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Below are excerpts from Library of Social Science Review Essays. Please click any book title (or photo) to read the complete text. Some of the books we’ve reviewed are recent, some not. We select titles based on the insights they contain—and their capacity to shape the development of thought. We focus on books that illuminate the sources and meanings of political forms of violence.




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Library of Social Science Book Reviews is an established, unique resource for scholars, educators, students and publishers. We identify new and significant books—and bring them to the attention of readers around the world through our Library of Social Science Newsletter, which reaches 57,230 people. A review is not an end in itself. A book review—like the book itself—is a vehicle to transmit ideas and generate change. Our thoughtful, substantial review essays—written by top scholars—zero in on a book’s most consequential ideas or theories. They engage the author’s arguments and articulate their implications—in order to generate new insights and knowledge.

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It is no longer possible to think of books as fixed entities. As the world flows on, so scholarship partakes in the reality of change. The Internet means that no argument is fixed, finished or complete. Our authors become part of an ongoing “developmental dialogue.” By bringing forth significant ideas and insights, Library of Social Science Book Reviews aspires to shape the course of scholarship—and perhaps history itself.

Published Review Essays

Click any book title below to read the complete review.

Brown, Norman O.
Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History
Who created the symbolic order? What is the source of the “power” of society?” Freud observed that the mythological conception of the universe is fundamentally psychology projected into the external world. Brown suggests that not just mythology, but the entirety of culture is a projection. In the words of Stephen Spender: “The world which we create—the world of slums and telegrams and newspapers—is a kind of language of our inner wishes and thoughts.”

Fornari, Franco
The Psychoanalysis of War
The spirit of sacrifice is intimately related to an ideology in the name of which one may sacrifice oneself. What is this “absolute and unconditional something” that would somehow justify the “establishment of a masochistic-sacrificial position?” The masochistic-sacrificial position (e.g., the role of a soldier) is idealized—becoming a kind of “supervalue”—because it is put into the service of “that absolute and unconditional something.”

Gentile, Emilio
Politics as Religion
The “fusion of the individual and the masses in the organic union of the nation” is combined with persecution against those outside the community. According to this totalitarian fantasy, there can be no separation between the individual and the state: they must exist in a condition of “perfect union.” Those Others who disrupt the experience of perfect union are branded enemies of the state who must be eliminated or removed.

Griffin, Roger
Modernism and Fascism
Fascist ideology revolves around the vision of a nation being capable of “imminent phoenix like rebirth.” The quest for rebirth gives rise to a revolutionary new political and cultural order that embraces all of the “‘true’ members of the national community.” Fascism constitutes a radical form of nationalism growing out of the perception that one’s country is in imminent danger—seeking resurrection.

Hauerwas, Stanley
War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity
The sacrificial metaphor at the heart of citizenship, and inextricably tied to war, has incredible power, all the more so because most citizens are unconscious of its active impact in our lives. Most citizens are blithely unaware of the contradiction between their assumptions regarding “the separation of church and state”—and the deeply religious sacrificial war-culture that so profoundly shapes their understandings of citizenship and the nation.

Herf, Jeffrey
The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust
National Socialism explained why a private war with Poland resulted in Germany fighting a life or death struggle against the combined might of the British Empire, the Soviet Union and the United States. Only Hitler and the Nazis could explain the war: the result of Jewish financial plutocrats in London and New York, and Jewish Communists in Moscow, working together to fulfill the Jewish dream of world domination. Only Germany understood the truth and was fighting to annihilate the Jewish threat.

Jones, James
Blood that Cries Out from the Earth: The Psychology of Religious Terrorism
Violent religious actions are linked to a particular image of God, namely that of a “vengeful, punitive and overpowering patriarchal divine being.” The believer who engages in acts of violence is relating to an omnipotent being who “appears to will the believer’s destruction.” This punitive God must be “appeased and placated.” In the face of such a God, the believer must “humiliate and abject himself.”

Kantorowicz, Ernst
The King’s Two Bodies
Nations function—like the Second Body of the King—as a double of one’s self: a larger, “more ample” body with which we identify. Our nation is a Body Politic that seems more powerful than our actual body. We project our bodies into a Body Politic and wage war to defend the fantasy of an omnipotent body that will live forever.

Kramer, Alan
Dynamic of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War
The brutal combination of human and cultural destruction was not some kind of natural disaster, nor the logical extension of human (or masculine) violence. Instead, it “arose from strategic, political, and economic calculation.” This is the book’s most important contribution: awareness that people and cultural artifacts were not destroyed by a “whirlwind” or a “machine,” but by specific decisions of specific commanders, by orders decreed from above and carried out by armed men on the ground.

Lifton, Robert Jay
The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide
The central fantasy uncovered by Lifton was that of the German nation as an organism that could succumb to an illness. Lifton cites Dr. Johann S. who spoke about being “doctor to the Volkskorper” (‘national body’ or ‘people’s body’). National Socialism, Dr. Johann S. said, is a movement rather than a party, constantly growing and changing according to the “health” requirements of the people’s body. “Just as a body may succumb to illness,” the doctor declared, so “the Volkskorper could do the same.”

Marvin, Carolyn & David Ingle
Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag
What is really true in any community is “what its members can agree is worth killing for,” or what they can be compelled to sacrifice their lives for. What is “sacred” within a given society is that set of beliefs “for which we ought to shed our own blood.” Warfare constitutes the central ritual allowing societies to enact or demonstrate faith in the nation.

Miller, Steven E.
Military Strategy and the Origins of the First World War
The ideology of the offensive at all costs grew out of the desire to demonstrate the moral courage and will of one’s troops, and therefore the greatness of one’s nation. Such a strategy rarely resulted in breakthroughs. By virtue of attacking—even when slaughter was the result—soldiers exemplified the will to national self-sacrifice for the sake of one’s nation.

Mineau, André
SS Thinking and the Holocaust
Total war is total health, and the Nazi party portrayed Germany as a patient in danger of racial infection. The SS translated its biological worldview into dispassionate practice. War was a matter of self-defense, a prophylactic, and therefore ethical. In SS thinking, Mineau claims, Operation Barbarossa and the Holocaust combined to act as one “gigantic sanitary operation,” representing the “politics of antibiotics par excellence.”

Scarry, Elaine
The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World
The desire to resolve disputes through waging war revolves around the fact that the maiming and destruction of human bodies is necessary—a requirement. War seeks to establish the validity—the truth—of a sacred ideal. Warfare is characterized or constituted by a unique, radical form of verification: the maiming and destruction of human bodies.

Schantz, Mark S.
Awaiting the Heavenly Country: The Civil War and America’s Culture of Death
The political system of U.S. society in the Civil War era demanded that its citizens sacrifice their lives and commit violence against their fellow countrymen so the nation as a whole could survive. The dominant religious ideology of the time required citizens to voluntarily exchange the mundane world for the heavenly rewards of the afterlife. The individual could achieve the eternal life in heaven and could be commemorated as a hero if he was ready to sacrifice himself.

Skya, Walter. A
Japan’s Holy War: The Ideology of Radical Shinto Ultranationalism
To achieve the state of “one heart, same body,” the individual had to discard or annihilate the self. Any consideration of one’s own personal needs was wrong: one had to totally submerge the self into the collectivity. When Kakehi spoke of the bad aspects of Western culture that had entered Japan, he was referring to the evils of Western secularism and individualism. The Western focus on the value of the individual was the “greatest threat to the Japanese nation.”

Stein, Ruth
For Love of the Father: A Psychoanalytic Study of Religious Terrorism
Collective forms of violence are perpetuated in the name of an ideal that binds the group together and functions to “sanctify the actions of a (collective) perpetrator on a (collective) victim.” Large scale forms of violence are undertaken in the name of an ideal object that can move groups to decree the liquidation of anything that “challenges its validity and superiority.” Forms of behavior deemed criminal on the individual level may be “condoned and encouraged when perpetrated collectively.”

Strenski, Ivan
Contesting Sacrifice: Religion, Nationalism, and Social Thought in France
Nationalists attacked the deplorable state of French morale. Intellectuals were derided for “egoism” and “lazy melancholy;” workers for lack of enthusiasm for collective causes. War represented a spiritual force that would “bind citizens into common service for the nation,” incubating a spirit of national unity. Just as Jesus’ death cleansed the sins of humanity, so common soldiers’ self-sacrifices were seen as expiation for France’s sins.

Weitz, Eric
A Century of Genocide: Utopias of Race and Nation
The key term is “individual.” It is individuality that must be eliminated in the genocidal process, the individuality of perpetrators as well as victims. Although the rituals enforcing mass compliance that Weitz studies help account for the passive and active participation of people in dominating groups, it is the abandonment of self-reflective thought that lies at the heart of “the banality of evil.”

Wittman, Laura
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Modern Mourning, and the Reinvention of the Mystical Body
The tombs give aesthetic expression to the need of modern man for redemptive myths despite, or maybe because of, the “death of God”. They marked yet another point where the modern West collectively expressed existential dissatisfaction and intimations of nihilism—and hence the concomitant longing to return to the ancestral state of mythic consciousness that had given rise to the first burial ceremonies.