- Series: Yale Nota Bene
- Paperback: 480 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press (September 1, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300087152
- ISBN-13: 978-0300087154
- Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 38 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #380,614 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
Find Rare and Collectible Books
Discover rare, signed and first edition books on AbeBooks, an Amazon Company. Learn More on AbeBooks.com.
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
In Humanity, English ethicist Jonathan Glover begins with the now commonplace observation that the last 100 years were perhaps the most brutal in all history. But the problem wasn't that human nature suddenly took a sharp turn for the worse: "It is a myth that barbarism is unique to the twentieth century: the whole of human history includes wars, massacres, and every kind of torture and cruelty," he writes. Technology has made a huge difference, but psychology has remained the same--and this is what Glover seeks to examine, through discussions of Nietzsche, the My Lai atrocity in Vietnam, Hiroshima, tribal genocide in Rwanda, Stalinism, Nazism, and so on.
There is much history here, but Humanity is fundamentally a book of philosophy. In his first chapter, for instance, Glover announces his goal "to replace the thin, mechanical psychology of the Enlightenment with something more complex, something closer to reality." But he also seeks "to defend the Enlightenment hope of a world that is more peaceful and more humane, the hope that by understanding more about ourselves we can do something to create a world with less misery." The result is an odd combination of darkness and light--darkness because the subject matter of the 20th century's moral failings is so bleak, light because of Glover's earnest optimism, which insists that "keeping the past alive may help to prevent atrocities." He cites Stalin's bracing comment, made while signing death warrants: "Who's going to remember all this riff-raff in ten or twenty years' time? No one." At one level, Humanity is a book of remembrance. But it's more than that: it's also an attempt to understand what it is in the human mind that makes moral disaster always loom--and a prayer that this aspect of our psychology might be better controlled. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
An ethics academic in Britain, Glover discourses on the dismantlement of absolute morality concepts synonymous with Friedrich Nietzsche, and explicitly put into effect by the twentieth century's terrible tyrants. To describe the release Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot granted themselves from ordinary morality's prohibitions against killing, Glover quotes their ideological justifications of creating a perfect human society. Having opened this book with Nietzsche's pronouncements that man creates his morals, Glover's linking of mass murder with that philosopher is direct, and, if not an original way of comprehending the sufferings inflicted by dictators, it is worthwhile revisiting for those vexed by the apparent meaninglessness of enormous crimes. Indeed, Glover is a direct writer, not given to the opacity that clouds many a discussion of ethics. For instance, he narrates specific atrocities, and describes the psychological "traps" the triggermen find themselves in as their rationales for their actions. The "trap" metaphor extends in Glover's view to events such as World War I, and whatever dispute diplomatic historians will make with that, ethicists will find profit in Glover's not totally bleak survey. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Perhaps it has been that the view of human psychology developed during the Enlightenment has stagnated, failng to adjust to new developments and the outgrowths of those developments in the industrialized world. Glover tellingly quotes John Maynard Keynes's criticism of Bertrand Russell's comments about life and affairs as "brittle" because there was "no solid diagnosis of human nature underlying them."
But Glover errs by leading his book with a look at Nietzsche as a harbinger of the new type of thinking, concentrating on Nietzsche's values of "cruelty," which the philosopher had associated with the overman, the man who overcomes himself, creating new values in the process. Nietsche did not endorse his values of the ubermensch as values for the mass of humanity. The Nazis attempted to adopt Nietzsche as a philosophical cornerstone, but it is evident from their writings, especially those of Alfred Baumler (quoted by Glover), that they did not understand exactly what their chosen philosopher was really saying. Glover would have been much better off in this study by leading off with a study of Nietzsche's study of resentment. The twentieth century marked the triumph of resentment over rationality, taking the technology developed through and by a brittle rational world-view and using it not for the enhancement of human life, but rather the destruction of life.
Glover also misses another opportunity when he fails to note that the bloody reigns of Stalin and Mao are in a very large sense based on the Enlightenment view of human psychology that mankind was perfectible. Those not in step with the new order were deemed expendable, Glover quotes a chilling statement Stalin made while issuing arrest warrants, "Who's going to remember all this riff-raff in ten or twenty years' time? No one."
Most of Glover's analysis is spent with Hitler, and from the viewpoint of twentieth century history we can understand why. Much more is known about Hitler and his regime than those of Stalin and Mao, of whom new revelations are made with every passing year. In covering the excesses of all three dictators, Glover remains on target with an analysis that keeps the reader turning the pages.
Other strong points include chapters on Hiroshima, Rwanda, the Gulf War, and the refusal of Italians to help their allies, the Nazis exterminate Jews in Croatia, serving as a beacon of hope and rationality in a deadly irrational darkness.
Well worth your time and money, especially that it is now in paperback, and thus easier to read on the train or bus. The book will make you think and is the perfect tome to read on the way to and from work.