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From the renowned and best-selling author of A History of God comes a sweeping exploration of religion and the history of human violence.

For the first time, religious self-identification is on the decline in America. Some analysts have cited the cause as a post-9/11 perception: that faith in general is a source of aggression, intolerance, and divisiveness—something bad for society. But how accurate is that view? With deep learning and sympathetic understanding, Karen Armstrong sets out to discover the truth about religion and violence in each of the world’s great traditions, taking us on an astonishing journey from prehistoric times to the present. 

While many historians have looked at violence in connection with particular religious manifestations (jihad in Islam or Christianity’s Crusades), Armstrong looks at each faith—not only Christianity and Islam, but also Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Judaism—in its totality over time. As she describes, each arose in an agrarian society with plenty powerful landowners brutalizing peasants while also warring among themselves over land—the only real source of wealth at the time. In this world, religion was not the discrete and personal matter it would become for us but rather something that permeated all aspects of society. And so it was that agrarian aggression and the warrior ethos it begot became bound up with observances of the sacred.

In each tradition, however, a counterbalance to the warrior code also developed. Around sages, prophets, and mystics there grew up communities protesting the injustice and bloodshed endemic to agrarian society, the violence to which religion had become heir. And so by the time the great confessional faiths came of age, all understood themselves as ultimately devoted to peace, equality, and reconciliation, whatever the acts of violence perpetrated in their name.

Industrialization and modernity have ushered in an epoch of spectacular and unexampled violence, although, as Armstrong explains, relatively little of it can be ascribed directly to religion. Nevertheless, she shows us how and in what measure religions, in their relative maturity, came to absorb modern belligerence—and what hope there might be for peace among believers of different creeds in our time.

At a moment of rising geopolitical chaos, the imperative of mutual understanding between nations and faith communities has never been more urgent, the dangers of action based on misunderstanding never greater. Informed by Armstrong’s sweeping erudition and personal commitment to the promotion of compassion, Fields of Blood makes vividly clear that religion is not the problem.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Have we made a scapegoat of religion? Investigating violence and faith from the dawn of man through 9/11, this staggeringly informative read defends belief in a way few dare to do.”

    O, The Oprah Magazine

  • “A timely work…This passionately argued book is certain to provoke heated debate against the background of the Isis atrocities and many other acts of violence perpetrated around the world today in the name of religion.”

    Financial Times (UK)

  • “Careful, fair, and true…Armstrong demonstrates again and again that…an overemphasis on religion’s damage can blind people to the nonholy terrors that their states inflict…Apart from its larger argument, the book is packed with little insights and discoveries…The page-by-page detail of the book is much of the reason to read it.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “Detailed and often riveting…Armstrong can be relied on to have done her homework…bringing a rare mix of cool-headed scholarship and impassioned concern for humanity to bear on the vexed topic of religion…[She] is nothing if not democratic in her exposition.”

    Guardian (London)

  • “This is both an apologia and a wide-ranging and very readable lesson in the history of religion. It may not completely change the mind of everyone who reads it; but like everything Armstrong writes, it will leave them more enriched.”

    Amazon.com, editorial review

  • “Armstrong comes out swinging…[Her] prose is crisp and lucid, her command of fact encyclopedic, and her insights often brilliant.”

    Seattle Times

  • “From Gilgamesh to bin Laden, [Armstrong covers] almost five millennia of human experience…Supplying the context of what may look like religiously motivated episodes of violence, in order to show that religion as such was not the prime cause.”

    Telegraph (London)

  • “[A] bold new book…Armstrong makes a powerful case that critics like Dawkins ignore the lessons of the past and present in favor of a ‘dangerous oversimplification’…[Her argument] is strong enough to change minds.”

    Christian Science Monitor

  • “[Fields of Blood] has been widely acclaimed for its scholarship, and deservedly so.”

    National Catholic Reporter

  • “Bracing as ever, Armstrong sweeps through religious history around the globe and over four thousand years…She relates—at length—contemporary terrorism to politics and regional histories: ‘As an inspiration for terrorism… nationalism has been far more productive than religion.’ The comparative nature of her inquiry is refreshing.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred reviews)

  • “A well-written historical summary…showing convincingly that in pretty much all cases it was not so much religion as it was political issues that fueled the conflict.”

    Library Journal (starred review)

  • “A comprehensive and erudite study of the history of violence in relation to religion…As always, her writing is clear and descriptive, her approach balanced and scholarly. An intriguing read, useful resource, and definitive voice in defense of the divine in human culture.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • “Karen Armstrong narrates her sweeping saga on humans’ use of violence in the name of God. Whether she’s discussing Muslim, Hebrew, or Christian cultures, her premise is delivered with logic and reason…Her tone and phrasing keep the listener attentive to the complex political and cultural puzzle pieces that fashion an atmosphere in which violence becomes a holy grail for the masses. Her blistering commentary is delivered sotto voce, but the naked truth of her words is loud and clear. Winner of the AudioFile Earphones Award.”


  • Winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award
  • A Library Journal Best Book of 2014
  • A New York Times Editor’s Choice
  • An Oprah Pick of Ten Titles to Pick Up Now, December 2014
  • An Amazon Best Book of the Month for November 2014
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