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The End of Everything

How Wars Descend into Annihilation


Victor Davis Hanson (View Bio)
Hardcover: Basic Books, 2024.

The End of Everything

Victor Davis Hanson charts how and why societies from ancient Greece to the modern era chose to utterly destroy their foes, and warns that similar wars of obliteration are possible in our time.  From Troy to Hiroshima, moments when war has ended in utter annihilation have reverberated through the centuries, signaling the end of political systems, cultures, and epochs. Though much has changed over the millennia, human nature remains the same. Modern societies are not immune from the horror of a war of extinction.

In The End of Everything, military historian Hanson narrates a series of sieges and sackings that span the age of antiquity to the conquest of the New World to show how societies descend into barbarism and obliteration. In the stories of Thebes, Carthage, Constantinople, and Tenochtitlan, he depicts war’s drama, violence, and folly. Highlighting the naivete that plagued the vanquished and the wrath that justified mass slaughter, Hanson delivers a sobering call to contemporary readers to heed the lessons of obliteration lest we blunder into catastrophe once again.

A New York Times Best Seller!

"There is no modern world. Despite technology, human nature remains the same. Indeed, the march of technology can lead to moral regression, as affluence and leisure corrode the character of individuals and nations, tempting destruction. That is the underlying message of the Hoover Institution classicist Victor Davis Hanson in his book, The End of Everything: How Wars Descend Into Annihilation. Mr. Hanson makes his point by telling the story of four states and civilizations that were completely obliterated by war and by their own hubris and naiveté.... This book is about flourishing civilizations cut down in their prime, often with relatively little warning, with vast geopolitical consequences.... Mr. Hanson makes all of this relevant to the modern reader by combining granularity with big-picture analysis and teasing out meaning from a mastery of details....Though the author of this profound book doesn’t mention it, what stands out in these four accounts is the working of time. We believe that what we have built is so magnificent it must go on forever. But then it is eradicated, and the world does not come to an end. Only our own world has done so" — Robert D. Kaplan, The Wall Street Journal  (Read the full review)

"Civilizations collapse for many reasons, and these days we worry not so much about war but about climate change and natural disasters. However, as classicist and military historian Hanson warns, it’s not out of the question that a modern enemy (Putin) might attempt to erase an opponent (Ukraine) as surely as Cortés brought down the Aztecs. ‘The gullibility, and indeed ignorance, of contemporary governments and leaders about the intent, hatred, ruthlessness, and capability of their enemies are not surprising,’ writes the author, surveying a world in which genocide is no stranger. The first genocide, some historians hold, was that of Carthage, laid low by the Romans in the third of three fierce wars, the first two of which intended to secure Roman victory but not necessarily the erasure of the city. How Rome became bent on the enemy’s destruction engages Hanson as strategist and tactician, but it seems clear from his narrative that Carthage, complying with most of Rome’s demands, was by that point a mostly blameless victim—an analog, that is, to Ukraine. More intransigent was Thebes, perhaps an analog to Taiwan in the face of today’s China, exterminated at the hand of Alexander the Great, who saw in the annihilation a ‘signal [to] any would-be Macedonian rivals to the throne that Alexander was ruthless, and recklessly and unpredictably so.’ Putin again, one might say. Hanson goes deep into military wonkery, but he writes vividly about relevant cases, including Constantinople and Tenochtitlán—cities, he points out, that remain occupied long after their erstwhile owners were dispatched. After all, seizing key real estate makes a strong motivator. A good choice for geopolitics and military history alike, ranging from specific battles to general principles of warfare." — Kirkus Reviews

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