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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Review: Bloodlust: On the Roots of Violence from Cain and Abel to the Present

If nothing else, my reading this book is an interesting demonstration of the power of the Internet and the Kindle Dx. I stumbled across an interview with the author back in May, downloaded a sample of the book onto my Kindle, thought it was was interesting, and ended up buying and reading it. I don't think I would have done any of those things without the Kindle. Certainly not as quickly. Chalk one up for the bloodless nerds and their technology.

The book itself is interesting, though it veered into directions I was not quite expecting. The basic thrust of Jacoby's argument is that, contrary to what most modern scholars and pundits would have us believe, the most extreme violence occurs to between people with strong similarities, rather than strong differences. To help demonstrate his point, he draws on examples ranging from historical events, to modern civil conflicts, to mythical tales of fratricidal brothers (including the titualr Cain and Abel), and Freudian psychology.

As I said, it is an enjoyable book, but its focus is a bit more broad ranging than I expected, or honestly, wanted, when I picked it up. That is more my fault than Jacoby's, but still worth noting. While Jacoby mentions the fact that we are in far greater danger from a family member than from the random stranger in the dark, he spends virtually no time taking about the realities of familial crime or violence on a smaller scale. I understand why he moves away from it, because his focus is a larger historical perspective, but I was hoping for more on that particular subject. Again, that may be my fault for not reading the reviews and descriptions more carefully, but I reserve the right to be a little disappointed anyway.

As a broader historical work, Jacoby has some interesting insights. I think his rejection of the entire "Clash of Civilizations" notion is worth thinking about, as are some of his perspectives on antisemitism in Germany leading up to the Second World War. I do wonder if he isn't cherry picking examples just to suit his theories, particularly in regard to the treatment of siblings and twins in mythology, but the book is at least thought provoking.

This book is as much about history and politics as it is about psychology. If that interests you, or if you're interested in a different persepctive on the whole "Clash of Civilization" notion, this is worth the read. If you are looking for some insights into interpersonal violence, there isn't a lot here...the concepts are just too broad to apply to specifics.

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