Walter’s meticulous, urgent analysis of the U.S.’s proximity to civil war — and what war will look like in the age of online radicalism and social media — is terrifying, to say the least. But our country’s slide into anocracy is scary too, and Walter’s ambitious program to resist it provides tentative cause for rallying and resistance. Recommended By Rhianna W., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
A leading political scientist examines the dramatic rise in violent extremism around the globe and sounds the alarm on the increasing likelihood of a second civil war in the United States
"An imperative book for our time." —Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist
"When one of the world's leading scholars of civil war tells us that the United States stands at the brink of violent conflict, we should pay attention." —Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of How Democracies Die
Political violence rips apart several towns in southwest Texas. A far-right militia plots to kidnap the governor of Michigan and try her for treason. An armed mob of Trump supporters and conspiracy theorists storms the U.S. Capitol. Are these isolated incidents? Or is this the start of something bigger? Barbara F. Walter has spent her career studying civil conflict in places like Iraq and Sri Lanka, but now she has become increasingly worried about her own country.
Perhaps surprisingly, both autocracies and healthy democracies are largely immune from civil war; it's the countries in the middle ground that are most vulnerable. And this is where more and more countries, including the United States, are finding themselves today.
Over the last two decades, the number of active civil wars around the world has almost doubled. Walter reveals the warning signs — where wars tend to start, who initiates them, what triggers them — and why some countries tip over into conflict while others remain stable. Drawing on the latest international research and lessons from over twenty countries, Walter identifies the crucial risk factors, from democratic backsliding to factionalization and the politics of resentment. A civil war today won't look like America in the 1860s, Russia in the 1920s, or Spain in the 1930s. It will begin with sporadic acts of violence and terror, accelerated by social media. It will sneak up on us and leave us wondering how we could have been so blind.
In this urgent and insightful book, Walter redefines civil war for a new age, providing the framework we need to confront the danger we now face — and the knowledge to stop it before it's too late.
"Arresting reading that identifies obstacles and dangers to democracy, many at the highest levels of government." Kirkus Reviews
"A stark and deeply informed warning that the U.S. may be headed for another civil war....Incisive....Distinguished by its lucid analysis and global perspective, this wake-up call rings clear." Publishers Weekly
"How Civil Wars Start is a sobering but engrossing book. It is so tempting to ignore or deny Walter's carefully researched and reasoned conclusions, which is precisely the response she is warning us against....Highly recommended for anyone interested in preserving American democracy." Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO, New America
"This engaging book from one of the country's most authoritative scholars of civil wars is a dire warning. Governing amid diversity is an incredible challenge, and this book is an important guide to preserving our democracy." Kori Schake, Director of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute
"Barbara F. Walter has drawn on decades of experience and unparalleled expertise to write a powerful and indispensable book. How Civil Wars Start brilliantly illuminates the history of civil wars and the profound dangers to our union today, serving as both a warning about the stakes in our politics and a call to action for those who want to preserve multiethnic democracy and the values that America is supposed to stand for." Ben Rhodes, author of After the Fall
"How Civil Wars Start is a convincing, carefully reasoned, and therefore all the more urgent and alarming look at the state of American democracy. A great challenge for Americans is understanding that the forces that have torn apart other societies might do the same to this 'exceptional' nation. Barbara F. Walter has done a great service in demonstrating the risks the United States is now courting — and how they might be offset." James Fallows, co-author of Our Towns
"A vivid, compelling book on a globally vital issue. Timely, important and original." Richard English, author of Does Terrorism Work?
About the Author
Barbara F. Walter is the Rohr Professor of International Relations at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego. A life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Walter helps to run the award-winning blog Political Violence at a Glance and has written for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Reuters, and Foreign Affairs.