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The Mystery of Courage Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1ST edition (September 29, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674003071
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674003071
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #588,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Originally conceived as a meditation on cowardice in an extension of his "misanthropic series" (The Anatomy of Disgust; Humiliation), Miller's volume eventually gave way to the more compelling qualities of that "glorious phantom," courage. Unfortunately, fear remains the heart of the work. Miller seems unable to see courage positively; rather he views it as a negative state in which people merely lack a motivating fear. His language repeatedly plays on self-doubt. Discussing military duty, he confesses, as though driven by personal demons, "those who were given these orders and duties, with very few exceptions did not refuse them. The rate of compliance flabbergasts us, because we cannot quite trust that we would not have collapsed sniveling or cowering." The emphasis on fear, especially physical fear of death or injury in combat, leaves Miller nonplussed by non-martial forms of courage that have less to do with fear than sacrifice, determination and will: nurses in war zones and women on the frontier are dispensed with in two sentences. The convoluted structure also leads to some strange definitions of courage: "among the Cossacks... courage's substance may have been nine parts pitilessness and cruelty." As a law professor, Miller is well positioned to discuss social contracts and how people resolve conflicts between the good of society and self-preservation. Instead, he explores such trivial (or uncontroversial) issues as whether a man suffering a heart attack in a cafe should bother other patrons to get medical help. Miller admits at the outset that he cannot pin down the nature of courage; his failure to explore its deep moral and ethical issues will disappoint serious readers. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In this fourth solo effort, Miller (The Anatomy of Disgust) presents a provocative analysis of the fine line between courage and cowardice. Using historical example, literature, and the memoirs of soldiers, sailors, and marines, Miller has put together a witty, articulate, and thoughtful study of why some fight and some run. From ancient Greeks and Romans to the 20th-century warrior, Miller examines the social, cultural, and psychological factors that define courage and cowardice. Through the occasional psychobabble, Miller does offer some interesting insights into this unsolvable psychological mystery. He determines that courage is what society perceives it to be, whether moral or physical. Instinct, luck, training, peer pressure, opportunity, skill, shame, and the desire for glory are all factors that can influence the actions of a hero or a coward. Most interesting is his surprising discussion of how and why cowardice is a crime in the military society. This excellent study is rich with examples of those who stood or ran in battle and how they were judged by their fellow soldiers; it would be a perfect companion to John Keegan's superb book, The Face of Battle (1983). Recommended for all public libraries.
Col. William D. Bushnell, USMC, (ret.), Sebascodegan Island, ME
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Brian G. on June 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had the privilege of studying the dynamics of the blood feud culture under Professor Miller. After the class I began reading some of his literature. Miller's historiography and use of primary sources is gripping, and his frank admiration and identification with honor cultures of the past is refreshing in this time of stifling political correctness.
Professor Miller has an extremely rare gift: He sees both himself and others as they really are. His self-examination is as important to his work as his historical analysis and philosophical musings. If you are honest with yourself you will recognize many aspects of your own psyche from Miller's writings.
"The Mystery of Courage" can tell you more about yourself than a thousand psychotherapists. This is a must read- you will never think of honor, bravery, fear, life or death the same way again.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is a scholarly work that gives real insight into the nature of courage. It's very well-written. The book draws on soldier's stories from ancient Greece to Vietnam and shows how the concerns about measuring up "when the chips are down" have not changed much despite the passage of thousands of years.
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Format: Hardcover
This review is based on a reading of only a small part of the book. However that sample provided me with a great deal of enthusiasm for reading the rest.

The subject of 'courage' is one of endless fascination. The definition of Courage as Miller makes clear at the outset of this work is by no means sure and easy. He opens the book by telling a story from the Civil War which he calls the 'Story of the Good Coward" This was a soldier who did all his duties well, volunteered often to help others. And whenever there was an engagement for battle , readied himself, prepared to go into the battle but somehow took fright and could not. What is surprising is that his fellow soldiers did not curse and banish him, but rather tried to support and encourage him. They seemed to understand that he simply did not have what it takes to face the battle.

Miller discusses 'courage' in relation to the overcoming of fear. He raises the question of whether 'courage' is fearlessness, or knowing how to live with and overcome one's fear. He discusses Courage in relation to a wide variety of psychological and moral questions. He uses too a wide variety of sources from battle memoirs to philosophical discussions of the subjects.

He points out that Courage too is in today's world often indicted. And this when his historical discussion notes how the Greeks considered Courage one of the major virtues. Miller considers historical efforts of Plato, Aristotle ,Aquinas ( patience and sufferance, as Christian courage) to define this quality.

This review is in part written because of the attention called to the book by the act of courage of Virginia Tech University Professor,Holocaust survivor, Liviu Librescu.
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1 of 19 people found the following review helpful By "ian_holcomb" on March 21, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Once upon a time, there was such a thing as courage. It was at the center of all our stories. Now there are no more stories worth telling and all human beings are weak. At least we still have the stories and this book has some great ones, and true. For example, there's the one about the American GI on the Italian front who "charged" an enemy position on one knee and the stump of his other leg, shot off at the knee.
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