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On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace

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On Combat looks at what happens to the human body under the stresses of deadly battle ? the impact on the nervous system, heart, breathing, visual and auditory perception, memory - then discusses new research findings as to what measures warriors can take to prevent such debilitations so they can stay in the fight, survive, and win. A brief, but insightful look at history shows the evolution of combat, the development of the physical and psychological leverage that enables humans to kill other humans, followed by an objective examination of domestic violence in America. The authors reveal the nature of the warrior, brave men and women who train their minds and bodies to go to that place from which others flee. After examining the incredible impact of a few true warriors in battle, On Combat presents new and exciting research as to how to train the mind to become inoculated to stress, fear and even pain.

395 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 2004

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About the author

Dave Grossman

47 books249 followers
Lt. Col Dave Grossman is the author of On Killing and On Combat as well as several science fiction books.

In 1998 Lt. Colonel Grossman retired from the military as Professor of Military Science at Arkansas State University. His career includes service in the United States Army as a sergeant in the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, a platoon leader in the 9th Infantry Division (United States), a general staff officer, a company commander in the 7th Infantry Division (United States) as well as the U.S. Army Rangers and a teacher of psychology at West Point.

Grossman's first book, ''On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society'' is an analysis of the physiological processes involved with killing another human being. In it, he reveals evidence that most people have a phobic-level response to violence, and that soldiers need to be specifically trained to kill. In addition, he details the physical effects that violent stresses produce on humans, ranging from tunnel vision, changes in sonic perception, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Grossman argues that the techniques used by armies to train soldiers to kill are mirrored in certain types of video games. The conclusion he draws is that playing violent video games, particularly Light gun shooters of the First-person shooter-variety (where the player holds a weapon-like game controller), train children in the use of weapons and, more importantly, harden them emotionally to the task of murder by simulating the killing of hundreds or thousands of opponents in a single typical video game.

His second book, ''On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace'', is an extension of the first, intended to provide coping strategies for dealing with the physiological and psychological effects of violence for people forced to kill in their line of work (soldiers and police officers).

Grossman uses blunt language that draws the ire of gamers - during the heights of video game controversy, he was interviewed on the content of his books, and repeatedly used the term "murder simulator" to describe first-person shooter games.

Since his retirement from the Army, Grossman has founded the Killology Research Group and continues to educate law enforcement officers and soldiers in the techniques he has studied for improving outcomes in lethal encounters. He also speaks at civilian events on ways to reduce violence in society and deal with the aftermath of violent events such as school shootings.

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5 stars
1,903 (52%)
4 stars
1,138 (31%)
3 stars
443 (12%)
2 stars
113 (3%)
1 star
44 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 217 reviews
Profile Image for Charlie.
107 reviews9 followers
June 29, 2011
I doubt that anyone really reads or cares about the Tags we label our good books within (you know fiction or non fiction etc) so I mention that I placed this work in "pop-academic" even though technically it may be found in your University library and not at your local library. But it is to me a good example of bad research writing. The author states his credentials within the text and he does so in bad taste. His text lacks notations where they might really be supportive, maybe even needed to make several statements credible but there are none. There are many facts, studies, and even personal anecdotes based on insider-military experiences none of which carry a courtesy notation of evidence. This guy goes on to let the reader know he has zero combat experience, but anyone who is seasoned with academic literature can see that Lt. Grossman has not spent much time in serious literature reviews or exchanges with people outside perhaps the military.
This book is frequently cited in solid examples of literature on PTSD and for that I feel sorry for the lack of alternatives. It is poorly written and difficult to trust as a result of its source and its execution
Profile Image for Scott Sigler.
Author 94 books4,001 followers
January 31, 2016
As I have never served in the armed forces, as a police officer, or had to use lethal force in self-defense in any encounter, I'm probably missing the real benefit of this book. Col. Grossman is exhaustive in his approach to helping those to protect us. I would guess that any cop/vet/serviceperson would get more benefit from this book than I did, and I got quite a lot.

For fiction writers, this is a wonderful book that helps get into the mind of people who use lethal force. The reality of combat is not the boom-dead-done approach of movies and most TV shows. Combat can change people (and characters) forever. I drew an enormous amount from this book that will go into my future stories.

So why only three stars? The repetitiveness of the content. Grossman seems to treat this book the same way he would train people for active shooting situations, by repeating the same information over and over. Despite the stellar content, it started to feel like a college final essay where the author was ten pages short of the assigned length, and started pasting things already covered but rewording them so they at least looked like original content. The repetition was so dramatic it was difficult to finish the book.
Profile Image for A.C. Thompson.
Author 1 book3 followers
July 30, 2015
Yet another book that has been relegated to the DNF file. If I had wanted to read On Killing again, I would have picked up a copy of On Killing and read it again. I made it 75 pages in, and none of the information in On Combat was anything new. Also, I'm fairly certain Shakespeare (you know, the guy who wrote all those great tragic plays in the late 16th and early 17th century?) wasn't exactly a warrior, so what's with all the quotes from him to start chapters and sub chapters?

I also take offense at all the anecdotes and "testimonial stories" (a term I use VERY loosely here) with absolutely no footnotes or references for where the information may have come from, or who told the story. This kind of writing makes the skeptic in me ask, "Is this actually a factual story, or is it just made up to manufacture "evidence" of the point the author is trying to make at this particular point in the book?"

I read On Killing several years ago, enjoyed it, and actually felt somewhat enlightened by much of the information contained therein. Sadly, On Combat just flat out doesn't make the grade. I have entirely too many other books I would like to read to either entertain myself or to integrate my brain with new and useful information to force myself to slog through something this poorly written that is just a rehash of another work that came out long before this book was published.
Profile Image for Gordon Alley.
75 reviews5 followers
September 21, 2015
A must-read book for everyone. The author categorizes each person as either a wolf, sheep, or sheepdog. The wolf preys on the sheep; the sheep are under the protection of the sheepdog and victimized by the wolf; the sheepdog protects the sheep from the wolf and keeps the predator behaving uprightly due to his presence. Most sheep have a hard time accepting the sheepdog but are thankful for them and will hide behind them when the wolf shows up. One easy way to find out whether or not you are a sheep or a sheepdog is to ask yourself this question: "Do you run towards the bullets or away from them?"

John 15:13 KJV
[13] Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Profile Image for Dawn Jayne.
Author 7 books140 followers
September 26, 2012
Excellent book on the psychology of war and combat. My husband is a police officer and heard Dave Grossman speak here in Indianapolis. He was very impressed, and purchased a CD of the lecture. I popped it in one day, and was riveted. My husband also purchased one of his books at the lecture, and I devoured that, as well, and went on to buy this book soon thereafter.

I'm a Marine Corps veteran, and married to a cop, so a great deal of the subjects touched on things that hold a personal interest to me, but you do not have to be in a law enforcement or military career to appreciate the subject matter. The books is written in a very direct style, and information is given in such a way that even a person like me, who has not experienced combat first-hand, can still understand the physical and psychological impact of such things.

I have used this book as research material in my own writing, and I feel I have absolutely come away with a far better understanding of the dynamics involved in deadly conflicts. I have recommended this book, and others by Dave Grossman, to friends and family who are involved directly or indirectly with law enforcement or military.

If you are considering this book, I might also recommend looking up the author and taking a peek at some of his online videos so you can get a feel for his style. I was very pleased to find that his speaking and writing style were very similar. Direct, concise, and very informative.

Profile Image for Aj Sterkel.
756 reviews31 followers
December 5, 2015
First, I have to say that I’m not the target audience for this book. In the language of the book, I am most definitely a “sheep.” When all hell breaks loose, I run the other way. Fast.

I got this book for research purposes, and it wasn’t what I was expecting. I wish that the book had more citations and more balanced arguments. Some of the statistics are worded in misleading ways, and a few of the chapters come across as one-sided rants. The author didn’t always convince me that his arguments were true. I also wish that the book had been less about the author and more about the things in the book’s description.

Some of the chapters are interesting, and I’m sure that this book is a fabulous resource for warriors, but if you’re doing academic research, there are better books out there.
Profile Image for Kevin Patric.
8 reviews4 followers
January 30, 2020
Finished this book in just under a year. Quite the struggle. I read this because I thought I would find helpful information that was not covered in On Killing. However, what I found was a very similar book filled with a TON of filler. There are quotes for every heading and input from probably anyone who sent Col Grossman correspondence over the years. The random letters and articles are very brief and many lack the depth to leave impact on the message. Example of a filler was found in three consecutive paragraphs that I took note of when referencing a defense lawyer. In the first paragraph he references a lawyer in a thousand dollar suit; second, the lawyer is paid big bucks; third, slick lawyer in a shiny suit. Just say a defense lawyer...we get it!

This book should be half the length, and maybe even shorter than that. Maybe I should've looked for the cliff notes. I forced myself to continue reading it hoping to find some helpful information after a critical incident just to find myself getting distracted and annoyed as the book continually pandered to people like me by constantly referring to them as warriors. Additionally, it was very apparent that the authors needed to do their best to blow smoke up anyone's butt when referencing them in the book. And it was repetitive in the manner of continuously saying great things about these doctors/researchers/experts. Once is enough. Multiple times either means you're trying to compensate for something, or you're looking for filler. This was even done when Col Grossman referred to his co-author. You don't need to do that! He's writing the book with you! Apart from that, this is not an action novel and therefore it does not need the abundance of adjectives. In an action novel, a cop may patrol a "mean street". In a book on the psychology of policing, a cop simply patrols. The reader is not a second grader. They know what a cop's job is. People watch the news and TV. I wish I would've taken notes from day one but then this review would be as long as the book. While I think this book is not written well, I don't doubt the writers' expertise in this field. I just feel this book was a painful read due to all the fluff surrounding almost every topic. If it was written well and all the extra stuff was cut out, this could be an informative short read that people might feel more positive about.
Profile Image for Nicholas Maulucci.
473 reviews7 followers
July 13, 2014
WOW! in-depth. well-researched. now this is a book. not to mention the provocative subject matter. elegantly written. just the right amount of quotes. just the right amount of anecdotes. just the right amount of philosophy. just the right amount of instruction. just the right amount of heart. no lulls in book. masterfully written. thoroughly enjoyed losing myself in the genius of this excellent author. I recommend this book to men everywhere in every profession. I recommend this book to women who have had fathers in the military or in the police force. I recommend this book to mothers of men. two thumbs up. Thank you, Gordon, for recommending this book.
Profile Image for Maria.
3,893 reviews99 followers
October 21, 2017
Grossman once again takes his readers into the psychology and physiology of killing, combat and deadly force incidents.

Why I started this book: Working my way thru the audio books that I have access to. This has been on my list for a while... that's the problem with long lists.

Why I finished it: This book is very repetitive. Since it is focused on "warriors" and reassuring them that what they are experiencing is normal, the repetitive comments helped spread the author's message. (And frankly, it did feel a little like proselytizing.) Good support for combat veterans and cops but very condescending to civilians.
Profile Image for Kia.
11 reviews14 followers
August 6, 2013
I couldn't get past the first few chapters. Propagandist, bombastic, and not at all the clinical examination of combat stress I was expecting. A biased paean to military and police "warriors" and "white knights" as well as American democracy and "peacekeeping" without relevance to current worldwide events. Maybe it got better. I'm not wasting any more time on it, though.
Profile Image for Jake.
232 reviews48 followers
September 9, 2019
Good book. Deceitful title.

This book is not what it sounds like. Perhaps it is the case that there were times where the psychology and some elements of physiology of people in war were analyzed, it though is an insult to the sciences of both physiology and psychology to claim this book aptly presented information on the subjects.

Overall though this book had some pretty high quality commentary on the psychology of what it is to be a warrior, how it is that these men and women must deal with the horrifying experiences of combat, and some other fun topics.

Grossman has some great commentary on mass shootings in America. Genuinely. His take on mass shooting has probably been the most sensible and useful I have thus seen. The parts of the book on this made the whole book worthwhile.

Overall. It was a pretty decent and I advocate anyone interested war, combat and conflict to read it.
Profile Image for Craig Fiebig.
465 reviews11 followers
August 28, 2020
Invaluable and insightful book. A particularly important work for those of us sitting safely distant from the pointy end of any spear.
11 reviews
September 20, 2011
As I mentioned before in my review of "On Killing", I think that Colonel Grossman is an excellent theorist. This book presents an interesting account of how combat stress develops and identifies a number of moderating and mediating variables. It also provides an excellent account of what it is actually like for a soldier or peace officer to engage in combat, including cognitive, emotional, and moral consequences. These accounts are based on what seem to be hundreds of hours of interviews and correspondence with people who have actually experienced combat, and are probably the book's most valuable contribution. Since combat is something that most mental health providers will never experience, it helps to have a written account that can help them relate to their clients who have.

The empirical contributions of this book, however, are not quite as impressive. Data is often glossed over, and in at least one instance (I believe), obviously misinterpreted. Often times Colonel Grossman quotes himself, his personal correspondence, and works of fiction that he authored as data to support his theories. Not surprisingly, he usually finds that he agrees with himself.

So, my belief is that the theories presented in this book are only ideas, and that empirical evidence is lacking. This is not to say that Colonel Grossman is wrong. It simply means that I think it is time for him to develop his ideas a little more by supporting them with empirical data. Of course, we must consider the difficulty of collecting empirical data about combat performance and the fact that this book was written for a primarily lay audience. However, the fact that he does cite some empirical studies suggests that the task is not impossible.

I noticed that another review of this book mentions Colonel Grossman's frequent citing of his own credentials, which is true. Given the fact that Colonel Grossman never mentions any academic credentials, it creates the feel that he has a sort of (unnecessary) academic small-man complex and constantly needs to remind the reader of what an expert he actually is. Ironically, removing such frequent references to his own credentials would actually make the work seem more credible.

A sizeable portion of the book is also dedicated to speaking out about violence in video games, television and movies. While the topic is interesting, it seems less relevant to the topic of combat and more appropriate for a separate book.

Overall a good read, and probably a must-read for anyone involved in providing mental health care to police officers, members of the military, or any other group that might be exposed to combat situations. However, the information presented should not be taken as scientific "fact," but rather considered a jumping-off point for scientific inquiry.
102 reviews5 followers
July 22, 2016
All the information police, soldiers and other warriors have been missing for over fifty years is right here in this solid volume.

Lt Col Grossman and Loren Christensen put it all together. They've created terms we did not know we needed, for things we didn't even know occurred. Grossman has a cute but very apt description of the function of the midbrain, fulfilled by 'the puppy,' as he calls it. He calls fear of human violence the 'universal phobia,' and tells you why it's universal. He gives a brief overview of what happens to your body when 'fight-or-flight' kicks in, then delves deeply into sensory distortions experienced in life-or-death situations. This is only the beginning.

The authors divulge the training a person needs to enter the 'toxic, corrosive realm of combat,' and why we need those who are willing to do so. Stress and fear innoculation, dealing with killing, being wounded, and cultural issues are dealt with in section three.

Sometimes the aftermath is far more traumatic to a person than the 5 minute episode of all hell breaking loose. The authors use almost 100 pages to discuss what happens after the smoke clears: PTSD, debriefings, a full explanation of tactical breathing, guilt, and communicating with those who've been 'there.' Along with the guilt issue, the author also addresses the conflicts that can develop from within because of a person's religious beliefs after killing.

I believe this book to be of immense value to all emergency responders, police, and military personnel. After borrowing it and reading it, I've ordered it and recommended it to just about everyone I know in those communities.

I would have a hard time recommending this book to anyone on the outside, which is part of why I rated it a four. There is a large amount of insider jargon, and a cultural bias, in the warrior community. This will not translate well for those Lt Col Grossman refers to as 'the herd.'

The second reason I gave it a four is the physical quality of the book. The binding seperated from the spine almost immediately, and I can see the cover coming off within a few readings.
Profile Image for TΞΞL❍CK Mith!lesh .
298 reviews148 followers
September 9, 2020
Using his repertoire of military experience, Grossman captures the visceral state of the human psyche during perceptions of extreme danger. With the assistance of Christensen, who is a retired police officer, this incredibly insightful book was published. The text delves into the complexity of deadly force. The publication definitively establishes the fundamental role of a security officer. Collectively, the thesis posits that these individual workers use their presence to ensure societal safety; according to the authors, this defines them as modern warriors. With more detail than any other researcher could muster on the topic, this thrilling study starkly carves out the innate place in culture that protection workers occupy.
Profile Image for Kevin.
218 reviews1 follower
November 1, 2021
This book is a MUST read if you have any family members, friends or loved ones in the military. It treats the psychological aspect of what combat does to people. It discusses feelings during the episode, what happens to the physical body, what to expect, and even goes into detail on how to treat those who have been in combat or in a life and death situation. Towards the end of the book it teaches a breathing technique that can be used in any situation to calm yourself or someone else down, and diminish the effects of stress. It is funny, cause I have used the technique with my little girl, but didn't really realize the physics behind it. Amazing book.
288 reviews4 followers
December 4, 2009
I found On Combat to be significantly more poorly written, and more reliant on personal anecdotes (to say nothing often inexplicable quotes from Shakespeare's histories) than On Killing. With that said, I found it to be more interesting (fascinating, in fact) and far more practical. Again, this isn't science yet, but LtCol Grossman is pushing the boundaries of what we know and understand about the human psyche and the human experience. All human experience will involve conflict- not necessarily armed- but this book disusses how and why we respond to stress between people. Definitely worth working through
Profile Image for Maria.
63 reviews
January 16, 2010
At the recommendation of a friend, I started reading this book. The reason he recommended it was because I'm in a leadership position in my military unit. I didn't think it was so much about how to be a good leader more than it was a book that talks about why we need warriors, who should be warriors, what a warrior should expect during combat and what to expect when coming home. This book is under my skin right now and has me questioning so much about myself. What I'm thinking is rather personal, but it's making me think very hard. I would recommend this book to anyone who is really dedicated to the job in the military or law enforcement.
Profile Image for Keith.
307 reviews
November 5, 2012
Colonel Grossman looks at the psychology of combat and brings a completely new view of what happens in the mind of a man when he must kill. This book, along with its companion book, On Killing, are excellent resources for those in military or law enforcement who may some day have to fire on and possibly kill their fellow man. What ingrained mental processes may keep them from functioning as they need to to survive, how can they train to use their mind to the greatest advantage rather than have their mind get them killed, and how can they avoid becoming psychological casualty. An incredible book that every soldier should read!
Profile Image for Kevin Potter.
Author 18 books149 followers
February 1, 2019
I honestly had no idea what I was getting into when I bought this book. I was expecting some cool theoretical knowledge on the effects of physical combat on the human body and mind.

What I got was an incredible level of real world knowledge and experience, some hard looks into myself and my assumptions, and a lot of inspiration.

The book is definitely aimed at people in human conflict oriented jobs such as law enforcement and the military, but this is something that I feel would be beneficial to literally anyone.

Even if you have no interest in the subject, there are a number of fact based social and historical analysis herein that everyone should know about.
69 reviews1 follower
December 12, 2010
Awesome book, but not for you. Covers training, physiology, psychology and more related to killing. How to train those whose job it is to kill, soldiers, police etc. How the media and FPS video games train those we don't want to kill, Columbine,Jonesboro etc. How to deal with killing or its negative side effects.

A must read for any warrior or anyone associated personally or professionally with one. Also excellent for first responders and others whose lives are touched by violent death. This book could save your life.
Profile Image for Andy Valadez.
63 reviews2 followers
January 13, 2013
Excellent book. For every sheep dog - law enforcement, military, martial artist or former military or law enforcement. Anyone who is interested in being a force for good. "On Combat" is designed to prepare the reader for "bullet proof" mind when it comes to understanding how conflict escalated saves lives. Colonel Grossman refuses interviews because the information he shares is the difference between life and death. Mistakes and misquotes in this regard can cost lives. Excellent analysis of combat situations and real threats in our society.
Profile Image for Steven van Doorn.
252 reviews2 followers
October 11, 2013
A very good discussion on the many psychological and physiological aspects of combat. This book talks about what a warrior can expect to experience and feel in a deadly fight, how to prepare for that fight and what to do afterward to maintain your health both physically and more importantly mentally. A good read for any warrior (someone who has or may have to kill as a lawful part of their job). I can also see this book being very helpful for someone who knows a warrior and wants to better understand what their life is like.
Profile Image for Nightmaresky.
794 reviews13 followers
June 13, 2021
I think this is an excellent book on combat and what our defense forces have to deal with. This book was especially eye opening for me because I have loved ones in the armed forces. There was so much information that I learned from this book. We under appreciate what our soldiers and police officers have to go through to protect us. What they sacrifice for us is a higher cost then we are lead to believe. I think this is a book everyone should read and it's going on my favorite's of all time list.
3 reviews5 followers
June 6, 2010
I feel this book would be interesting to anyone who is interested in psychology, is a police officer or soldier, or the wife of one. I being the latter found it very informative and allowed to to vicariously be able to know some of the things my husband goes through as a cop. I think being prepared mentally is important, and this book is excellent mental preparation for anyone looking to get into a profession that may lead to a dangerous encounter.
Profile Image for Kira.
27 reviews
July 12, 2010
Don't let the title fool you. This isn't a book encouraging people to be violent and it's written for everyone - not just our police and military (though it should be mandatory reading for them). It's mainly about the physiological response to violence so covered a lot of the same material as "The Boy who was raised as a dog", though you wouldn't think so to compare the titles. A really interesting and thought-provoking read.
21 reviews1 follower
January 10, 2011
In my humble opinion, this is a must read for anyone that deals with pressure situations on a daily basis. This is the follow up book to "On Killing" but Grossman's study goes deeper this time as he focuses on all combat situations, and the physical, mental, and psychological repercussions today's warriors experience. A lot of the information is repeated, but the first hand accounts that are chronicled in the book range from amazingly informative to down right haunting.
Profile Image for G.M. Burrow.
Author 1 book103 followers
February 19, 2013
Great stuff written by the guy who's seen it all. If you're a cop, a soldier, or a guard, or related to, married to, or just curious about any of them and the dramatic lives they lead, then read this. If you're a protector of any sort (aren't we all?), read this. If you're busy living in Condition White, assuming that bad things do happen but they won't ever happen to you, read this. It's a fascinating book. And it could save your life.
February 11, 2013
Col. Grossman’s is one of the most knowledgeable experts on why people kill. His expertise ranges from his own experiences as a special operations warrior to having trained thousands of military and law enforcement personnel. One element that sets him apart from many other experts is his ability to write on the topic in a manner anyone can comprehend.
For those interested in understanding what it takes to “confront the wolf,” I highly recommend this book.
May 27, 2008
Even if you're not a "warrior" by trade, this book can teach you about the mindset and realities of conflict and combat. It is very helpful to know these things should you ever find yourself in a survival situation. It will also help you understand what our warriors are going through when they come home.
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