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Publisher's Summary

Is peace an aberration? The best-selling author of Paris 1919 offers a provocative view of war as an essential component of humanity. 

Named One of the 10 Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review and The East Hampton Star

“Margaret MacMillan has produced another seminal work.... She is right that we must, more than ever, think about war. And she has shown us how in this brilliant, elegantly written book.” (H.R. McMaster, author of Dereliction of Duty and Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World)

The instinct to fight may be innate in human nature, but war - organized violence - comes with organized society. War has shaped humanity’s history, its social and political institutions, its values and ideas. Our very language, our public spaces, our private memories, and some of our greatest cultural treasures reflect the glory and the misery of war. War is an uncomfortable and challenging subject not least because it brings out both the vilest and the noblest aspects of humanity. 

Margaret MacMillan looks at the ways in which war has influenced human society and how, in turn, changes in political organization, technology, or ideologies have affected how and why we fight. War: How Conflict Shaped Us explores such much-debated and controversial questions as: When did war first start? Does human nature doom us to fight one another? Why has war been described as the most organized of all human activities? Why are warriors almost always men? Is war ever within our control?

Drawing on lessons from wars throughout the past, from classical history to the present day, MacMillan reveals the many faces of war - the way it has determined our past, our future, our views of the world, and our very conception of ourselves.

©2020 Margaret MacMillan (P)2020 Random House Audio

What listeners say about War: How Conflict Shaped Us

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Horrible choice of narrator derails this book

I'm sorry but Margaret MacMillan is not from India like the narrator here she is from Canada and the choice of a narrator with an Indian accent was simply too jarring to make it possible to enjoy listening to this book. In addition the narrator mispronounces so many terms and phrases it makes me wonder if anyone was actually managing or editing this audio production. She just grated on the ears from word one.

A further problem is that although the book exhibits a stupendous breadth of historical knowledge the whole effort is a mile wide and an inch deep just a compendium of anecdotes and historical nuggets as we meander through wars across time. The New York Times rated this one of the top 10 books of 2020 no way! The author's book on Versailles (Paris 1919) was at that level, not this production. Of course maybe if the narration had been more suitable it would have been possible to pay more attention to the content.

What a total disappointment. In the end I was so fed up that I did something I rarely do - I abandoned it and returned it.

7 people found this helpful

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Outstanding Exploration of War and Mankind

This is an incredibly thought provoking and comprehensive exploration of how war and human civilization have influenced each other. Margaret MacMillan is a well respected historian and she has really outdone herself with this book. She takes a philosophical approach to why we fight wars and how those reasons have evolved along with human civilization. She touches on the paradoxes that have presented themselves as our world moves away from dictatorships and monarchies and into an age of governance dominated by democratically elected leaders. She also touches on the future of warfare and how we must face the grim reality that war is a beast that is far from being tamed. I highly suggest this book for anyone who loves history and wishes to gain a deeper understanding of how human nature and war are connected.

5 people found this helpful

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Thorough and Thoughtful

“War” is a broad analysis of war through the ages. Margaret MacMillan does an excellent job addressing the causes of war, the strategies and tactics, the scientific innovations, the impact on soldiers and civilians and the difficulty of ending wars. She is insightful on the roles of women and the treatment of war in literature.

I’ve read other histories by MacMillan, including “Paris 1919,” her compelling study of the Versailles peace talks. She is a fine writer, always holding the reader’s interest. My one hesitation in “War” is the lack of narrative drive. MacMillan jumps around, historically and geographically, because she organizes her materials by theme rather than chronologically. That’s fine for readers on the page, who might profitably jump from section to section to follow their interests, but it is more difficult for an audio listener. I sometimes felt whipsawed as the author jumped from, say, ancient wars between Sparta and Athens to recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the Hundred Years War.

Deepti Gupta is an excellent narrator, reading with a light South Asian accent. Overall, this was a thoughtful and fascinating study.

3 people found this helpful

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Greatest Book Ever

Margaret MacMillan, the best diplomatic historian of the twentieth century and David Lloyd George’s great-granddaughter, has written a paradigm shattering study of war.

1 person found this helpful

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Loved the depth. Missing a direction.

Loads of information. Obscure facts, varied perspective, scattershot timeline, but the dates bring you back. Had to use my knowledge, or lack of, history to follow along in some chapters.

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time more useful elsewhere

she is trying to make a point that may be worthwhile. however, a shallow understanding of the history of warfare and of specific wars and periods of war coupled with casual reliance on anecdotal evidence interspersed with facts overcame my curiosity with frustration and I quit

she is definitely a clausewitzian cheerleader if not admirer

perhaps my prejudice shows

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Amazingly researched and written - truly one of the best audiobooks

As someone who care deeply about issues of war and peace, this book extended my understanding of the history and concepts of war to another level.

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Shocking

Almost pro war!!! Even as a historian’s objective description, all negative aspects and consequences of war were ignored, and what comes through here is kind of praise to this most horrible act of humans. I don’t remember reading anything as inhuman as this. Forced myself to listen to the end cause I couldn’t believe my ears. Shocking.

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philosophical examination of war

excellently written intellectual dissection of what war is,why we keep engaging in it future hope

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Excelent Narrative About Wars

Once again Margaret Macmillan provides a though provoking book on Humans and war. A must read.