A Sense of the Enemy: The High Stakes History of Reading Your Rival’s Mind

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A Sense of the Enemy: The High Stakes History of Reading Your Rival's Mind
By Zachary Shore
Oxford University Press, 2014
272 pp. $29.95

During international crises, political leaders must make judgments about the likely attitudes and behavior of both prospective allies and enemies. Shore is skeptical of models that assume that actors will behave rationally. Instead, he looks to cognitive psychology and explores the idea of empathy as an aid to decision-making in a crisis. He uses a number of examples to show how leaders able to get into the minds of their opponents (think of Mahatma Gandhi facing the British) do better than those who cannot (think of Stalin missing signs of Hitler’s aggressive intentions). Shore’s less familiar examples of canny mind readers include Gustav Stresemann, the German chancellor during the Weimar era, who managed to acquire weapons from the Soviets in violation of the Treaty of Versailles without falling out with France and the United Kingdom. Shore’s case studies are rich and well written, but with so many factors at play in any given crisis, including luck and timing, it is hard to demonstrate that one human quality can improve the chances of a good result -- or even that what passes for empathy will always yield true insight. 

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