On Killing

By Lt. Col. Dave Grossman,

Book cover of On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society

Book description

The good news is that the vast majority of soldiers are loath to kill in battle. Unfortunately, modern armies, using Pavlovian and operant conditioning have developed sophisticated ways of overcoming this instinctive aversion. The psychological cost for soldiers, as witnessed by the increase in post-traumatic stress, is devastating. The psychological…

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Why read it?

3 authors picked On Killing as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Grossman is a former Army Ranger who digs deep into the psychological impact of taking human life through countless interviews with fellow soldiers of all kinds. Combining these accounts with thorough psychological research, Grossman comments on society's collective aversion to killing while helping us understand its complicated acceptance—and even encouragement—of wartime killing. What was most surprising to me was that historically, only about 4% of soldiers even fire their weapon during war, and how obviously that skews from the “norm” of combat portrayed in popular media. It’s an honest, eye-opening, and important piece of work that should be required reading…

Because the focus in my writing is always on the psychological underpinnings of my characters, this book became an essential part of my desire to understand what happens to someone when they are required to act in ways that are often not inherent in their makeup. This book is exactly what the title espouses – an in-depth study of how and why soldiers and law enforcement officers must be trained to act against natural inclinations – that desire not to do harm to someone else. A person must be broken down to such a point that they no longer become…

From Karin's list on the personal impact of war.

This book is about the psychological cost of learning to kill and the act of killing. What is the psychological difference between lobbing a mortar over a mountain versus putting a knife in someone's gut? It is huge. The author is a warrior who has fought and he writes in-depth about the psychological ramifications of these actions.

I gave this book to my son when he was young, I think this is an important read for everyone because as humans we are killing, we are fighting, and we are committing acts of violence all over the world. This book is…

From James' list on war and what it all means.

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