On Wars

Michael Mann

Yale University Press, 2023

Agent: Elise Capron

A history of wars through the ages and across the world, and the irrational calculations that so often lie behind them
Benjamin Franklin once said, “There never was a good war or a bad peace.” But what determines whether war or peace is chosen? Award-winning sociologist Michael Mann concludes that it is a handful of political leaders—people with emotions and ideologies, and constrained by inherited culture and institutions—who undertake such decisions, usually irrationally choosing war and seldom achieving their desired results.
Mann examines the history of war through the ages and across the globe—from ancient Rome to Ukraine, from imperial China to the Middle East, from Japan and Europe to Latin and North America. He explores the reasons groups go to war, the different forms of wars, how warfare has changed and how it has stayed the same, and the surprising ways in which seemingly powerful countries lose wars. In masterfully combining ideological, economic, political, and military analysis, Mann offers new insight into the many consequences of choosing war.


Masterful and monumental, Michael Mann’s new book shows how destructive and delusional it has been, throughout history and across the world, to try achieving one’s end through war.”—Andreas Wimmer, author of Waves of War

“The greatest comparative historical sociologist of our time here considers the motivations for warfare in the world and through recorded time. The result is breathtaking, and shocking in its normative challenges—particularly in its no-hold-barred attack on the ‘realism’ of international relations specialists.”—John A. Hall, McGill University

“Mann explains why wars happen although they seldom achieve their ends, whether material aggrandizement or altruistic ideals. On Wars again shows why Mann is the Max Weber of our time.”—Randall Collins, author of Explosive Conflict: Time Dynamics of Violence