In This Review

Only the Dead: The Persistence of War in the Modern Age
Only the Dead: The Persistence of War in the Modern Age
By Bear F. Braumoeller
344 pp, Oxford University Press, 2019

In the best-selling 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature, the psychologist Steven Pinker made the optimistic case that war was on the wane and that human beings had entered the most peaceful period in their species’ history. It was a popular but controversial argument that has since attracted many detractors. Braumoeller delivers a crushing critique by taking on Pinker’s central methodological claim—that his analysis is based on hard data and sound reasoning. As Braumoeller weighs the merits of the evidence supporting Pinker’s thesis, he charts the pitfalls of the various statistical techniques that political scientists commonly use in studying international conflict, showing how to distinguish significant from anomalous findings. The statistical trends that emerge from Braumoeller’s alternative analysis refute the case for optimism. When things do seem to get better, it’s not because humankind is becoming more intrinsically civilized but because the major powers have ordered their affairs in ways that make war less likely.