Teaching Why We Fight
Why We Fight boils down decades of social science into an accessible, readable book to teach students about war, peace, and the path to successful societies.
Sample syllabi, assignments & slides, by level
Applying the book to contemporary cases
I use Why We Fight in my undergrad international development class, an intro-level course in an interdisciplinary major. Students love it, both the ideas and because the anecdotes gave them a sense of how development work and research are conducted. I’ve enjoyed it a lot myself.
I organized my graduate class at Harvard around Why We Fight. We read a chapter a week along with related articles. The great thing about teaching the book is that it organizes an interdisciplinary literature on why violence does and does not occur at every level of analysis—from interstate war to civil wars to street gangs. It clearly articulates theories of war and shows how a host of literatures—both "rationalist" and “behavioral"—can be synthesized within its framework.
Students will benefit from the way that Blattman organizes a vast literature. I would wholeheartedly recommend this as *the* book for those either starting war studies or working in relevant fields.
My students love the book. One thing that jumps out is how clearly Blattman writes. For high school students who are encountering a big topic for the first time, clarity is incredibly important. The book really speaks to a wide audience.
"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."
“Blattman is the go-to social scientist on war. His insights are essential reading.”
“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.”
“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.”