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The Savage Wars of Peace Paperback – February 8, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (February 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1403904324
  • ISBN-13: 978-1403904324
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,261,271 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"It gave me great pleasure, not least because it is so elegantly written; and above all it did what all splendid books should do, it whetted my curiosity."--Roy Porter

"Rewarding and innovative."--The Times Higher Education Supplement

"The crescendo of a highly successful writing career...a very remarkable book by a very remarkable man."--Peter Laslett, The American Historical Review

From the Back Cover

This book is concerned with the escape of an increasing number of people from the trap of war, famine and disease. Two hundred years ago, leading thinkers such as Adam Smith, Edward Gibbon and Thomas Malthus could not see how the inhabitants of the earth, then numbering less than a billion, could be adequately fed, clothed and housed. The world now holds over six times that number, half of whom live well above subsistence level. In The Savage Wars of Peace Alan MacFarlane seeks to explain how this has happened.

Through detailed comparative analysis of English and Japanese history the book explores such matters as the destruction of war, decline of famine, importance of certain drinks (especially tea), the use of human excrement and the effects of housing, clothing and bathing on human health. It also shows how the English and Japanese controled fertility through marriage and sexual patterns, biological and contraceptive factors, abortion and infanticide. It proposes a new way of linking cause and effect in history.

At one level this is a book of detection, trying to solve one of the great unsolved mysteries of history. At another it is a work of cultural translation, trying to explain the material and cultural underpinnings of East Asia (Japan) and Europe (England) through a long historical period. It thus combines history, anthropology, medicine and demography with a detailed use of contemporary sources including traveller's accounts, diaries and medical texts.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By JimBee on July 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
If you like economic and social history, and aren't put off by the price, this book is a gem. The author compares England and Japan and discusses why they didn't fall into a Malthusian boom and crash cycle. After reading the book, I wasn't quite sure he answered that question but I didn't care. The book is a fascinating, insightful look at these two very different cultures and is very worthwile for that reason.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Nathaniel Lane on September 1, 2012
Format: Paperback
Savage Wars of Peace is an engrossing, multifaceted study of demographic change, guided by nuanced understanding of economic and social forces. Using the two seemingly unrelated cases of Japan and England, Macfarlane weaves together a convincing, broad inquiry into how two nations evaded the Malthusian curse of war, famine, and disease. Both dense, rapidly changing islands seemed destined to realize Malthus' "iron laws" of demographic catastrophe. Macfarlane posits unexpected, unusual, but convincing reasons for averting "the curse." With the understanding of an epidemiologist, the causal insights of an economist, and the command of a historian, the author assembles a deeply interesting work with broad appeal.

This thick study hops from war to agricultural to nutrition to sanitation, finally landing upon fertility. While the arguments are numerous, the study is coherent. Take the case of war, agriculture, and epidemics: while war meant less strife, it also, most importantly, meant stable agriculture. Stable agriculture meant, paradoxically, a dense population primed for epidemics. However, unusually early (even misguided) interventions in public sanitation and housing, meant a population less susceptible to many epidemics--illustrated colorfully in a chapter on human excrement. Likewise, early emphasis on dirt, vapors, and bodily cleanliness and the (again, oft erroneous) connection to disease nonetheless had wide ranging effects. Accidents mattered, like the rise of tea: guided by folk belief in virility, tea consumption also meant an escape from bacteria that haunted the water supply--prime vectors of transmission for cholera. Macfarlane's assembles a social history alive with many moving parts, each interesting and surprisingly coherent.
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More About the Author

I was born in Shillong, Assam, India in December 1941, son of a tea-planter. I was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford, Sedbergh School Yorkshire. I went to Oxford University where I read history (M.A., D.Phil), and then anthropology at London University (M.Phil., Ph.D.). I became a Senior Research Fellow at King's College, Cambridge in 1971 and a Lecturer, then Reader, then Professor of Anthropology at Cambridge. I became a Fellow of the British Academy in 1986 and am now Emeritus Professor of Anthropological Science and Life Fellow of King's College.
I have published about twenty books, put up over 800 films on Youtube, have a large website at www.alanmacfarlane.com
I travel a good deal to Nepal, Japan, China and elsewhere and am interested in filming, computer databases and other things.
My hobbies are walking and gardening.
I work on all my many projects with my wife Sarah.
If you want to see a slice of my life, look for my very recently published volumes of autobiography, 'Dorset Days' and 'Dragon Days'.

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