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Nonviolence: 25 Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea (Modern Library Chronicles) Hardcover – September 12, 2006

3.4 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Kurlansky applies the microhistorical approach of his bestellers (Cod; Salt) to the loftier subject of nonviolence—which, he observes, is so "profoundly dangerous" to the powers that be that it has never existed as an idea in and of itself, only as the absence of violence. "Active practitioners of nonviolence are always seen as a threat," he says, and the conflict between authority and nonviolent resistance becomes a "moral argument" that, all too often, the nonviolent lose by abandoning their ideal in the name of self-defense. But as he studies the history of nonviolence from the dawn of Christianity to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Kurlansky can also point to prominent victories, like Gandhi's quest for Indian independence and the Eastern European resistance to the Soviets. There are plenty of missed opportunities, too; the American Revolution, he suggests, need not have escalated into war; "protest and economic sabotage" might have forced Britain to withdraw from the colonies. Sometimes, Kurlansky's impassioned rhetoric turns argumentative, and his "lessons"—e.g., "behind every war there are always a few founding lies"—offer scant practical guidance to those wanting to take up the nonviolent mantle themselves. (Sept. 5)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Kurlansky's particular point is the last of the lessons referred to in the subtitle: "the hard work of beginning a movement to end war has already been done." All the lessons he notes are important, but he is at his best when retelling popular stories of nonviolence practiced at various times and places over the course of several thousand years, though from a scholarly perspective his language is woefully imprecise. If he introduces readers to the deep, multicultural roots of nonviolence and prompts examination of the variety of governments that have found nonviolence threatening, the level of public discourse on violence may rise. If his blanket dismissal of pacifism as passive provokes nonviolent activists to respond, perhaps what may be learned about the lies behind all wars will lead to wiser decisions by more citizens. And if the casual reference to "the 58,000 people who were killed" in the Vietnam War prompts second thoughts about who should count among those caught up in the march of violence, all the better. Steven Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Chronicles
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; First Edition edition (September 12, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679643354
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679643357
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,228,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Mark Kurlansky has written a very concise, fascinating and readable history of nonviolence as both a philosophy and an effective tactic for social change. He begins with a discussion of the spiritual roots of nonviolence in each of the major world religions and traces how each religion was subverted when it was co-opted by the state which began using it as an instrument to justify state power through warfare. We see this most dramatically with Pope Urban II's historic speech that began the Crusades. Variations of this speech, which asserted that the war was God's will and the obligation of every "good Christian," have been used by politicians ever since to drag their reluctant citizenry into bloody wars.

Kurlansky goes on to define common themes that have driven one war after another over many centuries from the Crusades through the current war in Iraq and concludes with 'The 25 Lessons,' including:

3. Practitioners of nonviolence are seen as enemies of the state.

4. Once a state takes over a religion, the religion loses its nonviolent

teachings.

6. Somewhere behind every war there are always a few founding lies.

8. People who go to war start to resemble their enemy.

9. A conflict between a violent and a nonviolent force is a moral

argument. If the violent side can provoke the nonviolent side into

violence, the violent side has won.

10. The problem lies not in the nature of man, but the nature of power.

11. The longer a war lasts, the less popular it becomes.

12. The state imagines it is impotent without a military because it cannot

conceive of power without force.

15.
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Format: Hardcover
While I don't share some of Mr. Kurlansky's political thinking, his book is well worth reading because it stimulates one's thinking on the big issues of war and peace. He gives some important recent examples (e.g., America in the 1960s, Eastern Europe in the 1980s, etc.) where nonviolence worked or might have worked (e.g., in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). I am extremely skeptical of his apparent claim that nonviolence by itself could have ended slavery in the US or defeated Hitler. However, the important point Mr. Kurlansky makes is that nonviolence can work and that more people should be inspired by it and use it to resolve seemingly intractable disputes. The track record of war as a means of settling many disputes certainly is not great.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Not a page-turner like 1968 but epitome of "news you can use." Principles came in handy when living and writing my first book, "The Case of the Cleantech Con Artist: A True Vegas Tale."
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Kurlansky's rather small book (only about 180pgs) shows a number of examples of nonviolence, from secular and religious influences, that are presented in a fluid manner, not done in a text-book fashion so you won't feel like you're reading a how-to book.

Out of all of the books I have read on the subject of nonviolence, I didn't really pick up on anything I hadn't already read or learned about elsewhere, however, this would make a good PRIMER for those new to the philosophy of nonviolence. If you're interested in some real meat and potatos, look elsewhere (Muste, Zinn, Sharp, Wink, McCarthy).

Am I saying it's a bad book? Definitely not. It was well written; my only wish is that he decides to write a more in-depth book in the future.
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Format: Hardcover
"The enemy is evil...despicable. We, on the other hand,...have God on our side. ...the soldiers [will] be rescuing a poor oppressed people who desperately need [our] help." Sound familiar? Justification for the "War on Terror" perhaps? Actually, it was Pope Urban II's rationale for beginning the crusades in 1095. Everyone should read this book, pacifists and warriors alike. It presents the history of war and humanity's sad justifications for it right alongside the history of nonviolence in the world. It shows how little the world has changed over the centuries when it comes to making war and the reasons for it. It also talks about how originally peaceful religions, such as Christianity and Islam, have been perverted by powerful people into rationalizations for war and imperialism. There are also wonderful examples of the power of nonviolence and the inablility of those in power to understand or combat it. The information in this book may not be a surprise to some people, but I think that it will be an eye opener to others. A wonderful book.
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Format: Hardcover
Mark Kurlansky's book Nonviolence a History is able to weave historical anicdotes to make a compelling case for the failure of war. Through this historical narrative he makes it clear that nonviolence can and does work.

An important book for those inspired to oppose war or pragamtic rationale against war. Filled with religious and secular historical accounts this book touches all aspects of nonviolent movements from the failure or religion to stand on its nonviolent principles to the case against the so called "just wars," of American Revolution, Civil War and World War II
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