The best books on understanding the roots of war and peace

J. Lawrence Graham Author Of Charlotte's War
By J. Lawrence Graham

Who am I?

I spent the 1970s as an officer in the U.S. Navy UDT/SEAL Teams, giving me insight into the military aspects of peacebuilding. I have spent the last forty years researching and teaching international marketing and negotiations at USC and UC Irvine, after receiving a Berkeley PhD. I was also the director of the UC Irvine Center for Citizen Peacebuilding for ten years. I have published four books on international negotiations and all my ten books in print are on the topic of peace in families, neighborhoods, commerce, and international relations.

I wrote...

Charlotte's War

By J. Lawrence Graham,

Book cover of Charlotte's War

What is my book about?

This epic novel follows one extraordinary American woman as she grieves and triumphs through the horrific realities of three wars that threaten the men she loves. 

Charlotte Shipwright is in the fight of her life to save her firstborn son from facing a truth she knows all too well—the dreadful impact of war. As Charlotte weaves through major world events, her remarkable will and intelligence position her to offer key insights to leaders negotiating peace in Vietnam. The formidable connections Charlotte forges over the years—including visionaries such as JFK, two U.S. Secretaries of State, and even Ho Chi Minh—culminate in a surprising and captivating convergence of personalities, power, and politics.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

The Winds Of War

By Herman Wouk,

Book cover of The Winds Of War

Why did I love this book?

The Winds of War is a powerful and intimate story about WWII.

It follows one fictional family through the buildup to the most devastating war in human history. The cultural and political details are most impressive. The writing itself is captivating. I have used it as a model for my own book.

Wouk’s work demonstrates the impact of war on families and establishes the importance of advocating for peaceful resolutions to global disputes.

By Herman Wouk,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Winds Of War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Herman Wouk's sweeping epic of World War II, which begins with THE WINDS OF WAR and continues in WAR AND REMEMBRANCE, stands as the crowning achievement of one of America's most celebrated storytellers.

Like no other books about the war, Wouk's spellbinding narrative captures the tide of global events - the drama, the romance, the heroism and the tragedy of World War II - as it immerses us in the lives of a single American family drawn into the very centre of the maelstrom.

"First-rate storytelling." - New York Times

"Compelling . . . A panoramic, engrossing story." - Atlantic…

Book cover of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

Why did I love this book?

Pinker’s masterpiece is hugely important for two reasons.

First, it well makes the case that the world is the most peaceful it has ever been. This is so despite what you see on TV. Second, he explains four reasons why: rule of law, rule of reason, rule of women, and international trade.

I have spent the last forty years teaching and promoting international trade. The fundamental truth of human relations is: The first persuasion was coercion; the first sophistication is exchange. We are almost through with coercion in this 21st century.

Readers of Pinker’s book will walk away with a greater understanding of what it takes to create peace in the modern geo-political climate.

By Steven Pinker,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Better Angels of Our Nature as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The most inspiring book I've ever read' Bill Gates, 2017

'A brilliant, mind-altering book ... Everyone should read this astonishing book' Guardian

'Will change the way you see the world' Daily Mail

Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2012

Wasn't the twentieth century the most violent in history? In his extraordinary, epic book Steven Pinker shows us that this is wrong, telling the story of humanity in a completely new and unfamiliar way. From why cities make us safer to how books bring about peace, Pinker weaves together history, philosophy and science to examine why we are less likely to…


By David McCullough,

Book cover of 1776

Why did I love this book?

McCullough documents the great victory of the American Revolutionary War.

Somehow George Washington’s rag-tag army was able to defeat the greatest military power the world had ever seen, the British Army and Navy. It’s our great lesson for the world that coercion does not work. The tyrant King George III failed to defeat freedom in America.

My book examines how these lessons were not applied to the Vietnam War. The key takeaway from a peacebuilding stance is to use the Revolutionary War as an example of the failures of force. Had the British engaged in more effective peacebuilding techniques and negotiated a mutually beneficial relationship with America rather than try to subjugate through force, the war could have been avoided.

By David McCullough,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked 1776 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

America's most acclaimed historian presents the intricate story of the year of the birth of the United States of America. 1776 tells two gripping stories: how a group of squabbling, disparate colonies became the United States, and how the British Empire tried to stop them. A story with a cast of amazing characters from George III to George Washington, to soldiers and their families, this exhilarating book is one of the great pieces of historical narrative.

Guns, Germs, and Steel

By Jared Diamond,

Book cover of Guns, Germs, and Steel

Why did I love this book?

Jared Diamond is a biologist by training. But his landmark book describes why, historically, invention thrived in Europe and Asia, and not Africa and the Americas.

Invention led to the colonization of the latter continents, and incredible oppression of the people living there. The book offers a glimpse into the causes of war and violence throughout the world, demonstrating how creativity and diversity are the greatest gifts to peace.

Modern peacebuilding relies on embracing diversity, new ideas, and open trade. Diamond showcases why this approach works and the pitfalls of oppression as an alternative.

By Jared Diamond,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Guns, Germs, and Steel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why did Eurasians conquer, displace, or decimate Native Americans, Australians, and Africans, instead of the reverse? In this "artful, informative, and delightful" (William H. McNeill, New York Review of Books) book, a classic of our time, evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond dismantles racist theories of human history by revealing the environmental factors actually responsible for its broadest patterns.

The story begins 13,000 years ago, when Stone Age hunter-gatherers constituted the entire human population. Around that time, the developmental paths of human societies on different continents began to diverge greatly. Early domestication of wild plants and animals in the Fertile Crescent, China,…

Book cover of Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia

Why did I love this book?

Korda’s book provides a rich historical account of Lawrence of Arabia.

It explains how the Ottoman Empire was dissected by the British and French after World War I. Because the Europeans ignored cultural boundaries and simply drew straight lines on a map, the region has been a fiery mess since then. Lawrence was a hero for the British, but he advised against the specifics of the peace treaty signed at Versailles.

Korda’s book exemplifies the idea that peace can be achieved through cultural understanding and openness. Had the Europeans utilized a peacebuilding approach the area wouldn’t have been dragged into disarray and generations of conflict. 

By Michael Korda,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Hero as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'This magnificent, monumental portrait at a stroke makes all others redundant, and re-establishes Lawrence as one of the most extraordinary figures of the 20th century' Sunday Times

Michael Korda' s Hero is an epic biography of the mysterious Englishman whose daring exploits made him an object of intense fascination, known the world over as Lawrence of Arabia.

An Oxford Scholar and archaeologist, one of five illegitimate sons of a British aristocrat who ran away with his daughters' governess, T.E. Lawrence was sent to Cairo as an intelligence officer in 1916, vanished into the desert in 1917, and re-emerged as one…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in violence, the American Revolution, and World War 2?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about violence, the American Revolution, and World War 2.

Violence Explore 73 books about violence
The American Revolution Explore 206 books about the American Revolution
World War 2 Explore 1,692 books about World War 2