Mike Martin
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
This book is potential dynamite and you should read it.

The author holds a degree in Biology was an Army Officer and is a visiting War Studies research fellow at Kings College London. An earlier book, An Intimate War, covered his experience fighting in Afghanistan and the thoughts provoked thereby. This book tackles the wider issue of why men fight, but from a biological point of view, rather than through the lens of sociology or politics.

The first, crucial point, is that this book is a hypothesis – that is it describes a theory developed from evolutionary biology. It may well not be right, (and I am not the one to judge), but it hangs together persuasively and is well referenced. It also provides a coherent explanation of violence – something sociology has failed to do since whenever it was invented.

The book begins with some biology. The purpose of any organism is to survive long enough to reproduce and better genetically adapted organisms are more likely to survive, hence survival of the fittest. So why on earth do men (and it is predominantly men) risk death through fighting?

Homo Sapiens is more likely to survive in a group, and groups come into conflict with other groups. The loss of status - and thus the opportunity to reproduce – within a group arising from not fighting is certain, the chance of dying less so, and so the male who choses to fight is genetically more successful.


Except of course there is more to it that that; enter the world of heuristics and how the brain works, or is thought to work, which I’ll leave you to read for yourself. Along they way you will discover some gems that will upset many applecarts. My favourite was that 45% of leadership behaviours are heritable. There are others that explain why women have no place in the combat arms, why the Remain voters are (still) in shock and struggling to accept the result and more besides. Oh, and there is a delicious evisceration of David Cameron’s Libyan ego trip, and another of the Prevent anti-suicide bomber programme.

The only down side is that reading it is quite hard work. Sure, there is a bit of science involved, but that is not the problem, nor an excuse. The author tends to write long – very long – sentences, often with multiple sub-clause (as well as the occasional parenthetic comment) all of which interfere, or I would say, at least impede the efficient passage of the idea from page to reader – if you see what I mean.

But hey! The ideas are ground breaking and your hard work will be worthwhile.

Buy it.

Four Mushrooms (would have been five - possibly six- but for the prose)

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