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Paperback Details
  • 02/2021
  • 9780578840376 0578840375
  • 376 pages
  • $17.75
Robert Sweet
Life Fighting: Why We Must Sometimes Fight, and How to Do So Well

Adult; History & Military; (Market)

Fighting has gotten a bad name; it should not be so. Fighting itself is neither moral nor immoral; only its object can be said to be so. To be moral is not to fight no one; to be moral is to fight those who vitiate life and civilization. Edward Wilson writes that, if “moral aptitude” is like every other trait studied to date, it forms a bell curve, has a natural genetic distribution: some human beings are moral, others amoral or immoral. That the moral are far less willing to fight than the immoral has always hurt societies. “Many moral advances have consisted not of eschewing force across the board,” writes Steven Pinker, “but of applying it in carefully measured doses.” If we truly wish to make the world a better place, we should sometimes fight. “The art of war is an art with principles,” said Napoleon, “and these principles must never be violated.” The best study of these principles is the lives of those who applied them best. Life Fighting explicates the principles by which Julius Caesar, Richelieu, Talleyrand, Napoleon, and Bill Gates fought, by which they attained their objects.

Encompassing both self-help and history, Sweet’s Life Fighting takes lessons from the lives of Julius Caesar, Talleyrand, Richelieu, and Bill Gates to illustrate why fighting is an inescapable part of life–and how to do it well. Drawing on the work of evolutionary biologists, Sweet (author of Pallas Athena) invites readers to discard illusions about human generosity, arguing that altruism–or “increasing the survival chances of another at the expense of one’s own”–is “almost always illusory,” that natural selection pushes all organisms into selfishness by a process he terms “evolutionarily stable strategy,” and that the universal ESS dictates that “an individual should see to his interests at the expense of those weaker than himself.” From this jolting start, a view of existence certain to alienate some readers, Sweet reviews the lives of notorious male fighters from history and contemporary life, to illustrate the basic steps to achieve victory in such a world.

Despite the language of evolutionary selfishness, Sweet examines themes of struggle and triumph over adversity, and portrays his profiled leaders as having objectives beyond themselves–at times, to serve the good of the larger society, as in Caesar’s disruption of the oligarchy of the late Roman Republic. This good of the larger society, then, is in service to a larger Evolutionarily Stable Strategy. Sweet takes care to emphasize that “fighting” should not be defined solely by violence, but the majority of people he uses as examples, with the exception of Bill Gates, are accomplished warriors.

The history that Sweet tells is fascinating, and always connected to his broader arguments. Reviewing stages of successful fighting, he covers topics such as how to effectively study an opponent (pointing out that many commanders were victorious simply because they were misunderstood by their rivals) and why striking in combination is a powerful method of offensive fighting. The intricacy of his accounts can be daunting, particularly of battles and campaigns that become challenging to track without maps or illustrations; endmatter includes a bibliography for further research.

Takeaway: History-loving readers with some fight in them will appreciate Sweet’s survey of powerful men, how they’ve fought, and what they reveal.

Great for fans of: Andrew Roberts’s Napoleon: A Life, Gerald A. Michaelson and Steven Michaelson’s Sun Tzu: The Art of War for Managers.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: B+

A Reviewer with Stanford University Press

“Life Fighting is fascinating.  It has much sage advice and is immensely erudite and fluid.  I have never seen writing so good.”

Clayton W. Chan, Esq.

“I have become an avid reader of Life Fighting.  I have found it to be sublime, erudite, and, above all, inspirational.  It certainly stands out in the crowd for its level of depth, scholarship, and profundity.  While Sweet’s work may require more of the reader intellectually than other works of a similar class, its lessons stay and take root (for instance, his incisive explication of Caesar’s Gallic campaign is a wonderful illustration of ‘do or die’).”

Dr. Philip B. Breitfeld, Chief Strategy Officer, Champions Oncology

“Sweet has managed, using a few key historical leaders, to uncover critical principles that have great relevance for us all.  These principles are equally relevant for those in sports, public policy, and contemporary political life.  He reminds us that the study of history remains richly rewarding.”

Needham B. Whitfield, Former Chairman and CEO, Brenco, Incorporated

“Sweet’s book is wonderful and should be savored.  He offers countless insights and observations not only on his subjects, but also on life and human conduct in general.  It boggles the mind how he acquired so much knowledge and wisdom in the space of a single life.”

Rebecca Smithson, Philanthropist

"The breadth of Sweet's references in history and literature is staggering."

Timothy W.J. O'Brien, Partner and General Counsel, Pine River Capital Management

“Sweet’s book is excellent.  He makes a strong argument for the selfishness of human nature and its origins in our evolutionary past.”

Paperback Details
  • 02/2021
  • 9780578840376 0578840375
  • 376 pages
  • $17.75