Lessons From the History
of a Dangerous Idea
As the old saying goes, "fish, cut bait, or get out of the boat." Faced with aggression,
we can respond in kind, submit, or-? "The first clue, lesson number one from human history
on the subject of nonviolence, is that there is no word for it." So opens Mark Kurlansky's
Nonviolence, an audacious, concise, and thoroughly original sweep through human history
to draw twenty-four additional lessons about the nature, meaning, implications, and potential
Distinct from pacifism, not a state of mind but a technique- in the Dalai Lama's words,
"a rational stimulus to action"- nonviolence has always had its practitioners, but they
have been few, seldom understood, and, because considered dangerous by the state, disparaged,
imprisoned, tortured, and often killed. They include Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King,
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Founding Fathers, many Abolitionists, certain Russian dissidents, the
Maori leader Te Whiti, and the Dalai Lama - who has provided a heartfelt preface to this volume.
His Holiness writes, "It is my hope and prayer that this book should not only attract attention,
but have a profound effect on those who read it."
A scholarly and literary gem, Kurlansky's Nonviolence invites both contemplation and
debate. Make no mistake, Nonviolence is a frontal assault on the ideology of warfare,
the choice of us versus them, good versus evil, patriots versus traitors- fish or cut bait.
Kurlansky asks, "Is the source of violence not human nature, as Hobbes contended, but a lack
of imagination?" Could we, perhaps, get out of the boat, as it were? Kurlansky shows that with
nonviolence, yes, and - lesson twenty-five - "the hard work of beginning a movement to end war
has already been done." This is a book about hope, a book that gives hope.
—C. M. Mayo, 2007 finalist judge