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War in Human Civilization

4.4 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199262137
ISBN-10: 0199262136
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Editorial Reviews


"War in Human Civilization is indeed the ambitious, sweeping book that the author set out to write. Both its scope and scale are impressive as is the wide range of sources and disciplines whose theories and methods are brought to bear on the 'riddle' of war.... The coverage and the deft weaving together of so many central theories on human behavior make this a book worth examining."--Michael S. Neilberg, Journal of Social History

"An immensely ambitious work covering not only history but archaeology, anthropology, ethnography, demography and economics, to name but a few... its weight of learning is borne aloft by the author's enthusiasm for his subject and takes his readers with it. If only there were more scholars like this." Michael Howard, TLS Books of the Year

About the Author

Azar Gat is Ezer Weitzman Professor of National Security in the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University. He has published widely in the field of military strategy and thought, including A History of Military Thought: From the Enlightenment to the Cold War, also published by Oxford University Press, and has taught and lectured at Freiburg, Oxford, Yale, Ohio State, and Georgetown universities.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 848 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (November 16, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199262136
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199262137
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.7 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,316,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. Kehler on January 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I had a bit of time over the holidays so I read two new massive tomes on warfare, Gat's and one by Max Boot. Gat's stunningly comprehensive work is so good that it manages to make other 500+ page books seem positively lightweight and journalistic in comparison. This treatment of the history of war and warfare, or 'human belligerency' as Gat puts it, would overwhelm the non-specialist (it clocks in at about 820 pages), if it weren't for the author's ability to synthesize material, sum up scholarship and, last but not least, write some of the clearest and most lucid prose I've seen in the social sciences in ages. He makes forays into evolutionary theory, state formation, antiquity, technology and the rise of science, prehistory, the transition to agriculture, democratic peace theory, etc. The chapter on tribal warfare (in Agraria and Pastoralia, as Gat puts it) is -- as the saying has it -- worth the price of admission alone. His careful demolition of radical Rousseauist idealism is equally fascinating, but he is no simplistic, knee-jerk Hobbesian.

Gat is philosophically astute as well as deep; he knows history as well as theory; and he even treats, if briefly, the question of the causes of war. Above all, the book is animated by his personality: one can surmise that, yes, he's quite intellectual, but his is a mind that is always probing, curious and interesting. (There's a picture of the author on the back flap. He is youngish but he has bags under his eyes. He must read and write around the clock. I for one am grateful.) This is my book of the year.
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Format: Hardcover
This book actually contains all of the complete details necessary for a comprehesive 2-semester interdiciplinary course on war - at the graduate level. And even if you are a "war college" graduate from any military service - you've never read about war the way Azar Gat presents War. Reading Azar Gat requires one to study and reflect upon the massive amount of supporting comprehesive details that he so skillfully presents -as well as the overall perspective he supports. In this particular case, Gat presents a very detailed perspective of War based upon a cogent argument of complex bio-cultural interaction. He starts at the very beginning of primitive wars (primates/Homo Erectus), and works all the way on up to modern war as we know it. (And don't be fooled - because it's not Darwin's brand of evolutionary theory anymore either.) It is a very complex in presentation - but necessarily so in order to professionally justify a rather basic argument built upon well documented facts, propensities, predispositions and trends of human nature/nuture as they affect the phenomenon of war. It is an argument that is anything but mere opinion. This is an excellent 'insightful' book for mandatory reading at the highest levels of government or military - in any government or military. Surprisingly despite the complexities, it is quite understandable, for you often walk away with many thoughts like - "Well that's what I suspected all along." The price is a mere pittance vis-a-vis the facinating and illuminating content of this book. Anyone who reads "War in Civilization" will never look at War the same way again - including the current wars that are going on right now. You WILL have to read this book at least twice! It's a Keeper!
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Format: Hardcover
The first line of Azar Gat's tome, War in Human Civilization, asks a seemingly innocuous question, "Is war grounded, perhaps inescapably, in human nature?" By examining a daunting array of fields--cultural and biological evolution, psychology, archeology, history, political science, sociology, and ethology--Gat constructs a comprehensive analysis of war unprecedented in scope and brilliance.
War in Human Civilization is split into three parts, "Warfare in the First Two Million Years: Environment, Genes, and Culture," "Agriculture, Civilization, and War," and "Modernity: the Dual Face of Janus." Gat begins by examining the fundamental motivations for violent conflict in nature. Adhering to the tenets of biological evolution, violent encounters were the product of competition for reproductive success--access to females and the resources necessary to attract and support them--and somatic resources, food. Gat proposes an "evolutionary calculus" in which the motivations for violent conflict are the direct or subsequent necessity of fitness. The evolutionarily selected behaviors that lead to violent conflict are (1) competition (2) retaliation to injure the enemy and/or reestablish deterrence, and (3) kin-based altruism, dictating that one's willingness for self-sacrifice decreases as the cost-benefit of genetic similarity decreases. Simply, the fight for survival and the protection of offspring, siblings, cousins, and so on, are innate.
Gat utilizes the ideologies of Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In drawing a distinction between hunter-gathers and pre-state agriculturalists, he finds that the Hobbesian view of intrinsic violence "closer to the truth," but not entirely dominating.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is truly a "shock and awe" book! Once again, Azar Gat will stun and amaze you with 800 pages of pure intellect to the Nth degree! I was always very impressed by his other books on war. Yet, with 28+ years of active duty military service and a personal library of 1000+ books on various military subjects - I have NEVER been more impressed by such a comprehensive interdisciplinary treatment on the "enigma of Warre". This book seamlessly blends psychology, sociology, archeology, anthropology, and history, along with a myriad of other relevant disciplines to provide the most extensive examination on the general theme of war that I have ever experienced. I am now totally convinced that all senior military officers should only study the broad scope of war from such a well-informed interdisciplinary approach {long before they delve into any details with the devil). This book is anything but a `same-old-same-old' standard perspective of war. This book will force a truly open-minded reader to reassess every facet of war - and every predisposition encountered about war. I believe that this book is "the" seminal document to begin a reeducation and reassessment of our all of our so-called `modern-day' beliefs, motives, policies, strategies, operations and tactics about war. This book should be a mandatory read for all senior officials at the Whitehouse, DOD, DoS,DNI, NSA, CIA, FBI, and ALL intelligence agencies. This book should be a mandatory read at every service staff college and war college. Get it - read it - read it again and again - and you will ponder new perspectives about the riddle of war for years to come.
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