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Across Atlantic Ice
The Science of Near-Death Experiences
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American Girls, Beer, and Glenn Miller
The Scent of Scandal

How War BeganHow War Began

Keith C. Otterbein

Narrated by John A. O'Hern

Available from Audible

Book published by Texas A&M University Press

Have humans always fought and killed each other, or did they peacefully coexist until states developed? Is war an expression of human nature or an artifact of civilization? Questions about the origin and inherent motivations of warfare have long engaged philosophers, ethicists, anthropologists as they speculate on the nature of human existence. In How War Began, author Keith F. Otterbein draws on primate behavior research, archaeological research, data gathered from the Human Relations Area Files, and a career spent in research and reflection on war to argue for two separate origins. He identifies two types of military organization: one which developed two million years ago at the dawn of humankind, wherever groups of hunters met, and a second which developed some five thousand years ago, in four identifiable regions, when the first states arose and proceeded to embark upon military conquests. In carefully selected detail, Otterbein marshals the evidence for his case that warfare was possible and likely among early Homo sapiens. He argues from analogy with other primates, from Paleolithic rock art depicting wounded humans, and from rare skeletal remains with embedded weapon points to conclude that warfare existed and reached a peak in big game hunting societies. As the big game disappeared, so did warfare—only to reemerge once agricultural societies achieved a degree of political complexity that allowed the development of professional military organizations. Otterbein concludes his survey with an analysis of how despotism in both ancient and modern states spawns warfare. A definitive resource for anthropologists, social scientists and historians, How War Began is written for all who are interested in warfare and individuals who seek to understand the past and the present of humankind.

Keith C. Otterbein is a professor of anthropology at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, and a director of the Human Relations Area Files, a consortium of more than twenty universities. He has written numerous articles and three books on warfare, feuding, and capital punishment.


“Keith Otterbein has written a refreshingly detailed book on warfare. Too many recent works on the subject have been driven by ideology, which passes for theory in some circles. This one deals with the complexity of human nature head on. Readers looking for simple answers will find their preconceptions challenged by evidence, whatever their views may be, for Otterbein’s empirical approach builds toward conclusions that are neither simple nor particularly comforting. As it turns out the evidence tells us that warfare is neither inevitable nor unnatural, the product of neither states nor the lack of them. Like everything else human, it depends, and Otterbein shows us how.”

—Dean Snow, Professor and Head of Anthropology, Penn State University

“Without doubt a major addition to the scholarly literature on the origins and nature of war.”

The Journal of Military History

“This well-written and clear-minded book considers the most relevant data about warfare among ancient and modern humanity…As a well-informed and plausible view of one of humankind’s oldest predicaments, it deserves a respectful reading by all scholars concerned with the roots and nature of war.”

—Project MUSE

“A major contribution to the understanding of how and why warfare came into being.”

—Robert B. Edgerton, University of California

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University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks