The best books on navigating seemingly impossible conflicts

Peter T. Coleman Author Of The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization
By Peter T. Coleman

The Books I Picked & Why

High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out

By Amanda Ripley

Book cover of High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out

Why this book?

Amanda Ripley is a smart journalist and exquisite writer who knows how to weave a compelling tale. She spent several years studying mediation and conflict resolution, and visiting conflict research labs like mine at Columbia and Jon Haidt’s at NYU, in order to offer this informed, accessible book. Amanda is able to easily communicate the problem of what she calls “high conflict”, the opposite of “good conflict”, and steps we all can take to decrease the worst forms of these in our life. An excellent and useful book.


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Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

By Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen

Book cover of Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Why this book?

I am one of the world’s most renowned conflict resolution scholars. But when some particularly challenging interpersonal troubles bubbled up between members of the staff at my Center at Columbia, I reached for this book. Why? Because my spouse, who is a clinical psychologist and works with couples, had years before insisted that I read it carefully. I did and found it immensely practical and helpful. So, when tensions arose at our Center, I asked all the staff to read it and started our process of resolution and healing with this shared understanding of what was going on and what to do about it.


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The Logic of Failure: Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations

By Dietrich Dorner

Book cover of The Logic of Failure: Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations

Why this book?

Originally written in German and published in English in the mid-1990s, this book has been out of print for a while. Nevertheless, find it and buy it. It is based on the provocative but accurate premise that more harm is done in this world by do-gooders who are unaware of the unintended consequences of what they are doing – than by people actually trying to cause harm! Dorner is a German psychologist who set up a lab to study how people make decisions in highly complex, dynamic, challenging environments (mayors of towns or humanitarian organizations in crisis situations), and what he found is both highly compelling and critically important. Buy and read this very accessible book.


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States of Disorder: Complexity Theory and UN State-building in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan

By Adam Day

Book cover of States of Disorder: Complexity Theory and UN State-building in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan

Why this book?

If you are interested in gaining a better understanding of why the UN fails so miserably at building and sustaining peace – read this new book. Adam Day works at the UN and uses ideas from complexity science to both explain why the UN is so challenged in its ultimate mission to sustain peace, and what it should do to move in the right direction. Day uses two current case studies on some of the most challenging situations faced by the international community and applies new ideas in useful and practical ways. This is the state-of-the-art of complexity-informed peacebuilding.

This book is available here.


Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction

By Philip E. Tetlock, Dan Gardner

Book cover of Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction

Why this book?

Philip Tetlock is a top psychologist and political scientist who studies, among other things, effective decision-making and forecasting in highly volatile environments. This book describes a research project he has been leading with the CIA (yes, that CIA), called the Good Judgement Project, to identify the best forecasters in the world today, and offers insights into how we all might be better able to make accurate decisions of our lives and our world. This is superb science and offers practical insights into how we can all better navigate the increasing complexity of our time.


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