The book's blurb states the authors "present an unbiased look at issues related to peace and conflict studies to assist readers in forming personal and social opinions 'based on fact'". While I'm quite aware of the fact that blurb writers tend towards hyperbole, the authors certainly seem to care little for, at least, verifiable facts, as the book is entirely devoid of references, apart from those required for strict quotations; I've found less than a dozen mentions of researchers' names, both from their own and other fields (e.g., psychology, sociology) from which research is referenced. That this is even allowed puzzles me to no end; furthermore, there is not even a general bibliography of material used as background for writing this book.
The book is written in a quasi-narrative style, and is, as a consequence, sadly replete with sections that feel highly anecdotal in nature, a feeling hard to erase because the authors refuse to reference the social science research they're apparently trying to include. This, along with their somewhat opinionated writing style, only helps to make me more sceptical of whatever information they're presenting, and convinced me that apparently they don't think (methodical/verifiable) research should play a role in this field.
The authors are a psychologist/psychoanalyst/'philosopher' and an evolutionary biologist, both turned "peace researcher", and sadly, this is rather noticeable in their treatment of most other areas of research, especially when they use 'historical' examples to prove or support a point they're making: events are often presented without describing the relevant context, characterized so generally that there really is no point in referencing it at all, or sometimes just flat-out wrong.
One example of information that falls into this last category is found when they state that "the defeat of the Armada in 1588 marked the end of Spain as a global power." (p.186) The sailing of the "Armada" really constituted only the first attempt to conquer England, so that, while you might call it the "beginning of the end", it certainly didn't result in the instant oblivion of the Spanish empire.
While this could be seen as a minor problem if it was the exception, the issue I have with it is that they refer to research in lots of different areas of study, apparently all relevant to "peace and conflict studies", and yet, they apparently don't care enough to do even the most basic research before writing a book on it. To me, this only suggests that not even they take their own field seriously.
Their use of historical examples is similarly problematic when, in another part of the book, they ask the question whether population increases can be correlated with increased occurrence of wars, at which point they 'cite' as evidence the 100 years war as "a war that went on during the Black Plague". The problem with this, of course, is that the Plague arrived at least a decade after the (first phase of the) 100-years war had broken out. (p. 198) As such, their example is absolutely useless, especially because the 100-years war was a kind of familial feud over succession with enormous pauses, whereas more recent wars have generally been shorter, and more intense, which all seem relevant considerations to me, but apparently not to the authors.
They also more than once reference "popular"/recent events without being very clear about what they're referring to specifically, which to me makes these insertions seem more like glib remarks or insider jokes than serious points they're making, which can rather confusing at times, especially when they extrapolate from anecdotes or single cases to trends. While this may sometimes lead to valid insights, it is not the way to do scientific research. (One example of this is when they allude to the YUKOS/Chodorkovsky affair. I personally don't know if Russia has done things like that before, but the reference seemed rather pointless without further explanation.)
The text also includes a discussion of Freudian/"psychoanalytic" motivation theories, which, in my opinion, should not have been included in a book printed in 2009. It was probably included in part because some researchers still take psychoanalysis seriously, but the biggest problem I have with the section is that they do not really refute this line of argument.
Now, another big issue I have with the book relates to their writing style. In order to demonstrate what I mean by this, consider the following passage:
"The role of individual leaders may well have been unduly glamorized, and decision makers often receive credit - and blame - they do not entirely deserve. Sometimes, leaders represent the culmination of currents within their societies, and they may catalyse other events. Nonetheless, people such as Alexander the Great, Genghis khan, Charlemagne, Joan of arc, Napoleon, Bismarck, Hitler, Stalin, de Gaulle, Mao Zedong, Saddam Hussein, and G. W. Bush, have acted as lightning rods for popular discontent, and, often, as precipitators of war. Less often have leaders of this ilk achieved renown as peacemakers." (p.171)
There are multiple number of problems with this passage: First off, what's with the banalities? "they may catalyse other events?" This book says it will explain stuff relevant to understanding why wars and peaces happen. However, you can't really explain anything if you're only thinking in vague generalities like "leaders may or may not play a role, but we're not really sure if too much attention has been paid to their role in the past, so, like... [shit, I've lost my train of thought. Oh, well, let's just start writing the next paragraph:]".
Secondly, what kind of logic/criterion was used to assemble this list? Joan of Arc, Charlemagne, Genghis Khan seem like fairly distinct and different figures, living in different times, leading or living amongst different peoples who experienced different problems. And yet, the authors seem to imply that somehow all of the mentioned "strong leaders" were "lightning rods for [some sort of otherwise unspecified:] popular discontent", and further that leaders of "this ilk" were relatively uninterested in making "peace".
One -- fairly obvious -- reason why none of these people were known as peacemakers was because they didn't insert any peacemakers into this list. Seriously, what connects Genghis Khan to Joan of Arc, De Gaulle and Charlemagne? They're not even all war starters, during the time of Charlemagne there wasn't even an empire yet, and Joan of Arc didn't start the 100years war. So what does it mean to talk about people of "their ilk"?
Thirdly, and more profoundly, as the authors themselves have argued in different sections of this book, peace is not always a rational choice, nor is war necessarily horrendously "bad", let alone "evil". Should Joan of Arc have chosen not to fight, and let France be ruled by England? Should Alexander have stayed home and let the Persians take over Greece some time down the road? I haven't the faintest why the authors think the answer to these questions are obvious, yet they never even bother saying whether this is their own hypothesis, or whether someone else has suggested we view Alexander or Genghis Khan as "lightning rods" for "public discontent", nor do they explain why it is relevant to worry about the "ilk" of the leaders. I have no problem with the suggestion that it is possible for leaders to lead people in a certain direction, but what does all the other stuff have to do with that statement being true or not?
Now, I'm fine with writers using anecdotes, even slightly unfair ones, but presenting tendentious remarks like that as though they're deep insights worth pondering seems trite at best, and not at all appropriate for a putatively academic text. One doesn't read a work like this to be entertained or overawed, one reads this because one expects a rigorous if not exhaustive analysis of the relevant factors at play.
At the bottom of the page we find another, rather odd statement, with which they are apparently trying to tell us something: "many leaders may be moved by the desire to go down in history as peacemakers." (ibid.) Now, one of the key "problems" with "war" is that it sometimes can be advisable, or even required (to ensure your group's survival) to go to war. War is not necessarily evil, and, as such, it is only politically 'good' for you to 'go down in history as a peacemaker' when there is popular support for such a move; yet they seem to think it 'obvious' that every population would prefer this. But this explanation is never considered.
Furthermore, their economic commentary is downright ridiculous:
"governments typically obtain military forces by paying for them."
"Military spending is perhaps the most inflationary way for a government to spend money. By using up major resources without producing consumable goods, military spending reduces supply while also increasing demand for raw materials, thereby contributing doubly to inflation. Moreover, costs tend to rise yet further when the supply of money and credit increases without corresponding increases in productivity." (p.210)
I have, quite honestly, absolutely no idea what they're trying to tell me here. I included the first line only to show you how lazy their editors were, but if we look at the second line, they seem to be saying something about credit simultaneously in- and decreasing, and that money, while being spent, is not received by anyone. Yet earlier, they told the readers about how Haliburton made a killing providing services to the government.
I haven't a clue how I should combine those two facts, and I'm equally unsure what to make of their suggestion that money spent on capital intensive goods causes more inflation than money spent otherwise. Why do these statements not deserve more of an explanation? Or even a reference to an economics textbook in which this basic truth is explained to me, as someone who obviously doesn't have a clue about economics? I am, in any case, at a loss in trying to figure out what they mean. Lastly, where does the stated "increase in the supply of money and credit" come from?
While the book at first appears to be highly organized, after reading it 1.5 times for a course, I've come to the conclusion that it hasn't done the contents much good, and it seems that not even the authors themselves could keep track of which information presented earlier should also be taken into account later, when they are applying the concepts. Additionally, literally dozens of (sub)sections contain paragraphs that present points that are entirely unrelated to the section heading under which they are presented.
Far too little time was spent weeding out redundant and uninformative passages like the ones cited, and the reader is, throughout the book, confronted with a veritable deluge of weasel words (especially "may be", "may have", "could be", "has possibly", and worst of all "perhaps") employed in order to "make points" without really making them, or at least without having to defend them. ("The Earth's protective ozone layer has been thinning, perhaps dangerously." p.399) And then there is the utter lack of references.
It's not clear to me at all why statements phrased that way should even be allowed to be in academic texts, let alone why they belong there, as they have very little explanatory value, and are often little more than (redundant) restatements of points made earlier, presented in the form of a conclusion.
The book as a whole certainly contains some useful information and insights, but there sadly is faro too much fluff, presented as equally valid, and no way to separate the two without already knowing more than the authors do.
While the scope of the book is certainly broad, it's so woefully lacking in academic rigour that no aspirations of the authors can compensate for it. This might have been excusable if they had been authorities in their field(s), but it is obvious from the book that they cannot distance themselves from the information they're providing, resulting in a horrendously biased treatment. So while I'm sympathetic to the authors' plight, I cannot seriously recommend this book to anyone.