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War! What Is It Good For?: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots
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War! What Is It Good For?: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  148 ratings  ·  39 reviews
A powerful and provocative exploration of how war has changed our society—for the better

“War! . . . . / What is it good for? / Absolutely nothing,” says the famous song—but archaeology, history, and biology show that war in fact has been good for something. Surprising as it sounds, war has made humanity safer and richer.

In War! What Is It Good For?, the renowned historian
Hardcover, 512 pages
Published April 15th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published February 14th 2011)
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War is good for absolutely nothing; it means "destruction of innocent lives" and "tears to thousands of mothers' eyes" – according to the lyrics.

Paradoxically, Ian Morris comes to a different conclusion: he argues that humanity has actually benefited from centuries of warfare. Only through warfare has humanity been able to come together in larger societies and thus to enjoy security and riches.

The measurement that Morris takes throughout his books is the chance that you had for a violent death.
Peter Mcloughlin
War has been with civilization from it's founding. It also has its roots in the deep past. Other species of chimps engage in a violent collective behavior that looks suspiciously like warfare. This book is one of those grand theory books like guns,germs and steel. Warfare plays a large part in the formation of states and paradoxically the bringing of order and our recent decrease in violence. Of course war and militarism are banes to human existence and the book opens up with a close call in 198 ...more
I want to give this book four stars, because it's an enjoyable, thought provoking read on the role of war in the sweep of human history. I have at least a couple major concerns, however:

1) Much rides for Morris's theory on the distinction between "productive" war, which leads to increased social complexity, and "counterproductive" war, which leads to decreasing social complexity. Though he provides some suggestions as to the character of each, much of the distinction seems apparently only after
Mark Gray
This is the first book by Ian Morris that I have read and it was the best book I have read for a long time. Epic in scale and breadth with a disturbing but well argued central thesis that ultimately makes sense. I have just bought 2 of his other books and am hoping they they are just as good .
I enjoyed reading his previous Why the West Rules For Now, and enjoyed this one too. He was one of my favorite professors and I continue to read his works because I am constantly impressed at his ability to sum up sweeping social trends in a way that makes sense and keeps you interested. He is a true storyteller and in both of his books he has all of human history to spin into a 350 page yarn of a tale. I enjoyed the first five chapters as he wove together different threads of the world and part ...more
May 29, 2014 David added it
"If you lived in the Stone Age, you were roughly ten times more likely to die violently than if you lived in the 20th century. The [20th] century was remarkably safe, with fewer than one in a hundred people dying violently." In a very long-range extrapolation, Morris lays out an argument making the case that war actually drives progress.

"This is really the paradox that the whole book tries to explain:- Conquest usually makes wastelands, but incorporation into a bigger society, gradually – over
....where to begin?

Ian Morris is a classical hostorian/archaeologist who is a senior professor at Stanford. This book is an engaging effort at seriously addressing the role of war in human history. He does so by integrating the work of anthropologists, archaeologists, and classical scholars with that of historians and political scientists and others to examine war on a very long time line. He then uses the results of his analysis to develop some projections about what will happen and some policy
Tamim Sadikali
Once upon a time, the subject of History was no laughing matter – indeed it was approached with the seriousness of a sermon from the pulpit. Today there is a refreshing trend, thanks largely to Television, to personalise it – i.e. to help the viewer project to a different point in space/time, carrying with them their own experience, their hopes and fears, and thus make a human connection with the past.

This academic work does just the same, but without trivialising the question that it poses. War
At one point while reading this, I was tempted to call it an example of ivory-tower academia at its worst. Having finished it, I might not go that far- but I wouldn't back off much. The books main premise is that war has benefited humanity in that it has created large governments (Leviathans) which have made people richer and safer. However, this has only been the case with what he calls "productive war" and it seems that productive war is almost inevitably followed by "unproductive war" which h ...more
Brilliant book about the place of war in the history of the world, especially Eurasia. Where the author will draw unwelcome attention is their reading of wars that were productive and those that were unproductive. Ian Morris is probably correct in his assessment, but the pacifists [aka aging Counter Culture nutters and their ideological descendants], a loud and obnoxious group, have already taken him to task for this insight.

This is unfair and unwarranted.

Setting aside the psycho-drama, this i
Daniel Cunningham
This was a very intriguing book -an intriguing argument- that is well put together and argued. It is a disturbing thought that wars, of a certain kind anyway, might be ultimately useful and ultimately responsible for modern societies with all their goods. It isn't a theory that can, in my mind, ever be really tested (we can't rerun human history), but it does serve as a very enlightening alternative view. Perhaps war is not *solely* terrible and perhaps war does not serve 'no purpose'.

Of course,
Dave Schoettinger
Professor Morris gives everyone a reason to dislike the premises for this book. Liberals will dislike his assertion that war has been a necessary evil, responsible for the cushy lives that so many of us enjoy. Conservatives will take exception to his premise that it is big governments that have created the preconditions for most of those cushy lives. However, I am increasingly becoming convinced that the only people in our society worth listening to are those who cannot easily be pigeonholed int ...more
Fascinating look at what may appear to be a taboo subject. The book asserts that war can be seen as not just a calamity and disaster but can also be viewed as ultimately beneficial for human progress.

The book uses the latest research into murder/homicide/violent death in the ancient & recent past and discovers that Rousseau's view that prior to modern civilization humans lived in a kind of halcyon Eden devoid of war and strife is dead wrong. The evidence now supports the view that civilized
A very interesting perspective view of a need for war. The author provides lots of statistics and historical facts to lend some credence to show how man continuously starts to war to gain power and how others defend themselves or others via the use of arms. It has always astounded me why people fail to be able to negotiate differences without resorting to wars. It appears as if people are unable to relent on demands they form and would rather war then concede a political point. The author presen ...more
The author offers a different explanation for the decline in violence that I first encountered in Stephen Pinker's "The Better Angel's of Our Nature.' According to Morris, violence has declined because we have gotten good at war,which lead to the rise of powerful nation states that could control violence. He often overstates facts to support his position and goes completely into la-la land in the last chapter, where he speculates that within 30 years violence will end because we will have merged ...more
Controversial but convincing, building on works such as Stephen Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature", this book argues that war has generally been good for the development of human society and is the reason we are less likely to die a violent death now than at a any other time in human history, and that the rate of violent death has seen a steady decline since the Stone Age.

He credits war for creating Leviathans (to use Hobbes' term), which in turn promote stable societies that reduce viol
Doug Buse
Enjoyed this review of history/civilization and the part warfare has taken in making progress happen. In recent history think DARPA, the space race, and all the byproducts including the internet (thanks, Al Gore). The thread starts with earliest humanoids and has been going on ever since. This guy references and expands on the ideas included in Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel." To paraphrase, you may not be looking for war but war is looking for you.
Robbie Bock
This book is really amazing. It presents what is probably the most substantial challenge to the libertarian/anarchist hypothesis. It's a must read for folks who actually want a challenging philosophical opposition point to the idea that peace can/will be achieved through the elimination or reduction of state power or an end to organized violence. It certainly demands an equally in depth response, if such perspectives are to be taken seriously, in future, IMO.
Sep 01, 2014 Mark marked it as dropped
Shelves: 2014, history, war, borrowed
Can't rate it, since I am opting not to finish it. The writer has an engaging style, and I am interested in his premise, but it's started to feel like a slog, and I need to put it down. Life is too short, and I have too many other options to want to feel like I'm wasting my time.

I like what I've read so far, and would recommend it. I'd give it 4 stars, starting to dwindle to 3, so far.
H Wesselius
A good thematic history; a general history of humanity through our worst behavior. Theoretically, he's saying nothing new: violence has decreased as the state monopolizes the legitimate use of violence, the state increased in size as it provides more stability and security. War and state provide mutual reinforcement as the centuries progressed. He borrows much of his ideas from Stephen Pinker who wrote a far better book on a similar topic. Morris also had an annoying habit of positing neo-libera ...more
Satisfying look at how war has contributed to the overall decline in violence throughout human history. The long term view looks good, but then, in the long run, we're all dead. So does it really matter if World War III leads to less violence in 2143?
one of the must-read books ever, it deals with what the likely scenario of the next decades could be, drawing upon the not so linear historical background of civilization, it paints both an ugly and happy conclusion to the enterprise pursued upon by humanity since its beginning ; War!!
Vikas Datta
A superb work of scholarship combining history, evolutionary biology, economics, sociology and technology to give a compelling and persuasive - and ultimately paradoxical - account of the role of war and conflict in explaining how we, our societies and our world have evolved to the point where we are now. And that is not all, Morris then goes to point out where we might go further...
Fun to read and very interesting (just as the earlier book by Morris, Why the West Rules). But the last chapter, full of geopolitical punditry and futurology, ruins it all a bit. Morris is much better at telling the past than at trying to foretell the future.
I hate to admit that this is a good book, a very good book. I say I hate to admit because it deals with the good side of wars; which is an oxymoron by definition. There cannot be a good side of evil; or can it?
Read as required for a MOOC Princeton University course titled The Paradox of War. Great book and greater course in summer of 2014.
Author made his argument well and kept the material interesting. The final chapter and its speculation about the future...frightening.
Well researched and well written. Morris presents his arguments well. A very thought provoking book. Highly recommended.
Dec 29, 2014 Mof rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: war
With a title as broad as this, it ends up being a history of the world. Others have done it better.
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