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Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  1,795 ratings  ·  217 reviews
In this sweeping philosophical work, Amartya Sen proposes that the murderous violence that has riven our society is driven as much by confusion as by inescapable hatred. Challenging the reductionist division of people by race, religion, and class, Sen presents an inspiring vision of a world that can be made to move toward peace as firmly as it has spiraled in recent years ...more
Paperback, Abridged, 240 pages
Published February 17th 2007 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 2006)
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 ·  1,795 ratings  ·  217 reviews

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Nov 02, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: those totally unfamiliar with any critique of the "clash of civilizations" thesis
The points that Sen makes in this book are valid and I agree with his basic thesis that people inhabit many different identities and to box people into identities solely based on religious ones fails to acknowledge the many different ways in which people see themselves. This type of thinking contributes to the widespread "us vs. them" mentality that leads to greater violence and less understanding between people. Sen's corrective to the widely prevalent "clash of civilizations" thesis is greatly ...more
Jul 13, 2014 rated it did not like it
Q: What causes violence?
A: Ignoring the relevance of all other affiliations and identities.

I have just saved you a 200 page read of going over this idea repeatedly.

Feb 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 04, 2009 rated it did not like it
Amartya Sen makes one central, relatively novel argument that individuals have multiple components to their identities and problems arise when people are reduced to singular adjectives (whether Muslim, Hindu, Sunni, Shia, etc). Sen argues that periods of genocide are precipitated by pidgeonholing people into singular identities (ie. the relatively arbitrary distinction between Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda). Sen also described Britain and India as two countries that have met the task of assimilating ...more
John David
Feb 21, 2014 rated it liked it
This book is interested in the question of human identity, its inherent multiplicity, and the choices that we make in regard to aligning ourselves with certain identities over others. We all have multiple identities, which Sen repeatedly points out. For example, he says of himself that "I can be, at the same time, an Asian, an Indian citizen, a Bengali with Bangladeshi ancestry, an American or British resident, an economist, a dabbler in philosophy, an author, a Sanskritist, a strong believer in ...more
Nov 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes it’s nice to read a book with which you wholeheartedly agree. Amartya Sen provides a very eloquent defence of recognising that humans have multiple identities and points out the sometimes dreadful results of only assigning one.

Sen seems to have an extremely good grasp of human psychology; a particularly rare attribute for an economist. He comes across as an eminently sensible and humane observer and is eloquent in his critique of both overt sectarianism, but also well meaning yet deepl
Divyanshu Jha
Dec 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Strongly recommended. A book that asks you to reason with it.Discusses real world issues of multiculturalism, sectarianism, Islamic fundamentalism and globalization with a lucidity of expression that befits the writer. Sen's benevolent world view and optimism shines through regularly in his analysis.
At some point of time, I could even map the issues the book raised to Hall 3 Hall 2 rivalry. :)
In short, more easily written than Sen's other more arduous works and a pleasure to read and think over
Devin Creed
Sep 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
Terribly repetitive book containing an anemic critique of communitarianism, a host of contradictions, and a dearth of real solutions to violence.
Evaggelia Nikolaou
Nov 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Amartya Sen discusses how the singular cultural meanings are not only constructed and politically pursued for identification, but how identifications lead to violence, constituting the cause of every war.

''The political instigators who urged the killing managed to persuade many otherwise peaceable people of both communities to turn into dedicated thugs. They were made to think of themselves only as Hindus or only as Muslims (who must unleash vengeance on “the other community”) and as absolutely
Leslie S.
Aug 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Amartya Sen (who was born on the most awesome day of the year: November 3rd) is a wise man. He won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998 and has written several books (including the incredible “Development as Freedom”).
“Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny”, published in 2006, is a super relevant book today, given the context of intolerance, violence, and ignorance in our current world. Sen challenges the reductionist division of people by race, religion, and origin. He reminds us that
Dec 22, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly repetitive and overall not greatly illuminating (I had, surprisingly, concluded before reading Identity and Violence that individuals possess a variety of different identities, and should not be defined by one alone), Identity and Violence is, however, an interesting read.

Providing interesting snippets of Indian social and political history, Sen also offers (what I feel to be the strongest point of the book) a solid dismissal of the concept of the clash of civilisations and the idea o
Nolan Zaroff
Jul 25, 2017 rated it it was ok
I have tremendous respect for Amartya Sen, and this book drives home a critical assertion that is particularly relevant given recent global upheavals and even the state of our current politics: that a reductionist view of individuals' and civilizations' motivations is dangerous and leads to conflict. That said, this book quickly begins to feel soporific and redundant: the topic seems much more appropriate for a shorter essay than a 240-page volume. ...more
Brian Griffith
Sen is so eloquent it's overkill. To a global but divided world he speaks of identity as a multi-layered matter of personal choice: "The same person can, for example, be a British citizen, of Malaysian origin, with Chinese racial characteristics, a stock broker, a non-vegetarian, an asthmatic, a linguist, a bodybuilder, a poet, an opponent of abortion, a bird-watcher, an astrologer, and one who believes that God invented Darwin to test the gullible" (p. 24).

Sen notes several popular ways of deal
Vincent Li
Jul 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book along with Appiah's Cosmopolitanism heavily shaped my opinions regarding identity. Sen's argument basically rests on two pillars. 1) Human beings do not have a singular identity but overlapping, contrasting and plural identities. 2) Identity is not discovered, immutable natural fact, but the choice of people. To the first point, Sen points to the conceptional errors of categorizing people in one box (he has a lot to say about Huntington's Clash of the Civilizations). He argues that the ...more
Dec 14, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nobody
Shelves: junk
First of all it has to be mentioned that I’m by far no racist or anything comparable. The reason for reading this book was certainly the curiosity in someone’s opinion on the topic of discrimination from the "other side". By saying this I don't claim to be in a group which has different attributes to identify with in a racist manner but maybe some others think that this is my way of thinking.
Anyway, the author of the book tries to point out what the term identity means to people from minorities
Sep 17, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I was drawn to this book by its title, and also because I had heard of Amartya Sen (a recent Nobel Prize Winner in Economics). However, I only read the introduction—because most reviews said that the book was very repetitive. The book is a edited compilation of various essays and talks given by Amartya Sen on ethnic or religious identity. His basic argument is that a person’s identity is far too complex to be reduced to a compartment such as one’s ethnicity or religion, and that by recognizing t ...more
Jackson Cyril
Sen's lucid and erudite essay calls to question the concept of identity: what is it? is it fixed? how much freedom do we have over our 'identity' and how we choose to express it? As fanatics and demagogues seek to diminish our individuality-- think here of folks like Trump-- and clump us into groups-- his main beef here is with Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" thesis--, Sen argues that this is exactly the sort of thing which leads to misunderstanding and violence. Indeed his recipe for peac ...more
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
Nice but repetitive. In one ugly sentence ‘how overlooking intersectionality ruins worldviews and gets folks killed’. He repeats this idea fifty times or so, but it’s a fine one.

It’s stats-free but I mostly trust him, he’s proved his mastery. “Widespread interest in global inequalities, of which anti-globalization protests are a part, [is the] embodiment of what Hume was talking about in his claim that closer economic relations would bring distant people within the reach of a ‘gradual enlargeme
Jul 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
probably will not get back to this book. As others have pointed out, there seems to be a singular msg here - don't pigeon hole people simplistically based on their nominal religion

the book written in 2007 is now someways dated but lets you second guess Sen based on today's hindsight

if unfamiliar w/ the exploitation and atrocities committed during empire building and colonialism, then this book may be helpful with his Hindu/Moslem/Indian perspective.
Feb 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Amartya Sen really gets it. He has the language and the argument for thoughts I've had jangling in my head for years. I'd encourage this for anyone who has ever doubted monolithic identities, or has disliked being labeled, or worried over just what multiculturalism means.

I would try to summarize the book, but I think you should just read it.
Mar 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: my-library
I had to read Amartya Sen's Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny for a history assignment. While I found Sen's principal argument that a person's identity cannot be pigeonholed as a certain race or religion interesting, it wasn't exactly illuminating. His claims were predictable (though he did offer many great case studies to justify them) and his essays rather repetitive. ...more
Nadia Marques de Carvalho
May 29, 2016 rated it did not like it
This is unreadable and adds no value to academia. Nothing new is put forward in this book - identify causes conflict, this is it. No exploration of why, just meandering waffle on a variety of topics haphazardly glued together to create the impression of intelligence. Upset I spent £9.99 on this, and my time. Do not read.
Shane Hawk
Ghastly writing. I feel like I read a college peer's paper whose word count minimum was an intense 60,000 but only had enough content to fill about 10,000 words. Sen repeats himself far too much. His argument was interesting, but it could have been summarized on a note card. I will not be revisiting this book. ...more
Bram De La Selva
Jun 23, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unfinished
In the first 24 pages, the author makes the same groundbreaking statement - that one individual can belong to more than one group, i.e. has a multi-layered identity, and that reducing a person to one group only creates division and violence - SEVENTEEN times. It’s all he has to say.
Oct 07, 2007 rated it did not like it
maybe this is a good book,
for some people,
but not me, not in my field. i dt understand much about d topic discussed in this book, and hv to repeated few times to understand.
Jan 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
starts out really promising and then disappears in a wisp of nothingness. again, not coherent or held together. often very repetitive (yes - we get that people have many identities!). disappointing.
Sep 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Elise by: U of U class
I really loved the concept and ideas of this book. However, Sen hashes and rehashes the ideas to death, repeating himself so many times throughout the book.
Dec 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book is embarrassingly overrated.
Haider Hussain
May 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don’t know why this book didn’t gain as much following as Huntington’s Clash of Civilization. Perhaps because it doesn’t present a radical, trailblazing idea and no OMG-I-Didn’t-know-that! Theory. Its’ beauty lies in the intuitively simple premise: ‘reductionist identities are unacceptable’. The only shortcoming with Sen’s book is its repetition of ideas over and over again. And that’s why I think it’s a 4.5 star read. Anyway, here’s the summary/reading notes:

• Identity is a paradox: human bei
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
At a time when my country is coming dangerously close to another war, this book argues that we should not be asking only about the military, political, and religious orientation of Iranians, but demanding reporting on what Iranian women are like (remember, half the population is women, the author says repeatedly), what the professions are like, what the sports are like, and looking at every possible angle so our democracy know the other country's people, think of all our opportunities, and be ab ...more
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Amartya Kumar Sen is an Indian economist who was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions to welfare economics and social choice theory, and for his interest in the problems of society’s poorest members.

Sen was best known for his work on the causes of famine, which led to the development of practical solutions for preventing or limiting the effects of real or perceiv

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