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Civil Wars: A History in Ideas Audiobook, by David Armitage Extended Sample Click for printable size audiobook cover
Author: David Armitage Narrator: Derek Perkins Publisher: Blackstone Publishing Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: February 2017 ISBN: 9781441755551
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A highly original history, tracing the least understood and most intractable form of organized human aggression from ancient Rome through the centuries to the present day.

We think we know civil war when we see it. Yet ideas of what it is, and what it isn’t, have a long and contested history, from its fraught origins in republican Rome to debates in early modern Europe down to the present day. Defining the term is an acutely political act: whether a war is “civil” often depends on whether one is a ruler or a rebel, victor or vanquished, participant or foreigner. Likewise, calling any particular conflict a civil war can shape its outcome by determining whether other nations choose to get involved or stand aside. So it has been in our own nation’s history: from the American Revolution (commonly referred to as a civil war while it was waged) to the US “Civil War” to the Second Gulf War—in each, pivotal decisions on the part of outside powers turned on precisely such shifts of perspective.

In Civil Wars, the eminent historian David Armitage offers an invaluable illumination of this vexing subject. By touching on certain signal instances in Western thought—the poetry of Lucan, the political theory of Thomas Hobbes, the so-called Lieber Code produced during our own civil war, to name a few—he creates a “genealogy” of our sometimes contradictory notions about civil war. The result has much to tell us about how this intellectual inheritance has shaped the political fortunes of our uneasy world and how we might think about this form of violence in the future.

From the Balkans to Rwanda, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, and most recently Syria, civil conflict has exploded of late. Across the West, politics itself looks ever more like civil war by other means. At such a charged time, this book’s unique perspective on the origins and dynamics of a phenomenon still shaping our world is sure to prove indispensable in the ongoing effort to grapple with what has come to seem an eternal problem.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Offers an illuminating guide through the 2,000-year muddle and does a good job of filling a conspicuous void in the literature of conflict.”

    Economist (London)

  • “Compact and intensely thought-provoking…densely researched and smoothly written, [Civil Wars] is a pointed attempt to understand the nature of civil war by understanding its history.”

    Christian Science Monitor

  • “Concise, winningly written, clearly laid out, trenchantly argued…It’s hard to imagine a more timely work for today. ”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “A profound contribution to political philosophy.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “An erudite work by a top-shelf scholar.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “Does a wonderful job of showing the multifaceted nature of his subject.”

    Library Journal

  • “In a text that demands thought and attention, narrator Derek Perkins takes it at a perfect pace, not too slow but allowing the listener, for the most part, to follow Armitage’s arguments and tracing of intellectual connections. Though the audiobook is academic, Perkins reads with energy but without showiness, always giving primacy to the text…His fine, deep voice and clipped accent complement his pacing and command of sense.”


  • “Packed with wisdom and learning, elegantly written and vigorously argued, this is a magnificent field guide to our current crises in Syria and elsewhere.”

    Gary Bass, author of The Blood Telegram

  • Civil Wars succeeds brilliantly in its ambition to “uncover the origins of our present discontents”

    Anthony Pagden, author of The Enlightenment: And Why It Still Matters

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About the Author

David Armitage is the Lloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History at Harvard University, where he teaches intellectual history and international history, and former Chair of Harvard’s History Department. His many publications include The Ideological Origins of the British Empire (2000) and The Declaration of Independence: A Global History (2007).

About the Narrator

Derek Perkins is a professional narrator and voice actor. He has earned numerous AudioFile Earphones Awards and the prestigious Audie Award for Best Narration. Augmented by a knowledge of three foreign languages and a facility with accents, he has narrated numerous titles in a wide range of fiction and nonfiction genres.