Recommendation: Fuck this was a slog
Where to read: This should take you a bus ride or a quiet pub afternoon
Read with: Elkmin Brewing Co’s After Battle Pale Ale
In brief: I do not understand why this book was written – I understand it originated in a lecture series which, having listened to her speak, I have no doubt was excellent … but not every lecture series or TED talk has to be turned into a book.
I cannot be fair here because it took me about six months of very inconsistent reading to actually finish this. Then again, the fact it took six months probably speaks for itself, and in all honesty the only reason I did finish it is because it is very short and I spent something like $40 on it.
The New York Times review describes it as ‘richly eclectic’, which is a nice way of saying incoherent. This is unfortunate because when she speaks about the book, Macmillan is fascinating and makes a strong argument for the both the importance of war studies (not necessarily the same thing as military history) and the centrality of war in human society across time.
This last point is where the book could have been both much longer and much bolshier as a counterbalance to Pinker and others who characterise war as something that is somehow becoming obsolete. I suspect she’s thinking it, but it’s not really discussed in any meaningful way and any exploration of that idea gets lost in a shambolic amalgamation of ideas and quotable quotes.