Why We Fight

March 2021 9781787384897 328pp
Available as an eBook Available from Oxford Scholarship Online
EU Customers


The world of the 2020s is one where instability, war and societal breakup seem close. But, surely, we have learnt the lessons of the past? Surely, peace will continue?

Are you sure? Do you even know what causes wars? Mike Martin argues that we don’t understand what causes violence and conflict, let alone how to go about solving these problems. But there is a way to make sense of war and society: linking the evolution of our brains with the history of our social development, Why We Fight shows how political dynamics, violence between individuals and, above all, war between groups are all caused by deep-seated, unconscious urges to seek status and belonging.

Weaving together evolution, personal experiences of war, and more than a decade of studying conflicts around the world, Why We Fight will change the way you think about society, about war, and about yourself. It is a blueprint for the turbulent 2020s.


‘Fascinating [and] accessible . . . Martin’s enjoyable book makes a positive contribution to a major debate.’ — Prospect

‘[Why We Fight] should be required reading for not just biologists, psychologists and historians, but military leaders and recruiters as well.’ — The British Army Review

Why We Fight is an ingenious exposition of a long-standing philosophical problem and an evolutionary psychological explanation of war. It is an intriguing and unusual book.’ — Parameters

‘A much-needed, well-written, and well-substantiated work. [Mike Martin] manages to challenge some of the most common assumptions in the field of conflict studies. [Why We Fight] is a first, essential step into a more scientifically grounded social science and a challenge to several well-established academic theories.’ — Strife Journal

Why We Fight is a pivotal book in the study of conflict. It brilliantly deploys recent discoveries in psychology and neuroscience to devastating effect. It has radical implications for policies for conflict reduction: identity and status need to supplant interests and ideology as the focal points for change.’ — Sir Paul Collier, Professor of Economics and Public Policy, University of Oxford

‘Anyone interested in war and international relations will find much to challenge and intrigue them in Mike Martin’s application of evolutionary theory to the question of what drives men to fight.’ — Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, author of The Future of War: A History

‘An important and illuminating book that addresses very clearly the fundamental questions underlying the apparent paradoxes of violence and conflict.’ — Patrick Hennessey, author of The Junior Officers’ Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars

‘This wide-ranging book explores how the evolution of the brain has shaped human behaviour in violence and war. Fascinating and insightful.’ — Stathis Kalyvas, Gladstone Professor of Government, University of Oxford

Why We Fight is a worthwhile and thought-provoking read, and Martin’s framework offers a useful corrective to the ‘war of ideas’ school of thought that has driven so much Western counter-terrorism policy … If we want to reduce right-wing extremist violence, we would do well to heed his advice.’ — Survival


Dr Mike Martin is the Liberal Democrat MP for Tunbridge Wells and a Senior Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. His previous books, also published by Hurst, are An Intimate War; Crossing the Congo; and Why We Fight. He can be found at @ThreshedThought.

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