100 books like War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

By Chris Hedges,

Here are 100 books that War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning fans have personally recommended if you like War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Denial of Death

Mordecai George Sheftall Author Of Blossoms In The Wind: Human Legacies of the Kamikaze

From my list on how culture makes us do self-destructive things.

Why am I passionate about this?

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I woke up expecting to spend that day – and the rest of my academic career – leisurely studying the interplay of culture and individual temperament in second language acquisition. As the rest of that terrible day unfolded, however, my research up to that point suddenly seemed very small and almost decadently privileged. Recruiting the rudimentary cultural anthropology toolbox I had already amassed, I took a deep breath and plunged into the rabbit hole of studying the role of culture in human conflict. Twenty-two years later, using my Japan base and relevant language skills, my research has focused on the Japanese experience in World War II.

Mordecai's book list on how culture makes us do self-destructive things

Mordecai George Sheftall Why did Mordecai love this book?

Have you ever read a book that literally changed your life? I have, and that book is The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1974.

Becker’s basic thesis is that the institution of “culture” has evolved not so much to facilitate our physical survival (the orthodox viewpoint), but rather, as an elaborate symbolic framework that psychologically protects us from our species’ unique awareness of our own inevitable mortality, both individually and collectively.

Becker basically blew the top of my head off when I first read him during my PhD work in the mid-Oughts, and he remains a major influence on my teaching and research to this day.

By Ernest Becker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Pulitzer prize in 1974 and the culmination of a life's work,The Denial of Death is Ernest Becker's brilliant and impassioned answer to the "why" of human existence. In bold contrast to the predominant Freudian school of thought, Becker tackles the problem of the vital lie -- man's refusal to acknowledge his own mortality. In doing so, he sheds new light on the nature of humanity and issues a call to life and its living that still resonates more than twenty years after its writing.


Book cover of Collapse

Mordecai George Sheftall Author Of Blossoms In The Wind: Human Legacies of the Kamikaze

From my list on how culture makes us do self-destructive things.

Why am I passionate about this?

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I woke up expecting to spend that day – and the rest of my academic career – leisurely studying the interplay of culture and individual temperament in second language acquisition. As the rest of that terrible day unfolded, however, my research up to that point suddenly seemed very small and almost decadently privileged. Recruiting the rudimentary cultural anthropology toolbox I had already amassed, I took a deep breath and plunged into the rabbit hole of studying the role of culture in human conflict. Twenty-two years later, using my Japan base and relevant language skills, my research has focused on the Japanese experience in World War II.

Mordecai's book list on how culture makes us do self-destructive things

Mordecai George Sheftall Why did Mordecai love this book?

Have you ever encountered an idea in a book that made such a lasting impression on you that, almost like the “flashbulb” memory of a life – or world-changing event, you can remember the exact circumstances of where you were when you first read it?

Jared Diamond’s Collapse – which I picked up at an airport bookshop as “light reading” for a long flight – ended up providing me with just such an experience. The book holds that culture can fatally inure us, like so many slowly (and initially comfortably) boiling frogs, to the existential threat of environmental destruction, particularly in the context of the overexploitation of natural resources.

Diamond’s account of the last days of Easter Island civilization is particularly harrowing, and has haunted me ever since.

By Jared Diamond,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the author of Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive is a visionary study of the mysterious downfall of past civilizations.

Now in a revised edition with a new afterword, Jared Diamond's Collapse uncovers the secret behind why some societies flourish, while others founder - and what this means for our future.

What happened to the people who made the forlorn long-abandoned statues of Easter Island?
What happened to the architects of the crumbling Maya pyramids?
Will we go the same way, our skyscrapers one day standing derelict and overgrown like the…


Book cover of The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life

Mordecai George Sheftall Author Of Blossoms In The Wind: Human Legacies of the Kamikaze

From my list on how culture makes us do self-destructive things.

Why am I passionate about this?

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I woke up expecting to spend that day – and the rest of my academic career – leisurely studying the interplay of culture and individual temperament in second language acquisition. As the rest of that terrible day unfolded, however, my research up to that point suddenly seemed very small and almost decadently privileged. Recruiting the rudimentary cultural anthropology toolbox I had already amassed, I took a deep breath and plunged into the rabbit hole of studying the role of culture in human conflict. Twenty-two years later, using my Japan base and relevant language skills, my research has focused on the Japanese experience in World War II.

Mordecai's book list on how culture makes us do self-destructive things

Mordecai George Sheftall Why did Mordecai love this book?

Solomon et al experienced eureka moments similar to my own when they read Ernest Becker as young social psychologists in the 1980s.

Combining their research efforts, they set out to provide “hard” empirical evidence that would support Becker’s cultural thesis. In the process, they developed what eventually became known as “Terror Management Theory” (TMT).

This went on to become one of the biggest influences on social psychology since Leon Festinger’s 1950s work on cognitive dissonance, enjoying perhaps its greatest notoriety in the first few years after 9/11.

The Worm at the Core is an excellent “one-stop shopping” choice as a primer for basic TMT. Once you add Solomon et al’s ideas to your mental toolbox, you will never look at the world the same way again.

By Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszczynski

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Worm at the Core as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Proof of a ground-breaking psychological theory: that the fear of death is the hidden motive behind almost everything we do.

'A joy ... The Worm at the Core asks how humans can learn to live happily while being intelligently aware of our impending doom, how knowledge of death affects the decisions we make every day, and how we can stop fear and anxiety overwhelming us' Charlotte Runcie, Daily Telegraph

'Provocative, lucid and fascinating' Financial Times

'An important, superbly readable and potentially life-changing book . . . suggests one should confront mortality in order to live an authentic life' Tim Lott,…


Book cover of Humankind: A Hopeful History

Dashka Slater Author Of Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed

From my list on facing down extremism, online and off.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve spent the past ten years reporting and writing true crime narratives about teenagers and hate, first in The 57 Bus and now in Accountable. My research has led me into some fascinating places and has left me convinced that we cannot prevent what we don’t understand. In both books I found that the young people who harmed others weren’t the stereotypical grimacing loners I’d always associated with hate and extremism. Instead, they were imitating behaviors that we see all around us. Being young, with brains that aren’t fully developed in important ways, and lacking the life experience that teaches us a more nuanced understanding of the world, they are ripe for radicalization.

Dashka's book list on facing down extremism, online and off

Dashka Slater Why did Dashka love this book?

The best antidote to extremism, in my view, is to reject the old canard that humans are selfish and xenophobic by nature.

Bregman’s optimistic and affirming book dispels this myth with fascinating research and persuasive storytelling. Along the way, he examines deep questions like why we persist in believing the worst about ourselves and one another. Humans are wired for altruism and compassion and the more we understand that, the more difficult it is to persuade us to act against our most basic instincts.

By Rutger Bregman, Erica Moore (translator), Elizabeth Manton (translator)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

THE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER
A Guardian, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman and Daily Express Book of the Year

'Hugely, highly and happily recommended' Stephen Fry
'You should read Humankind. You'll learn a lot (I did) and you'll have good reason to feel better about the human race' Tim Harford
'Made me see humanity from a fresh perspective' Yuval Noah Harari

It's a belief that unites the left and right, psychologists and philosophers, writers and historians. It drives the headlines that surround us and the laws that touch our lives. From Machiavelli to Hobbes, Freud to Dawkins, the roots of this belief have…


Book cover of The Meme Machine

Mordecai George Sheftall Author Of Blossoms In The Wind: Human Legacies of the Kamikaze

From my list on how culture makes us do self-destructive things.

Why am I passionate about this?

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I woke up expecting to spend that day – and the rest of my academic career – leisurely studying the interplay of culture and individual temperament in second language acquisition. As the rest of that terrible day unfolded, however, my research up to that point suddenly seemed very small and almost decadently privileged. Recruiting the rudimentary cultural anthropology toolbox I had already amassed, I took a deep breath and plunged into the rabbit hole of studying the role of culture in human conflict. Twenty-two years later, using my Japan base and relevant language skills, my research has focused on the Japanese experience in World War II.

Mordecai's book list on how culture makes us do self-destructive things

Mordecai George Sheftall Why did Mordecai love this book?

In his seminal The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins suggested that humans (and all other living organisms) exist to further the evolutionary fitness of the self-replicating information packets (“genes”) carried in our DNA – not the other way around.

In the closing section of his book, Dawkins theorized that a similar dynamic might hold true in cultural evolution, playing out through another type of self-replicating information packet, which he termed “memes”.

Some twenty years later, as the dawn of the Internet Age was giving new relevance to this idea, scholar Susan Blackmore took it up and ran with it, essentially singlehandedly creating the new academic field of “memetics” with the publication of The Meme Machine in 1999.

By Susan Blackmore,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Humans are extraordinary creatures, with the unique ability among animals to imitate and so copy from one another ideas, habits, skills, behaviours, inventions, songs, and stories. These are all memes, a term first coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976 in his book The Selfish Gene. Memes, like genes, are replicators, and this enthralling book is an investigation of whether this link between genes and memes can lead to important discoveries about the nature of
the inner self. Confronting the deepest questions about our inner selves, with all our emotions, memories, beliefs, and decisions, Susan Blackmore makes a compelling case for…


Book cover of Globalization and War

Gregory A. Daddis Author Of Pulp Vietnam: War and Gender in Cold War Men's Adventure Magazines

From my list on war and society.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am the USS Midway Chair in Modern US Military History at San Diego State University. I’ve been teaching courses on the relationships between war and society for years and am fascinated not just by the causes and conduct of war, but, more importantly, by the costs of war. To me, Americans have a rather peculiar connection with war. In many ways, war has become an integral part of American conduct overseas—and our very identity. And yet we often don’t study it to question some of our basic assumptions about what war can do, what it means, and what the consequences are for wielding armed force so readily overseas.

Gregory's book list on war and society

Gregory A. Daddis Why did Gregory love this book?

Barkawi speaks of war as a form of “interconnection” among peoples and wisely reasons that we have to talk about war from a global perspective if we are truly to understand it. War may be an extension of politics, to quote a certain Prussian, but it’s also a social activity. And that activity has been globalized for far longer than many of us might think.

I really enjoy the way Barkawi weaves together a global story of war, culture, and identity. His case study on the Indian Army—he argues it was at “once a tool and an object of imperial control”—is superbly fascinating and highlights how localities can be affected by martial activities from faraway, distant places.

By Tarak Barkawi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Globalization and War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

War doesn't just tear nations apart-it brings peoples and places closer together, providing a new lens on globalization. This book offers a fresh perspective on globalization and war, topics rarely considered together. It conceives war as a form of interconnection between home and abroad, and as an occasion for circulation and interchange. It identifies the political and military work required to create and maintain a free-trading world, while critiquing liberal and neoliberal conceptions of the pacific benefits of economic globalization. Speaking from the heart of old and new imperial orders, Tarak Barkawi exposes the Eurocentric limitations of military history and…


Book cover of From Coveralls to Zoot Suits: The Lives of Mexican American Women on the World War II Home Front

Gregory A. Daddis Author Of Pulp Vietnam: War and Gender in Cold War Men's Adventure Magazines

From my list on war and society.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am the USS Midway Chair in Modern US Military History at San Diego State University. I’ve been teaching courses on the relationships between war and society for years and am fascinated not just by the causes and conduct of war, but, more importantly, by the costs of war. To me, Americans have a rather peculiar connection with war. In many ways, war has become an integral part of American conduct overseas—and our very identity. And yet we often don’t study it to question some of our basic assumptions about what war can do, what it means, and what the consequences are for wielding armed force so readily overseas.

Gregory's book list on war and society

Gregory A. Daddis Why did Gregory love this book?

I teach at a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) and it’s important for my students to identify with the historical actors we study. Escobedo resonates with them because she artfully discusses how the “Good War” was perceived within Mexican American families living in Southern California. She argues that Mexican American women, especially those working in the defense industry, were “racially malleable” and members of an “in-between” community during the war.

There’s so much going on in this story—insights into race and gender, sexuality and family dynamics, fears about “race mixing,” and wartime demographic shifts. Yet in all this, Escobedo never loses sight of the women themselves and their powerful voices.

By Elizabeth R. Escobedo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked From Coveralls to Zoot Suits as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During World War II, unprecedented employment avenues opened up for women and minorities in U.S. defense industries at the same time that massive population shifts and the war challenged Americans to rethink notions of race. At this extraordinary historical moment, Mexican American women found new means to exercise control over their lives in the home, workplace, and nation. In From Coveralls to Zoot Suits, Elizabeth R. Escobedo explores how, as war workers and volunteers, dance hostesses and zoot suiters, respectable young ladies and rebellious daughters, these young women used wartime conditions to serve the United States in its time of…


Book cover of War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences

Why am I passionate about this?

I started my career teaching high school. I attended amazing professional development institutes, where scholars showed me how the stories I’d learned and then taught to my own students were so oversimplified that they had become factually incorrect. I was hooked. I kept wondering what else I’d gotten wrong. I earned a Ph.D. in modern US History with specialties in women’s and gender history and war and society, and now I’m an Associate Professor of History at Iowa State University and the Coordinator of ISU’s Social Studies Education Program. I focus on historical complexity and human motivations because they are the key to understanding change.

Amy's book list on books about twenteith-century U.S. History that make you rethink something you thought you already knew

Amy J. Rutenberg Why did Amy love this book?

Generally speaking, I hate anything that hints at theory. But this slim volume, which investigates the relationship between states of war and how we understand time, is grounded solidly in reality and does not require mental gymnastics to understand.

Using the examples of World War II, the Cold War, and the Global War on Terror, Dudziak made me rethink how we define when it’s “wartime” vs. when it’s “peacetime” and why that matters. Her argument is about how war has not been a time out of time or aberration, so treating war as a period when different rules apply has real consequences.

The book pushed me to rethink how and when I silo ideas, time, and events and how dangerous silo’ing can be.

By Mary L. Dudziak,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When is wartime? On the surface, it is a period of time in which a society is at war. But we now live in what President Obama has called "an age without surrender ceremonies," when it is no longer easy to distinguish between wartime and peacetime. In this inventive meditation on war, time, and the law, Mary Dudziak argues that wartime is not as discrete a time period as we like to think. Instead, America has been engaged in some form of ongoing overseas armed
conflict for over a century. Meanwhile policy makers and the American public continue to view…


Book cover of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes

Gregory A. Daddis Author Of Pulp Vietnam: War and Gender in Cold War Men's Adventure Magazines

From my list on war and society.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am the USS Midway Chair in Modern US Military History at San Diego State University. I’ve been teaching courses on the relationships between war and society for years and am fascinated not just by the causes and conduct of war, but, more importantly, by the costs of war. To me, Americans have a rather peculiar connection with war. In many ways, war has become an integral part of American conduct overseas—and our very identity. And yet we often don’t study it to question some of our basic assumptions about what war can do, what it means, and what the consequences are for wielding armed force so readily overseas.

Gregory's book list on war and society

Gregory A. Daddis Why did Gregory love this book?

I have been teaching about the wars in Afghanistan since 2004 and this book is the best at showcasing how individual lives are indelibly affected by armed conflict. Gopal is fabulous in humanizing his characters—a Taliban commander, a member of the US-backed Afghan government, or a village housewife. And he demonstrates how none of these people fit neatly into the preconceived categories applied to them by Americans.

Perhaps better than any other book on Afghanistan after 9/11, Gopal also reveals the limits of US military power overseas. In many ways, the presence of American soldiers exacerbated local conflict rather than ameliorating it. A powerful book arguing against those who extol the value of “generational wars” to achieve US foreign policy objectives.

By Anand Gopal,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked No Good Men Among the Living as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Through their dramatic stories, Gopal shows that the Afghan war, so often regarded as a hopeless quagmire, could in fact have gone very differently. Top Taliban leaders actually tried to surrender within months of the US invasion, renouncing all political activity and submitting to the new government. Effectively, the Taliban ceased to exist - yet the Americans were unwilling to accept such a turnaround. Instead, driven by false intelligence from their allies and an unyielding mandate to fight terrorism, American forces continued to press the conflict, resurrecting the insurgency that persists to this day. With its intimate accounts of life…


Book cover of The Stupidity of War: American Foreign Policy and the Case for Complacency

Christopher J. Fettweis Author Of The Pursuit of Dominance: 2000 Years of Superpower Grand Strategy

From my list on unconventional stories on US national security.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a political scientist who specializes in US foreign policy. I’ve been interested in war and peace – and avoiding the former – for as long as I can remember. More than anything else, I wish I could convince Americans of how safe they are, relatively speaking, and how safe they can remain if only we make wise decisions moving forward. The future is brighter than we think.

Christopher's book list on unconventional stories on US national security

Christopher J. Fettweis Why did Christopher love this book?

In this book, the closest thing we have to a traditional work of national security on this list, the brilliant (and funny) iconoclast John Mueller asks a simple question: Why don’t more people realize just how stupid war is?

Why, for instance, as Greek soldiers loaded into boats to attack Troy because of a kidnapping, did no one comment on the sheer stupidity of the whole operation? Mueller reviews the history of this stupidity and recommends that his country give more consideration to steering clear of them in the future.

All wars the United States fights are, to use the common parlance, “wars of choice.” We always have the option to not engage, a choice that would usually leave us better off.

By John Mueller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Stupidity of War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It could be said that American foreign policy since 1945 has been one long miscue; most international threats - including during the Cold War - have been substantially exaggerated. The result has been agony and bloviation, unnecessary and costly military interventions that have mostly failed. A policy of complacency and appeasement likely would have worked better. In this highly readable book, John Mueller argues with wisdom and wit rather than ideology and hyperbole that aversion to international war has had considerable consequences. There has seldom been significant danger of major war. Nuclear weapons, international institutions, and America's super power role…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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