• Why We Fight

  • The Roots of War and the Paths to Peace
  • By: Christopher Blattman
  • Narrated by: Landon Woodson
  • Length: 12 hrs and 25 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (53 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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. 

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 tiny fraction erupt into violence. Too many accounts of conflict forget this.

With a counterintuitive approach, Blattman reminds us that most rivals loathe one another in peace. That’s because war is too costly to fight. Enemies almost always find it better to split the pie than spoil it or struggle over thin slices. So, 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, we meet vainglorious European monarchs, African dictators, Indian mobs, Nazi pilots, British football hooligans, ancient Greeks, and fanatical Americans.

What of remedies that shift incentives away from violence and get parties back to deal-making? Societies are surprisingly good at interrupting and ending violence when they want to—even the gangs of Medellin do it. Realistic and optimistic, this is book that lends new meaning to the old adage, “Give peace a chance”.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.  

©2022 Christopher Blattman (P)2022 Penguin Audio

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An Essential Read for Negotiators & Entrepreneurs

I highly recommend this book regardless of your profession. Full of evidenced based research and the lived experience of the Author. He curates the political, social, behavioral and economic realities with facinating and unique idiological-free narrative.

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Incredibly well written and a new must read for all policy schools, policymakers and aspiring do-gooders

I found both my framework for peacemaking shifted based on evidence, I remember helpful anecdotes, and I finished inspired to continue finding my own marginal impact.

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Deep question with deep answers

This book summarizes the political science and economics literatures on violence and warfare, and distills the origins of violence to five mechanisms: unchecked interests, intangible incentives, uncertainty, commitment problems, and misperceptions. My understanding is that though these ideas have been floating around academia for a while, they haven't been succinctly organized and presented to general audiences until now. Unchecked interests refers to the fact that often the leaders of groups do not pay the price of violence. Intangible incentives refers concepts like honor, vengeance, and glory that tilt towards violence for violence's sake. Uncertainty refers to classic results in game theory in which asymmetric information leads to Pareto dominated outcomes (i.e. wasteful outcomes in which everyone is worse off). Specifically, in most confrontations, potential combatants know roughly their own strength but do not know the strength of the opposition. In the absence of asymmetric information, the two parties should decide how to divide the surplus immediately, as violence is pure waste. But with asymmetric information, violence is the only way to call the other party's bluff. Commitment problems refers to situations in which one party cannot credibly commit to restraining their growing power (stop research on a nuclear weapon, stop growing their army, stop positioning forces in threatening places, etc.) and so the value of first strike goes up relative to delay. Finally, misperceptions refers to behavioral biases, especially overconfidence.

This enumeration is highly enlightening and adds much on one of the other best books in this area, "Better Angels of Our Nature" by Pinker. I have two criticisms. (1) I have heard Blattman on several podcasts. He's a good speaker and I would have preferred that he read his own book. (2) I don't like the journalistic-style of this book in which many anecdotes are used to introduce new ideas. Anecdotes are great as examples to illustrate points, but I often wasn't connecting the anecdotes to the points.

As a whole, I highly recommend to anyone interested in understanding violence.

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Fascinating

Fascinating book on why humans engage and avoid wars. Wonderfully written, it combines clear explanations and great stories from around the world. I've recommended it to several friends already!

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Useful beyond measure

This is beyond a shadow of a doubt one of THEE most useful books on solving problems, especially the solving of WICKED problems.

I love the fact that the author spent huge amounts of time on the African continent to do awesome primary research.

The timing of this book is also really great in affording us GREAT insights into the Russian Ukrainian war.