Reid's Reviews > Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War

Blood Rites by Barbara Ehrenreich
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's review
Jun 19, 2009

it was ok
Read in June, 2009

It is a major feat to make war boring.

Ehrenreich is attempting here (or so it seems) to walk the thin line between academic rigor and readability; she has not succeeded in the latter, and, as a self-described amateur, she undoubtedly has also fallen shot of the former. It's a shame, really. Ehrenreich can be an insightful and clever commentator, but by attempting to please both audiences, she has created a dull read.

Part of the problem here may be that she has only one basic premise, and has attempted to flesh out this single idea to book length. Let me save you the trouble:

The premise of this book is that we go to war and participate in other bloody rituals primarily to act out the legacy of a time when we had to be aggressive to avoid being eaten by predators. After all (her thinking goes) only those of our ancestors most prone to violence (and perhaps foolhardiness) in the face of, say, a sabertooth tiger attack would have live to pass their genes on to us. The rest of the book is either a recapitulation or illustration of this theme.

Which is not to say she doesn't make some other fascinating arguments. One which particularly struck me was that men are the fighters of our species not because of superior strength, but because they are essentially disposable. Reproductively, a male's contribution is negligible, the matter of a few moments. She also points out that the difference in strength between men and women would have been entirely meaningless when faced with the attack of a predator of far greater strength than either.

Ehrenreich details, too, how we have made war sacred, a secular religion propped up by quasi-religious rituals and traditions such as those underlying July 4th or Memorial Day.

Perhaps I am spoiled, and want all my reading to be entertaining as well as informative (eg, Omnivore's Dilemma or Maps and Legends). I did not find this book to be much of either.
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