, a nearly 300-page section titled "Justifications" culls an enormous number of texts and commentary, from nearly all recorded eras and locales, with all manner of excuses for killing. These Vollman brilliantly distills into "The Moral Calculus," a set of questions such as "When is violent military retribution justified?"—followed by concrete answers. The book's final quarter offers "Studies in Consequences," featuring Vollman's gonzo reportage from southeast Asia, Europe, "The Muslim World" and North America (represented here primarily by Jamaica). An appendix cites the longer edition's entire table of contents. This book's rigorous, novelistic, imaginative, sonorous prose treats a fundamental topic on a grand (and horrific) scale; there is nothing else in literature quite like it.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Vollmann's magnum opus, an extended inquiry into our motivations for and justification of violence, originally took the form of a seven-volume set. Compared with Linnaeus for its taxonomy and Gibbons and Churchill for its historical sweep, depth of analysis, and literary excellence, it is a massive and daunting work, however revelatory. So Vollmann, an intrepid journalist, daring novelist, and all-out writer of conscience and imagination, abridged his epic study into a single volume without losing its essence or power. Why, he asks, has violence always been a part of human affairs? What forms of moral calculus have we used to sanctify and excuse it? As he scrutinizes everything from self-defense to suicide, slavery, torture, genocide, and war, Vollmann turns to an array of thinkers for guidance, including Plato, Robespierre, Lenin, Hitler, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. But he also seeks the wisdom of the living, conducting nervy interviews in the world's hot spots. As rich in feeling as in history and analysis, Vollmann's masterful synthesis illuminates the most tragic realities of the human condition. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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It's brilliant and very, very readable.
Zachary Turpin
I have to admit that I felt daunted by the seven volumes of this book and bought the abridged edition.
A Common Reader
This book sat on my "too be read" shelf for a long time.
Michael P. McCullough

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Mark Mauer on January 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Something that I haven't seen in any of the reviews of Vollmann's book is this: "Am I going to want to read it?" After all, if you're spendng $120 or so on the thing, and you're interested in more that just looking at it on your bookshelf, it should be considered. Sure, Vollmann has written an important book by all accounts, but that doesn't mean I'm going to read it. Or even a quarter of it.
Well, good news: Rising Up Rising Down is very readable; moreso I think that his recent novel Argall, on which I remain stuck on around page 350. The book does get heavy of course in its theories and efforts to explore the connections it needs to make. But the chapters themselves are usually very short, and few examples in it last so long that you lose interest. A few more pages and he'll be talking about something else in a different country and different time. I raced through the first volume, and half of the second. At that point I got sidetracked with some other things, but I can't wait to get back into it.
In many cases you actually get nice short versions of difficult to understand historical events. For example, one hundred pages on what happened in the early Soviet Union when farms were turned into state owned collectives and the famine that resulted is actually much easir to read than a 500 page book on the topic, Frankly that's enough for me, and if I want to know more about it beyond that, Vollmann gives me a list of plenty of other books to check out on the topic as well.
I'll leave it to others to go into the strengths and shortcomings of this book. What I wanted to do here is just encourage people who are on the fence about buying this thing to not be discouraged by its length or topic or bewildering talk of Vollmann's "moral calculus." It is in fact a very interesting read, and the fact that you learn a lot at the same time hasn't hurt me a bit.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By The Dilettante on September 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The philosophy of war has always been unsatisfying. Abstract "moral calculus" -Vollman's label for the ethical analysis of violence - is clearly necessary, but the biological realities of violence always seem to render the sterile rationality of philosophers irrelevant. Determining when violence is and is not morally justified is such a difficult task that it is tempting to just dispose of the question, taking refuge in absolutist positions like pacifism or Kissingerian realism. As a result, worthwhile contributions to the practical ethics of war are few and far between.

This is the best attempt to reason through the moral problems of violence since Michael Walzer's "Just and Unjust Wars" and it improves on that flawed work in every way. Vollman's analysis is not limited to nation-states, he distinguishes between just and unjust regimes, he does not assume that there must be a binary moral value to every act of violence, and he knows when to conclude that a moral problem is insoluable.

Vollman passes judgment confidently when it is called for, but he has a healthy respect the lesser of two evils, the exigencies of war, and the pressures of decisionmaking in violent situations. He makes objective moral judgments, but they are clearly informed by his own subjective encounters with violence and death.

That said, this book has a lot of problems. First off, Vollman is clearly a thrill-seeker. When he talks about packing a handgun in Golden Gate Park or smoking crack cocaine, he reveals a very unusual attitude toward death. We should be suspicious of the moral handwringing of anyone who has deliberately seeks out violence.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Common Reader on May 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I have to admit that I felt daunted by the seven volumes of this book and bought the abridged edition. It is astounding! What I found most valuable is not the specific rules Vollmann lays out for deciding whether violence is justified or not, but the detailed and thoughtful examinations of specific historical events and people: the American Civil War, the Holocaust, the ethnic conflict in Yugoslavia; Napoleon, Stalin, Gandhi, and, most importantly, ordinary people who were victims or perpetrators of violence. Vollmann's writing is precise and eloquent and carries you so seamlessly from one page to the next that you don't realize until it's too late that you've reached the end of this 700-page volume. (And then you feel compelled to get your hands on the unabridged edition.) This is an immensely useful and revelatory book.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Average Homeboy on December 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
My experience reading RU&RD was more conventional; I read the volumes straight through. I have 2 hours of commuting on the subway each day so I get a lot of reading done. I started in May and finished volume seven in August with one month off while I was on vacation. I never found it tedious or repetitive. If one topic did not particularly excite me he would be on to another in 5 or 10 pages.

The binding and slipcase is gorgeous. When my copy first arrived the slipcase had been damaged, but McSweeney's shipped me a new case free of charge- and I didn't even buy it from them.

The only thing I can add which has not been covered by other reviewers is the photography. Vollman includes a couple dozen photos in each volume- i believe all of which he shot himself. They include shots of a friend of his who had just been killed by a sniper, a woman in columbia pointing to a bloodstain where her daughter was slain, child soldiers in Burma. I found the photos helped reinforced the reality of the exotic and often novelistically rendered personal experiences he offers in the second half of the book. I really enjoyed them.

The other thing I find amazing is that Vollman is working on another seven volume book about the 'symbolic history of north america.' I would have thought this would be considered a lifes work.
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