Books on Political Violence You Should Own*
By Joe Young
Like all academics, I am a hoarder. I hoard books. A proud academic has shelves of books in their office, at their home, and in their home library/office. An urban legend is that one of the foremost scholars of war had to reinforce his home office above his garage as it was nearly going to collapse under the weight of his extensive collection.
Whether it is necessary to physically own books or whether this will very soon all be electronic is for another post. My purpose here is to identify a few books that every interested student/scholar/observer of political violence should own (and read too, right?). Here goes (in no particular order):
- Why Men Rebel, by Ted Robert Gurr. Sure, it should be Why People Rebel, but this book was decades ahead of its time in many other ways. Gurr was doing cross-national statistical analysis of violence when it required literally computations on paper. Beyond Gurr being first to the party, his book is extremely clear conceptually, offers loads of hypotheses from a small basket of assumptions and promoted psychological explanation for individual and mass violence.
- States and Social Revolutions, by Theda Skocpol. This book is the gold standard for rigorous qualitative methods. Skocpol offers a parsimonious explanation for why states succumb to social revolutions that bridges the international and domestic divide that plague many explanations of violence. Some scholars chafe at her structuralist explanation (there are no people in her story), but hers is the finest book in this tradition.
- The Logic of Violence in Civil War, by Stathis Kalyvas and Inside Rebellion by Jeremy Weinstein. With the decline of major power conflict and in the shadow of raging civil wars across the globe, the academic study of civil war blossomed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In the mid 2000s, Kalyvas and Weinstein wrote two of the most important works on the topic, which are destined to be classics. Kalyvas’ book is a methodological tour de force and unpacks how territorial control can explain patterns of discriminate and indiscriminate violence in civil war. Weinstein uses rigorous qualitative methods to explain a similar phenomena, but places emphasis on initial resource endowments and their effects on the use of indiscriminate violence by rebel organizations. Both offer explanations beyond the usual suspects of poverty and state weakness to explain the use of violence in what may be the most deadly form of political violence.
- Something by Charles Tilly. Political violence can be studied and explained using many different lenses, but Tilly and his colleagues offer a social movement approach that explains dynamic interaction between states and dissidents and how this contention can lead to a variety of violent and nonviolent outcomes. His work on the process of state-building is also seminal and informs many of the current problems across the globe from Iraq to Mali. I hesitate to choose one book as his thinking evolved over the years. Dynamics of Contention (with his venerable colleagues Doug McAdam and Sidney Tarrow) is one I continually return to for inspiration and From Mobilization to Revolution is a classic treatise on social movements and how change in society can occur outside of formal political processes.
The Political Economy of Terrorism, by Walt Enders and Todd Sandler
The Moral Economy of the Peasant AND Weapons of the Weak: Everyday forms of Resistance, by James C. Scott
No Other Way Out, by Jeff Goodwin
Political Order in Changing Societies, by Samuel Huntington
What would you add to the list?
*I deliberately omitted books from authors that contribute to this blog. There are some impressive books by these folks that you should own, but I’ll leave it to you to make that call.