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War: How Conflict Shaped Us

by (author) Margaret MacMillan

Penguin Group Canada
Initial publish date
Oct 2021
Other, International, World
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2020
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2021
    List Price

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A New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year
Finalist for the Lionel Gelber Prize
Thoughtful and brilliant insights into the very nature of war--from the ancient Greeks to modern times--from world-renowned historian Margaret MacMillan.

War, the instinct to fight, is inherent in human nature; peace is the aberration in history. War has shaped humanity, its institutions, its states, its values and ideas. Our very language, our public spaces, our private memories, some of our greatest cultural treasures reflect the glory and the misery of war. War is an uncomfortable and challenging subject not least because it brings out the most vile and the noblest aspects of humanity.
Margaret MacMillan looks at the ways in which war has shaped human history and how, in turn, changes in political organization, technology, or ideologies have affected how and why we fight. The book considers such much-debated and controversial issues as when war first started; whether human nature dooms us to fight each other; why war has been described as the most organized of all human activities and how it has forced us to become still more organized; how warriors are made and why are they almost always men; and how we try to control war.
Drawing on lessons from a sweep of history and from all parts of the globe, MacMillan reveals the many faces of war--the way it shapes our past, our future, our views of the world, and our very conception of ourselves.

About the author

MARGARET MacMILLAN is the renowned author of Women Of The Raj, Stephen Leacock (Extraordinary Canadians series), and the international bestsellers Nixon In China and Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, which won the 2003 Governor General’s Award and the 2002 Samuel Johnson Prize. She is also the author of The Uses and Abuses of History. The past provost of Trinity College at the University of Toronto, she is now the warden of St. Antony’s College at Oxford University.

Margaret MacMillan's profile page


  • Short-listed, Lionel Gelber Prize

Editorial Reviews

One of:
The New York Times Ten Best Books of 2020
The Globe and Mail’s “100 favourite books of 2020”
CBC’s “best Canadian nonfiction of 2020”

Praise for War: How Conflict Shaped Us:
War: How Conflict Shaped Us [is a] richly eclectic discussion of how culture and society have been molded by warfare throughout history. . . . MacMillan writes with enormous ease, and practically every page of this book is interesting, even entertaining. . . . The greatest pleasures of this book are the historical anecdotes, moments and quotations that MacMillan marshals on nearly every page to illustrate her points. They are bold, arresting and various, and they make the book come alive.”
The New York Times

War: How Conflict Shaped Us is a publishing event. . . . It is a tour d’horizon of war that is a tour de force of historical achievement, and in its pages is the product of a master of history at work. It is not the chronicle of any one conflict but the distillation of many. It offers not one lesson of strategy or statecraft but the lessons of scores of attempts to prevent, to prosecute or to prevail in war.”
The Globe and Mail
Quill & Quire

“Margaret Macmillan has produced another seminal work. War: How Conflict Shaped Us deepens and broadens our knowledge of war and warfare.  And in doing so it deepens our understanding of humanity. No other author could have synthesized history across time without oversimplification or shown readers the subject from myriad perspectives in such a coherent manner.  She is right that we must, more than ever, think about war.  And she has shown us how in this brilliant, elegantly written book.”
H.R. McMaster, author of Dereliction of Duty and Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World
“Only a historian with MacMillan’s comprehensive knowledge, command of sources, clarity of thought, and artful writing could succeed so brilliantly with one volume on this sweeping topic.”
—Robert B. Zoellick, former president of the World Bank, U.S. trade representative, and U.S. deputy secretary of state
“This important book teaches us to realize the impressive way in which war invades every aspect of our society. Read and learn.”
—George Shultz, former U.S. secretary of state
“War is awful but somehow alluring, dreaded but too often welcomed. On these pages, with her vast gifts as a historian and storyteller, Margaret MacMillan explains why.”
—Evan Thomas, journalist and historian, author of Sea of Thunder and Ike’s Bluff
“A foremost historian explores one of the central forces of human history. This readable and convincing work is yet another tour de force from Margaret MacMillan!”
—Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus, author of Do Morals Matter? Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump
War: How Conflict Shaped Us distills a career and lifetime of thinking about war’s significance and legacy, from its origins through our attempts to ‘control the uncontrollable’ to its place in our imagination and memory.”

“In nine thoughtful chapters . . . MacMillan tackles broad issues such as the reasons nations go to war, the cult of the warrior, the effect of war on civilians and on women, efforts (barely two centuries old) to make laws for war, and its influence on art, literature, and national memories. An insightful and disturbing study of war as an aspect of culture.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“[A] hugely readable chronicle of conflict. . . . [In War,] MacMillan cogently explains via colourful historical anecdotes how understanding war means we can also understand our emotions, our ideas and our capacity for good—as well as for cruelty.”
—The Guardian
“MacMillan is able to bring the story of war up to date with the latest historical research as well as nods toward the future of war in space and cyberspace.”
—Toronto Star
“[A] concise, vividly compelling analysis of humankind’s ambivalent relationship with war. . . [and a] remarkable book that MacMillan is uniquely qualified to write. . . this is a hard book to put down.”
—Anthony Wilson-Smith, Policy Magazine

Other titles by Margaret MacMillan