Civil Wars: A History of Ideas

David Armitage. Knopf, $27.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-307-27113-6
Armitage (The Declaration of Independence: A Global History), a professor of history at Harvard, succeeds in his quest to distinguish civil wars from revolutionary wars, and different kinds of civil wars from one another, in a learned book that cuts a trail through “an impoverished area of inquiry.” Starting with the Greeks and Romans and arriving in the 21st century, Armitage leads readers down long, murky paths that writers, historians, and philosophers have previously trod without making the type of lasting, satisfying distinctions he seeks. As Armitage shows, this is a surprisingly complex subject filled with much heavy speculation. But where others, including many whose thinking Armitage analyzes and quotes, employ laborious prose, his book is a model of its kind: concise, winningly written, clearly laid out, trenchantly argued. Armitage contends that failure to understand civil wars—which are normal and perhaps unavoidable—has burdened the understanding of history and policy in unfortunate ways. His conclusion is sobering: human societies may never be without this kind of conflict, and we’re better off trying to understand it than ignoring its problematic nature. It’s hard to imagine a more timely work for today. Historians, political scientists and theorists, and policy makers will find it indispensable. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 11/14/2016
Release date: 02/07/2017
Hardcover - 368 pages - 978-0-670-06967-5
MP3 CD - 978-1-4417-5544-5
Compact Disc - 978-1-4417-5541-4
Compact Disc - 978-1-4417-5539-1
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