The Shortest History of War: From Hunter-Gatherers to Nuclear Superpowers—a Retelling for Our Times

Gwynne Dyer. Experiment, $15.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-61519-930-3

Journalist and historian Dyer (Don’t Panic!) delivers an insightful study of war “as a custom and tradition, as a political and social institution, and as a Problem.” Suggesting that climate change may bring an end to the 75-year period in which no great powers have fought each other directly, Dyer focuses on the forces the drive societies to war, and how to stop them. He notes that Homo erectus fossils from 750,000 years ago bear “signs of violence inflicted by human-style weapons,” but argues that the “ancient institution of warfare” can be abolished with the establishment of a “genuine international community” overseen by a world authority with the “power to coerce national governments.” The steps to get to there remain unclear, but Dyer makes a convincing case, through sketches of the Thirty Years’ War, the Napoleonic Wars, WWI, and more, that “war and national sovereignty are indissolubly linked,” and that the more egalitarian countries become, they less likely they are to fight each other. He also sheds light on how new technologies, from the composite bow to drones, have altered battlefield and geopolitical strategies. Though dry at times, and missing profiles of consequential military leaders, this is an incisive and well-informed overview of how warfare has evolved. Illus. (Sept.)
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