Cover: Overconfidence and War: The Havoc and Glory of Positive Illusions, from Harvard University PressCover: Overconfidence and War in HARDCOVER

Overconfidence and War

The Havoc and Glory of Positive Illusions

Add to Cart

Product Details

HARDCOVER

$28.50 • £22.95 • €25.50

ISBN 9780674015760

Publication Date: 10/29/2004

Short

288 pages

5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

5 line illustrations, 13 tables

World

Opponents rarely go to war without thinking they can win—and clearly, one side must be wrong. This conundrum lies at the heart of the so-called “war puzzle”: rational states should agree on their differences in power and thus not fight. But as Dominic Johnson argues in Overconfidence and War, states are no more rational than people, who are susceptible to exaggerated ideas of their own virtue, of their ability to control events, and of the future. By looking at this bias—called “positive illusions”—as it figures in evolutionary biology, psychology, and the politics of international conflict, this book offers compelling insights into why states wage war.

Johnson traces the effects of positive illusions on four turning points in twentieth-century history: two that erupted into war (World War I and Vietnam); and two that did not (the Munich crisis and the Cuban missile crisis). Examining the two wars, he shows how positive illusions have filtered into politics, causing leaders to overestimate themselves and underestimate their adversaries—and to resort to violence to settle a conflict against unreasonable odds. In the Munich and Cuban missile crises, he shows how lessening positive illusions may allow leaders to pursue peaceful solutions.

The human tendency toward overconfidence may have been favored by natural selection throughout our evolutionary history because of the advantages it conferred—heightening combat performance or improving one’s ability to bluff an opponent. And yet, as this book suggests—and as the recent conflict in Iraq bears out—in the modern world the consequences of this evolutionary legacy are potentially deadly.

Awards & Accolades

  • Honor Book, 2005 New Jersey Council for the Humanities Book Award
Selected Titles on Making Modern South Asia [abstract yellow and green flowers]

Recent News

From Our Blog

Jacket: Our Universe: An Astronomer’s Guide, by Jo Dunkley, from Harvard University Press

Q&A with Jo Dunkley, author of Our Universe: An Astronomer’s Guide

Jo Dunkley combines her expertise as an astrophysicist with her talents as a teacher and writer in Our Universe: An Astronomer’s Guide, a lively and exceptionally clear introduction to the structure and history of the universe and its enduring mysteries. We spoke with her about the book and her seemingly limitless topic.

‘manifold glories of classical Greek and Latin’

The digital Loeb Classical Library (loebclassics.com) extends the founding mission of James Loeb with an interconnected, fully searchable, perpetually growing virtual library of all that is important in Greek and Latin literature.