MM2001: War - books

December 21, 2000

War: Past, Present and Future
By Jeremy Black
Sutton, £20.00

This book puts war in its "social and cultural context". Black, professor of history at the University of Exeter, argues that our model of how wars change is too technologically driven. "When we talk about war, we pay far too much attention to wars between states rather than civil wars," he says. "We've got to have a much more cultural model of how war changes. The crucial change in the military is an unwillingness to suffer casualties, far more important than the technology used."

Black cites the cultural constraints on war in China and Burma, focusing on attitudes to killing and being killed. "Over the next 20 years, one of the factors that has to be considered is how China will act as a great power."

The Ingenuity Gap
By Thomas F. Homer-Dixon
Jonathan Cape, £20.00

To create a buzz for his new book, Homer-Dixon was in Washington handing out free copies and briefing the CIA. The agency is trying to develop techniques, he explained, for predicting where environmental stress might lead to civil violence and social breakdown. It is a theme that Homer-Dixon, head of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at the University of Toronto, has explored for ten years.

The ingenuity gap, he says, is "the gap that occurs between our rising need to solve problems and our sometimes inadequate ability to apply solutions. In places where you get serious ingenuity gaps, you get social breakdown."

He examines everything from personal information overload to increased nitrogen levels in the global environment. His travels take him from Las Vegas to the west Bengal city of Patna, India, an "absolutely desperate place" where a record heatwave had plunged the city into water shortages, disease and lawlessness.

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