Books

Books That Matter

The books listed here have, in some way, changed the way I see the world.  They are all both accessible and compelling.

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Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005.

ISBN: 978-0-39-306131-4

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Guns, Germs, and Steel is a brilliant work answering the question of why the peoples of certain continents succeeded in invading other continents and conquering or displacing their peoples. Diamond dismantles pernicious racial theories tracing societal differences to biological differences.  He assembles convincing evidence linking germs to domestication of animals, germs that Eurasians then spread in epidemic proportions in their voyages of discovery.  In its sweep, Guns, Germs and Steel encompasses the rise of agriculture, technology, writing, government, and religion, providing a unifying theory of human history as intriguing as the histories of dinosaurs and glaciers.

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Gaddis, John Lewis. The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, 2004.

ISBN: 978-0-19-517157-0

Gaddis points out that while the historical method is more sophisticated than most historians realize, it doesn’t require unintelligible prose to explain. Like cartographers mapping landscapes, historians represent what they can never replicate.  In doing so, they combine the techniques of artists, geologists, paleontologists, and evolutionary biologists.  Their approaches parallel, in intriguing ways, the new sciences of chaos, complexity, and criticality.

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Grossman, Dave. On Killing: the Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Rev. ed. New York: Back Bay Books, 2009.

ISBN: 978-0-31-604093-8

Upon its initial publication, ON KILLING was hailed as a landmark study of the techniques the military uses to overcome the powerful reluctance to kill, of how killing affects soldiers, and of the societal implications of escalating violence.  Now, Grossman has updated this classic work to include information on 21st-century military conflicts, recent trends in crime, suicide bombings, school shootings, and more.  The result is a work certain to be relevant and important for decades to come.

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Schelling, Thomas C. Arms and Influence. 1966. Reprint, New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press, 2008.

ISBN: 978-0-30-014337-9

“An exemplary text on the interplay of national purpose and military force.”—Book Week.  “A grim but carefully reasoned and coldly analytical book. . . .  One of the most frightening previews which this reviewer has ever seen of the roads that lie just ahead in warfare.”—Los Angeles Times.  “A brilliant and hardheaded book. It will frighten those who prefer not to dwell on the unthinkable and infuriate those who have taken refuge in the stereotypes and moral attitudinizing.”—New York Times Book Review.

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Temes, Peter. The Just War: An American Reflection On the Morality of War in Our Time. Chicago: Ivan R Dee, 2004.

ISBN: 978-1-56-663601-8

When is war acceptable?  How should it be carried out?  What, if any, are the moral rules for military force?  Answering these and related questions has been the goal of just-war thinking since it was originally articulated by St. Augustine; its influence has transcended theology to inform many of today’s conventions of international order.  Temes shows Christian, Jewish, and Islamic ideas of moral war to be fundamentally congrent, and draws on such secular thinkers as Cicero and Carl von Clausewitz to draw just-war thought out of the divinity schools and, he hopes, into the public moral vocabulary.  Temes’ philosophical synthesis is nuanced and impressive, particularly in viewing war as both deeply dehumanizing (as in modern industrial state warfare) and symbolically important (as in ancient warfare’s celebration of individual courage and sacrifice).  It is also concise and accessible enough to remind one of its author’s Great Books background.

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