(audio) book review: Nonviolence, by Mark Kurlansky, read by Richard Dreyfuss

accessible, compelling history of a revolutionary idea

I learned an immense amount about non-violence from this book. Of course, we read about Ghandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. But the vast majority of the time is spent on less famed examples. We learn of non-violent resistance in Eastern Europe during the Cold War and under Nazi occupation during World War II. We learn of a non-violent army led by Abdul Ghaffar Khan in India that allowed themselves to be mowed down by the British with nary a violent move, leading to 80,000 more joining their number (149-150). Kurlansky explores the history of justification for war within the Christian church (and the strong-willed dissidents). He also examines non-violent alternatives to the actions chosen by wars that are often defended: World War II, the American Revolution, the American Civil War. I occasionally felt my interest flag, but only briefly. The book is accessible and generally well paced.

Two complaints:

1. It seems clear that Kurlansky is a fan of non-violence.   That is not in and of itself problematic; in fact, I am quite sympathetic. However, occasionally it feels like he isn’t exploring the full picture. For example, he cites a peaceful demonstration before the American Revolution, refusing to let judges chosen by the Crown to be seated in their courthouses, as an example of a non-violent victory: Yet he admits that the colonists had weapons, although they didn’t use them. The threat of violence is not non-violence. I admit, though, that I am forgiving of his occasional inconsistency: This is a book demonstrating possibilities more than proving a point.

2. Euro centricity. There is time spent on Latin America and Asia (not much on Africa as I recall) but the lion’s share is spent on North America and Europe, and the other areas are often touching those (i.e., India getting rid of the British). I would have enjoyed seeing more of non-violence in other parts of the world independent of European and American interactions. But you can’t do it all in a short book.

And at the end, we get 25 lessons that sum it all up, such as:

1.There is no proactive word for nonviolence.

2.Nations that build military forces as deterrents will eventually use them.

3.Practitioners of non-violence

4.Once a state takes over a religion, the religion loses its nonviolent teachings.

And so on.

Richard Dreyfuss narrates the unabridged audiobook; he barks a bit, but this is definitely better than watching Mr Holland’s Opus. I recommend it (the book, not the Opus). I learned a great deal and largely enjoyed it.

accessible, compelling history of a revolutionary idea 4

I learned an immense amount about non-violence from this book. Of course, we read about Ghandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. But the vast majority of the time is spent on less famed examples. We learn of non-violent resistance in Eastern Europe during the Cold War and under Nazi occupation during World War II. We learn of a non-violent army led by Abdul Ghaffar Khan in India that allowed themselves to be mowed down by the British with nary a violent move, leading to 80,000 more joining their number (149-150). Kurlansky explores the history of justification for war within the Christian church (and the strong-willed dissidents). He also examines non-violent alternatives to the actions chosen by wars that are often defended: World War II, the American Revolution, the American Civil War. I occasionally felt my interest flag, but only briefly. The book is accessible and generally well paced.

Two complaints:

1. It seems clear that Kurlansky is a fan of non-violence. That is not problematic; in fact, I am quite sympathetic. However, occasionally it feels like he isn’t exploring the full picture. For example, he cites a peaceful demonstration before the American Revolution, refusing to let judges chosen by the Crown to be seated in their courthouses, as an example of a non-violent victory: Yet he admits that the colonists had weapons, although they didn’t use them. The threat of violence is not non-violence. I admit, though, that I am forgiving of his occasional inconsistency: This is a book demonstrating possibilities more than proving a point.

2. Euro centricity. There is time spent on Latin America and Asia (not much on Africa as I recall) but the lion’s share is spent on North America and Europe, and the other areas are often touching those (i.e., India getting rid of the British). I would have enjoyed seeing more of non-violence in other parts of the world independent of European and American interactions. But you can’t do it all in a short book.

And at the end, we get 25 lessons that sum it all up, such as:

  1. There is no proactive word for nonviolence.

  2. Nations that build military forces as deterrents will eventually use them.

  3. Practitioners of non-violence

  4. Once a state takes over a religion, the religion loses its nonviolent teachings.

And so on.

Richard Dreyfuss narrates the unabridged audiobook; he barks a bit, but this is definitely better than watching Mr Holland’s Opus. I recommend it (the book, not the Opus). I learned a great deal and largely enjoyed it.

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