The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians: Why It Has Always Failed and Why It Will Fail Again Kindle Edition

3.6 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0375508431
ISBN-10: 0375508430
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist and military historian Carr (The Alienist, etc.) penned this brief history of terrorism as a corrective to the widespread perception spread by ill-informed journalists and politicians that the September 11 attacks were unique and unprecedented. Carr argues from the start that terrorism must be viewed in terms of "military history, rather than political science or sociology," and that the refusal to label terrorists as soldiers, rather than criminals, is a mistake. Underlying Carr's argument is the view that a repugnant bloodthirstiness arises when one civilization, no matter how advanced, encounters another. Accordingly, as Western civilization spread throughout the 17th and 18th centuries via imperialism, and Europe's seemingly more disciplined armies encountered strange peoples such as the Aztecs, Native Americans and south Asian Indians the wholesale slaughter of noncombatants became commonplace. No liberal, Carr zooms in on the history of the U.S. and looks at how terror tactics are fundamental to U.S. military efforts. Such tactics, he shows, were first established in the Civil War, culminated with the firebombing of Germany and Japan during WWII, and reappeared later during the Vietnam War. He traces the manner in which politicians and intellectuals have sought to justify and then curtail attacks on civilians throughout history. Only occasionally dry or repetitive, this often fascinating, accessible tome skillfully contends that the terrorizing of civilians has a long and controversial history but, as an inferior method, is prone to failure; it is rooted as much in human nature as it is in the need for military expediency. (On-sale: Jan. 29)

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

To ignore history is to repeat past mistakes. History professors proffer that piece of wisdom as the primary reason for studying history. Carr, author of the best-selling historical novels The Alienist (1994) and The Angel of Darkness (1997) and also a military historian, certainly supports that maxim in this beautifully articulated but sobering history of terrorism. Without a doubt, Carr's book needs to be read by as wide an audience as possible. Looking as far back as ancient Rome and bringing his analysis up to the present, he does not so much suggest as insist that terrorism is nothing new and that it is not a political or sociological issue. Terrorism, he argues, is as old as warfare itself, and, indeed, it is warfare, the kind of warfare "deliberately waged against civilians" to break the enemy's will. Further, Carr presents convincing evidence that terrorism has never succeeded in its purpose and that it cannot be fought successfully by repaying in kind or by refusing to recognize its military nature--we must see terrorists as the soldiers they really are. Why pay such close attention to correctly defining terrorism? Because "there have never been two more vital and powerful forces at work in the world than international capitalist democracy and fundamental Islam, nor two forces more capable of physical and cultural destruction." Jolted into reading this book? Good. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 262 KB
  • Print Length: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (January 15, 2002)
  • Publication Date: January 15, 2002
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #854,117 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. Kollars on February 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book begins by defining "international terrorism" (also called "destructive war" or "punitive war") as "warfare deliberately waged against civilians with the purpose of destroying their will to support either leaders or policies that the agents of such violence find objectionable." This book only makes sense if one temporarily accepts that definition. Although such a definition of the word "terrorism" at first seems quite removed from the events of 9/11, the author shows how that event fits into his definition. The book's principal thesis is that such violence is always spectacularly counter productive in the long run.
An important corollary is that terrorists should be treated as war opponents not as criminals, and their actions should be treated as acts of war not crimes. Rather than treating them on a par with smugglers drug traffickers or political mafiosi, we should treat them as (organized highly trained hugely destructive) paramilitaries.
In describing the development of and changes to war against civilians, the book romps through more than two millenia of military history. The necessarily rather sketchy stories in this brief book provide a fascinating and accessible broad brush introduction to military history.
My chief complaint with the book --especially the first part-- is that it it doesn't provide sufficient detailed arguments to support its thesis, perhaps because it so quickly covers so much ground. A reader with a good background in military history might receive the messages differently; what I found to be simply good stories might be a sort of shorthand that would bring forth the memory of many more details from the knowledgeable and provide much more support for the thesis.
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Format: Hardcover
Carr argues, simply, that the tactics of terror never work. Where he gets controversial is identifying certain tactics used by the US in wars past as "terrorism." Whether you agree with that designation, his argument that targetting civilians always backfires is well-laid-out and persuasively argued.
The trouble, of course, is that I'm not a military historian and have no way of knowing if his argument is valid. If one argues that terrorism is *never* successful, all it takes to invalidate that argument is a single example of a successful terror attack. I have no idea if there are examples that are not mentioned in the book, but it seems to me that Carr is on somewhat shaky ground when he says that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were ultimately self-defeating.
He may be right -- there may have been ways to use the A-Bomb that would have been even more effective and not killed so many civilians, but it is hard to deny that the bombs had the desired effect -- Japan surrendered immediately. I would have liked him to go into this, and a few other examples, further. I still fail to see how, pragmatically speaking, the A-bomb attacks on Japan "failed to work." I understand completely the moral argument, that the attacks were morally repugnant, and probably unnecessary, but Carr argues in other parts of the book that one doesn't need to argue against terror on a moral basis -- that it simply doesn't ever work, and that's that.
Still, a completely thought-provoking book that caused me to re-evaluate my thinking on many issues. I don't know that it will change my mind, but it certainly is food for thought, and a good read.
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Format: Paperback
This is a timely book that is well written in the main. It is somewhat marred by the author's absolutism in arguing his main thesis that warfare against civilians (terrorism) is always a losing strategy for the perpetrators. His secondary thesis is that surgical, preemptive strikes have been consistently the most effective way of eliminating terrorist threats (all the more interesting since Carr wrote this book before the Iraq War).
Caleb Carr looks at history from Roman times to the current Arab-Israeli conflict to argue that terrorism always loses. Terrorism, or attacks on civilians, differs from guerilla warfare in that guerillas use their irregular forces and tactics to target opposing/occupying military personnel and targets. Terrorists just kill and maim wantonly, under the mistaken belief that carnage and death will force change or lead the terrorists to their goals. The historic evidence is otherwise. Terrorism almost always hardens the hearts and steels the minds of both targets and local populations against the perpetrators and frequently begets terrorism as a response.
Carr's examples are many. The Romans struck not the military might of the German tribes across the Rhine, but the villages and peoples thereof. German tribes became ferocious opponents and were the ones who ended up sacking Rome. Michael Collins was on his way to winning independence for all of Ireland. His turn to terrorism stiffened British resolve (leading one British prime minister to state he would not conclude a deal with the IRA because he "would not shake hands with murder.") and undercut his local support. Palestinian terrorism has not shaken the resolve of Israel; it has produced hard line Israeli governments less likely to negotiate Palestinian autonomy or statehood.
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