An acclaimed expert on violence and seasoned peacebuilder explains the five reasons why conflict (rarely) blooms into war, and how to interrupt that deadly process.
Out with Viking Press on April 22, 2022
It’s easy to overlook the underlying strategic forces of war, to see it solely as a series of errors, accidents, and emotions gone awry. It’s also easy to forget that war shouldn’t happen—and most of the time it doesn’t. Around the world, there are millions of hostile rivalries, yet only a fraction erupt into violence, a fact too many accounts overlook.
With a counterintuitive approach, Christopher Blattman reminds us that most rivals loathe one another in peace. War is too costly to fight, so enemies almost always find it better to split the pie than spoil it for everyone or struggle over thin slices. In those rare instances when fighting ensues, we should ask: What kept rivals from compromise?
Why We Fight draws on decades of economics, political science, psychology, and real-world interventions to lay out the root causes and remedies for war, showing that violence is not the norm; that there are only five reasons why conflict wins over compromise; and how peacemakers turn the tides through tinkering, not transformation.
From warring states to street gangs, ethnic groups and religious sects to political factions, there are common dynamics to heed and lessons to learn. Along the way, through Blattman’s time studying Medellín, Chicago, Sudan, England, and more, we learn from vainglorious monarchs, dictators, mobs, pilots, football hooligans, ancient peoples, and fanatics.
What of remedies that shift incentives away from violence and get parties back to dealmaking? Societies are surprisingly good at interrupting and ending violence when they want to—even gangs do it. Realistic and optimistic, this is a book that lends new meaning to the adage “Give peace a chance.”
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“As we move into the third decade of the twenty-first century, humanity is still mired in wars and deadly conflicts. Avoiding the useless dichotomies that either claim violence is an inseparable part of human nature or declare that humanity has all but conquered its proclivity to war, Blattman explains how human communities make use of many different strategies to resolve conflicts, and why these efforts sometimes stumble.”
—Daron Acemoglu, co-author of Why Nations Fail
“Blattman shows us things we don’t normally see, and takes us to places we might be terrified to go. A captivating and intelligent book.”
—Tim Harford, author of The Data Detective and The Undercover Economist
“Engaging and profound, this deeply searching book explains the true origins of warfare, and it illustrates the ways that, despite some contrary appearances, human beings are capable of great goodness.”
—Nicholas A. Christakis, author of Blueprint
“A surprisingly and refreshingly optimistic book, one that deserves a place both on living room and diplomats’ shelves.”
—Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America
“An important, radical book which leaves you hopeful that peace is not a dream and conflict is not inevitable.”
—David Miliband, President and CEO, International Rescue Committee
“Blattman moves from Colombian prisons, to Liberian plantations and American streets with an economist’s eye for numbers and the instincts of an ethnographer—noticing the incongruous and counter-intuitive structures that deliver peace unexpectedly in the most violent of contexts.”
—Rory Stewart, author of The Places In Between
“The most important book on this most important topic.”
—Tyler Cowen, author of Average is Over and Marginal Revolution
“Economists imagine that people in poor countries wake up every day worrying that they are poor. Maybe, but more fundamentally they are insecure and subject to violence. Foregrounding this most basic human problem is essential for understanding the world we live in today.”
—James A. Robinson, co-author of Why Nations Fail
“Blattman provides a vital new perspective on the problems of conflict, by applying analytical methods from economics and political science to his extensive research in communities that have been plagued by violence.”
—Roger Myerson, winner of the Nobel Prize
“Blattman is the go-to social scientist on war. His insights are essential reading.
—William Easterly, author of The White Man’s Burden and The Tyranny of Experts
“After Afghanistan, we need a better understanding of conflict. This book is timely and has a powerful and hopeful message: the usual human state is peaceful.
—Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion and The Future of Capitalism
“Why We Fight not only reflects Blattman’s expertise in economics, political science, and history, it also introduces us an intriguing range of characters and locations. We meet a warlord from Liberia called White Flower, and in the same chapter learn why George Washington became America’s wealthiest President. Blattman is a great storyteller, with important insights for us all.”
—Richard Thaler, winner of the Nobel Prize and co-author of Nudge