Important and engrossing. I usually find ethical philosophy stupid and inane, but in this book Glover is really trying to squeeze some wisdom and insight out of the horrors of the 20th century. And he manages it, with some useful stuff about moral resources we can nurture and draw on, delusions to beware of, and traps to avoid. There are no simple answers, no conclusive moral codes – but by taking a close hard look at the way things happen, we can at least try to learn from them.

One insight in particular that I thought was significant is Glover's discussion of war not as a simple unleashing of aggression, but as a trap into which policy-makers, military leaders and populations can stumble into and become enmeshed in. As Khrushchev told Kennedy during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis (painstakingly analysed by Glover): "we ought not to pull on the ends of the rope in which we have tied the knot of war, because the more we pull the more the knot will be tied. And a moment may come when the knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut the knot . . . If there is no intention to tighten that knot and thereby doom the world to the catastrophe of nuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the end of the rope; let us take measures to untie the knot."

Learning how to untie that knot is one of humanity's most urgent tasks.

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