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War Paperback – June, 1985

ISBN-13: 978-0256036459 ISBN-10: 0256036454 Edition: First Edition

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Paperback, June, 1985
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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Richard D Irwin; First Edition edition (June 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0256036454
  • ISBN-13: 978-0256036459
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 7.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,395,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A chronicle of organized human aggression gets a timely update in this new edition of a seminal book originally published 20 years ago. As Dyer covers the history of human warfare-from primitive tribal skirmishes and the "total war" of WWI and II to the imbroglios of the past 30 years (including the current one in Iraq)-a sense of cyclical inexorability begins to creep in, of history repeating itself again and again. One is struck by the notion that the only changes in the historical narrative of humans at war are new strategies necessitated by new, and exponentially more deadly, technologies. Implicit in Dyer's argument is the idea that, in war, humans have become increasingly subjugated to the increasingly awesome power of their machines, so that the nuclear stalemate of the Cold War becomes a logical extension of the deadlock of WWI trench warfare. Dyer is an accomplished military historian who bolsters his extensive knowledge with a rhetorical style that is at once invisible and entirely convincing. Structurally, the book accordions in and out from the psychology of individual soldiers, to the workings of whole armies, to broader historical movements and how they change (and stay the same) through time. It is a powerful effect, and one that ultimately makes this book at once a valuable historical treatise and a fervent and compelling call toward pacifism.
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.

About the Author

GWYNNE DYER served in the Canadian, British, and American navies. He earned a Ph.D. in military history from the University of London, and was a senior lecturer in war studies at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. The original version of this book, published in 1985, won a Columbia University School of Journalism Award. A seven-part television series based upon War was broadcast in forty-five countries in the mid-1980s; one of the episodes was nominated for an Academy Award. Dyer writes a twice-weekly newspaper column on international affairs and security policy that is published by 175 newspapers worldwide, many in the U. S. He lives in London with his wife and children.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Out of curiosity, I viewed the PBS series based on this book.
As modern communications and universal literacy make it feasible, nations will naturally move towards more equitable solutions.
Lucid, fast-moving, thought-provoking prose, intriguing arguements, excellent history.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Craig MACKINNON on February 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
In the mid-80's, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) presented a documentary on the nature of war. Hosted by Gwynne Dyer, my recollection (I was barely a teen at the time) is that it was an interesting and in-depth analysis on the nature of war. Dyer then proceeded to write a companion book, which has been out of print for some years. Now, there is this brand-new, updated version. Dyer has woven the events of the last 20 years into the fabric of the narrative, instead of tacking on an extra chapter at the end - thus it reads like a new book, not a money-grabbing enhancement of an old one. It has been out in Canada for a few months, and will make it's U.S. (re)debut in the spring.

In terms of timeline, this is the most comprehensive book on the roots of, and motivations for, war. Dyer uses archaeological evidence and combines it with analyses on the behaviours of our primate cousins (chimps, baboons, etc.) to build a description of the origin of organised society and the roots of warfare. He then proceeds through the ages, from Babylon and Egypt to the Cold War and the two U.S.-Iraq wars. In this way, he builds a complex but ultimately useful and compelling description of warfare as a human activity. He makes many of the same conclusions as John Keegan and others, but the sheer depth of the analysis is more complex than anything else out there, to my knowledge.

Granted, much of the material in this book has been covered before. For example, is war a natural condition of human societies? Is it inevitable that man will fight his peers? With his trademark wit and seemingly contradictory combination of optimism and sarcasm, Dyer convincingly builds his thesis.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Panopticonman on October 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
When a tourist lodge opened about twenty years ago in Kenya, the alpha males of a nearby baboon troop helped themselves to the easy pickings at the garbage dump. In the time honored tradition of baboon despotism where status obsessed males strictly enforce the prevailing hierarchy, the top ranking males claimed the spoils for themselves, and drove away their lower ranking brother baboons. The alpha males then perished en masse when they become infected with bovine tuberculosis from the rotten meat they ate at the dump. Once the alpha males died and their terroristic bullying tactics with them, the survivors were suddenly able to relax and began treating each other more decently. A new more peaceful baboon society was born.

Gwynne Dyer recounts this incident in the last chapter of "WAR: The Lethal Custom" to summarize and exemplify one of his main arguments in this thought-provoking work -- that our species' penchant for violence, although it does have roots in our evolutionary past, does not mean it is inevitable. He argues that as sentient beings we do have and have shown the capacity for making peace, too. In what is a hopeful but realistic retelling of the founding of the League of Nations after WWI and the United Nations after WWII, Dyer suggests that through it these organizations human beings are attempting to deal with the very real possiblity of species annihilation. He argues that the reversal of despoliation of the world must begin in earnest now so as to prevent the international anarchy that will undoubtedly follow if nations choose not to cooperate and instead chase after and fight over diminishing resources.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By R. L. MILLER on November 8, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Tom Clancy once observed that a war of agression is armed robbery writ large--"they've got it, we want it, let's go get it." That's a simplistic if accurate observation, but it only describes war in only one incarnation. This book was written during the last few years of the Cold War, when very few "experts" on the issue could be described as objective. Back then, only two camps were being heard from. One was the "gung ho" school of thought that admitted that war might not be very desirable, but when your country got a slap in the face from someone "over yonder", those responsible had to be taught a lesson. That of course is the product of nationalism having been confused with patriotism--the terms are not identical. The other was the pacifist school of thought, which maintained that any enemy can be reasoned with and should be at all costs, and that anyone in uniform is by definition a bloodthirsty human predator. The first is the product of a bottomless naiivete about human nature and ignorance of how societies other than one's own think--the second forgets that it's the criminal, not the soldier, who's a predator in human vesture. Out of curiosity, I viewed the PBS series based on this book. I found myself intrigued by Dyer's observation that the way to make a fighting man out of a young man raised to believe that killing people is wrong is to strongly imply the enemy aren't really people. When you get right down to it, that is borne out by the historical wartime habit of referring to the enemy by demonizing the enemy and referring to him in subhuman terms. Another of Dyer's comments that interested me was the observation that a nation that piles up stockpiles of weapons in preparation for war will sooner or later get that war.Read more ›
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