How Civil Wars Start

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What to expect

Brought to you by Penguin.

Civil wars are the biggest danger to world peace today – this book shows us why they happen, and how to avoid them.

Most of us don’t know it, but we are living in the world’s greatest era of civil wars. While violence has declined worldwide, civil wars have increased. This is a new phenomenon. With the exception of a handful of cases – the American and English civil wars, the French Revolution – historically it has been rare for people to organise and fight their governments.

This has changed. Since 1946, over 250 armed conflicts have broken out around the world, a number that continues to rise. Major civil wars are now being fought in countries including Iraq, Syria and Libya. Smaller civil wars are being fought in Ukraine, India, and Malaysia. Even countries we thought could never experience another civil war – such as the USA, Sweden and Ireland – are showing signs of unrest.

In How Civil Wars Start, acclaimed expert Barbara F. Walter, who has advised on political violence everywhere from the CIA to the U.S. Senate to the United Nations, explains the rise of civil war and the conditions that create it. As democracies across the world backslide and citizens become more polarised, civil wars will become even more widespread and last longer than they have in the past. This urgent and important book shows us a path back toward peace.

© Barbara F. Walter 2022 (P) Penguin Audio 2022

Critics Review

  • ‘When one of the world’s leading scholars of civil war tells us that a country is on the brink of violent conflict, we should pay attention. Drawing on her deep understanding of the causes of intra-state violence in places like Myanmar, Northern Ireland, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Syria, and Yugoslavia, Barbara Walter argues, chillingly, that many of the conditions that commonly precede civil wars are present today in places we would least expect it. This is an important book’

    Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of How Democracies Die
  • ‘An absorbing guide … this book performs a valuable service’

    Sunday Times
  • How Civil Wars Start is a stop sign for us. What an imperative book for our time. Read and act’

    Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist
  • ‘We have all now witnessed the death of the idea of American Exceptionalism. We are in the same boat as everyone else. What do we do? Barbara Walter shows the way. Polemical and essential’

    James A. Robinson, co-author of Why Nations Fail
  • ‘A vivid, compelling book on a globally vital issue. Timely, important and original’

    Professor Richard English, author of Does Terrorism Work? A History
  • ‘Barbara F. Walter has drawn on decades of experience and unparalleled expertise to write a powerful and indispensable book. How Civil Wars Start brilliantly illuminates the history of civil wars and the profound dangers to our union today, serving as both a warning about the stakes in our politics and a call to action for those who want to preserve multiethnic democracy and the values that America is supposed to stand for’

    Ben Rhodes, author of After the Fall

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