Why War? (Hardcover)

Why War? By Richard Overy, Ph.D. Cover Image
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Why has war been such a consistent presence throughout the human past? A leading historian explains, drawing on rich examples and keen insight.

Richard Overy is not the first scholar to take up the title question. In 1931, at the request of the League of Nations, Albert Einstein asked Sigmund Freud to collaborate on a short work examining whether there was “a way of delivering mankind from the menace of war.” Published the next year as a pamphlet entitled Why War?, it conveyed Freud’s conclusion that the “death drive” made any deliverance impossible—the psychological impulse to destruction was universal in the animal kingdom. The global wars of the later 1930s and 1940s seemed ample evidence of the dismal conclusion.

A preeminent historian of those wars, Overy brings vast knowledge to the title question and years of experience unraveling the knotted motivations of war. His approach is to separate the major drivers and motivations, and consider the ways each has contributed to organized conflict. They range from the impulses embedded in human biology and psychology, to the incentives to conflict developed through cultural evolution, to competition for resources—conflicts stirred by the passions of belief, the effects of ecological stresses, the drive for power in leaders and nations, and the search for security. The discussions show remarkable range, delving deep into the Neolithic past, through the twentieth-century world wars, and up to the current conflict in Ukraine. The examples are absorbing, from the Roman Empire’s voracious appetite for resources to the impulse to power evident in Alexander the Great, Napoleon, and Hitler. The conclusion is not hopeful, but Overy’s book is a gift to readers: a compact, judicious, engrossing examination of a fundamental question.

About the Author

Richard Overy is the author of many outstanding histories of World War II, including Why the Allies Won and Blood and Ruins. His study of Hitler and Stalin, The Dictators, won the Wolfson History Prize. He lives in England and Italy.

Praise For…

Richard Overy [is] one of the world’s finest military historians and probably the best historian of World War II writing in English today. His new work tackles the ever-elusive question of why humans have engaged in warfare since the dawn of history. It is a simply worded question but one that is extraordinarily complex to answer, as Overy demonstrates in chapter after chapter….The world is returning to great-power competition with increased risk of great-power war as the international system of rules that was put in place in 1945 comes under increased stress for a variety of reasons. Overy’s book is timely for those interested in preventing war and maintaining the nearly 80-year stretch of great-power peace the world has enjoyed since World War II ended.
— Gen. Mark Milley, U.S. Army retired - Army Magazine

In this elegant, concise volume, one of the greatest living military historians gives a brilliant overview of the factors that have predisposed the human race to warfare and the specific factors that have most often served as the causes of war. Utterly fascinating and not to be missed.
— David A. Bell, author of Men on Horseback: The Power of Charisma in the Age of Revolution

Acclaimed for surveying humanity’s most deadly era in the middle of the twentieth century, Richard Overy now ranges across explanations for why violent conflict is so enduring a feature of human affairs. Our age of endless war makes the sprightly study that results as essential as it is eye-opening.
— Samuel Moyn, author of Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War

An expert exploration of the title question…Astute if uncomfortable insights.
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Product Details
ISBN: 9781324021742
ISBN-10: 1324021748
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: June 4th, 2024
Pages: 304
Language: English