A Moral History of the Twentieth Century

Jonathan Glover

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The twentieth century was the most brutal in human history, featuring a litany of shameful events that includes the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Stalinist era, Cambodia, Yugoslavia, and Rwanda. This important book looks at the politics of our times and the roots of human nature to discover why so many atrocities were perpetuated and how we can create a social environment to prevent their recurrence.

Jonathan Glover finds similarities in the psychology of those who perpetuate, collaborate in, and are complicit with atrocities, uncovering some disturbing common elements—tribal hatred, blind adherence to ideology, diminished personal responsibility—as well as characteristics unique to each situation. Acknowledging that human nature has a dark and destructive side, he proposes that we encourage the development of a political and personal moral imagination that will compel us to refrain from and protest all acts of cruelty.

Jonathan Glover is director of the Centre of Medical Law and Ethics at King’s College, London. He is also the author of Causing Death and Saving Lives and What Sort of People Should There Be?

"Our libraries teem with tedious books that try to explain the modern world in terms of ideology or economics or power politics. But Jonathan Glover, by linking history with ethics, has found an unusually refreshing, thought-provoking and convincing approach."—Norman Davies, author of Europe: A History and The Isles: A History

“It is hard to imagine a more important book. Glover makes an overwhelming case for the need to understand our own inhumanity, and reduce or eliminate the ways in which it can express itself—and he then begins the task himself. Humanity is an extraordinary achievement.”—Peter Singer, DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, University Center for Human Values, Princeton University 

Humanity raises some of the most important issues of our time.”—Robert Conquest, author of Reflecting on a Ravaged Century


“The history Glover offers us is indeed horrifying, but it is also fascinating and instructive because of the sense he tries to make of it. . . . Glover’s disturbing historical survey shows us how moral identity can erode through dehumanizing others individually and collectively, through establishing distance enough to make their suffering invisible, through the sharing of responsibility for action, through utilitarian and utopian rationalization. . . This instructive book is well worth reading.”—Michael J. Kerlin, America

Humanity is a . . . contribution to the immense labor of understanding some of the worst experiences humankind has ever had. . . . Everyone who says, or feels, that such things must never happen again should read it and keep the conversation alive.”—George Scialabba, Boston Globe

“Good jeremiads encourage repentance. Glover’s does this, and it deserves to be widely read and discussed for that reason. . . . A close reading of his remarkable book has much to teach about the texture of human sin in the century just behind us.”—Paul J. Griffiths, Commonweal

“This is an extraordinary book, incisive and far-reaching, that both confronts unpleasant historical facts and offers some hopeful suggestions about what concerned human beings can do about them.”—Martha Nussbaum
“An impressive and accessible analysis of 20th-century brutality.”—Kirkus Reviews

“There is much that is excellent in Humanity, especially Glover’s lucid summary of the monstrosities of Stalinism—indispensable to any recounting of the history of the 20th century. His analysis of the extensive bombing campaigns of World War II and the factors that made them possible—despite the great destruction they wrought on civilians—is salutary and remains deeply relevant to more recent events in Kosovo and Iraq.”—Shashi Tharoor, Los Angeles Times

“In novelistic detail, Glover describes the wrenching realities behind the just wars and the utopian social projects. The descriptions are heartbreaking, enraging, at times unbearable. . . . This is an extraordinary book: brilliant, haunting and uniquely important. Almost 40 years ago a president read a best seller and avoided a holocaust. I like to think that some of the leaders and followers of tomorrow will read Humanity.Steven Pinker, New York Times Book Review

“[An] eminently readable yet profound book. It should be required reading for anyone interested in the scope and limits of human ethical behavior.”—Dr. Martin L. Cook, Parameters: U. S. Army War College Quarterly

“Creatively detailed, deeply humane work. . . . Glover has built a somber theme park of morality in which one can soberly wander for a day, picking up or reabsorbing fundamental truths, growing in humanity.”—Carlin Romano, Philadelphia Inquirer

“A sagacious and acute analysis. . . . [Glover’s] wide range of source material, including literature and memoirs, makes this work accessible.”—Publishers Weekly 

“This is an important book. It should find a central place in every peace studies or policy studies program and anywhere people are concerned with making the world more humane. It could also serve well in an introductory ethics course.”—Paul J. Johnson, Religious Studies Review

“Eminently readable. . . . Excellent endnotes, references, and additional source material combined with an extensive index provide the serious scholar with useful aids to examine further and explore the issues raised by this thought-provoking study of human evil.”—Carrie Foster, The Historian

“The accounts of the barbarisms of the past century are stunning and Glover’s overall thesis is extraordinarily compelling. . . . Anyone reading this book will find in it a realistic sense of urgency as well as uncommon sympathy.”—James F. Keenan, Theological Studies

“Important book on political philosophy. Confronts the brutal history of the 20th century. Offers suggestions for the future.”—Ruth Jean Shaw, University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries

“Glover links history with ethics in analyzing 20th century brutality and common elements of behavior including tribal hatred, blind adherence to ideology, and diminished personal responsibility. Glover proposes the development of a political and personal plan to prevent and protest acts of cruelty by man. This is a source valuable to students of corporate ethics and of the horrors resulting from nationalism and 20th century warfare.”—Susan Stewart, University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries

Selected as an outstanding book by University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries
ISBN: 9780300087000
Publication Date: August 11, 2000
480 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4

Sales Restrictions: US & US territories, Phillippines

A Moral History of the Twentieth Century
Second Edition

Jonathan Glover

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