On Killing

  • by Dave Grossman
  • Narrated by Dave Grossman
  • 10 hrs and 24 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

The good news is that the vast majority of soldiers are loath to kill in battle. Unfortunately, modern armies, using Pavlovian and operant conditioning, have developed sophisticated ways of overcoming this instinctive aversion.The psychological cost for soldiers, as witnessed by the increase in post-traumatic stress, is devastating. The psychological cost for the rest of us is even more so: contemporary civilian society, particularly the media, replicates the army's conditioning techniques and, according to Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's thesis, is responsible for our rising rate of murder among the young.Upon its first publication, On Killing was hailed as a landmark study of the techniques the military uses to overcome the powerful reluctance to kill, of how killing affects the soldier, and of the societal implications of escalating violence. Now, Grossman has updated this classic work to include information on 21st-century military conflicts, recent crime rates, suicide bombings, school shootings, and much more. The result is a work that is sure to be relevant and important for decades to come.


What the Critics Say

"This important book deserves a wide readership." (Library Journal)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Adam G

As a new platoon leader getting ready to lead 50 Soldiers into Iraq, I wanted to read something to get me prepared for a world which I know little about, the world of killing.

LTC Grossman presents a myriad of reasons soldiers will or will not kill in the vital moment. Although at this point I may not agree on the strengths to which each has, they all made sense. His section on PTSD, the mindset of the soldier after killing, and methods of overcoming both were extremely useful.

Although others may not like this book due to its lack of in depth psychological analysis, I highly recommend this book to anybody looking for an easy to understand look at the human reaction to killing.
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- Adam

An Interesting Idea

The topic of the psychological effects of violence is an intriguing topic with much potential, particularly when addressed by a professor of psychology who is also a career military officer, but ultimately that potential is what made On Killing so disappointing.

With verbatim repetitions throughout, it more resembles a collection of essays than a book. The most serious issue though, is the presence of speculative and sweeping assertions, such as the claim that, what is hubristically described as a previously undiscovered aspect of psychology (revulsion to killing), may have been responsible for the election outcomes of wartime Presidents forced to go to the polls immediately after the end of hostilities. To the author's credit he does acknowledge that last assertion might be extending his work too far.

It is clear when evidence is offered, such as frequent references to B.F Skinner's (at best) obsolete work, that Grossman didn't do his homework. Most troubling, however, is the study on which Grossman rests his thesis; S.L.A Marshall's survey of World War II soldiers claiming to show only 25% will fire at an exposed enemy. The soldiers supposedly interviewed later denied ever being asked about their firing rates, a fact which has been known to military psychologists for over twenty years. It would be interesting to buy the physical copy of this book to see the bibliography.

The number and severity of basic errors costs makes the reader wonder if the author knows what he is talking about, and that's a shame given the enormous potential and relevance of this topic. On a positive note, the narration was good.
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- Hayden

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-22-2009
  • Publisher: Hachette Audio