Blood Rites Origins and History of the Passions of War

Barbara Ehrenreich

Holt Paperbacks



304 Pages



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In Blood Rites, Barbara Ehrenreich confronts the mystery of the human attraction to violence: What draws our species to war and even makes us see it as a kind of sacred undertaking? Blood Rites takes us on an original journey from the elaborate human sacrifices of the ancient world to the carnage and holocaust of twentieth-century "total war." Sifting through the fragile records of prehistory, Ehrenreich discovers the wellspring of war in an unexpected place—not in a "killer instinct" unique to the males of our species, nor in our Paleolithic hunting tradition, but in the blood rites early humans performed to reenact their terrifying experience of predation by stronger carnivores. It is in these ancient blood rites that Ehrenreich finds the first form of organized, socially sanctioned violence—and the spiritual antecedent of war. Moving into historical time, Ehrenreich traces the evolution of war from the sacred undertaking of a privileged warrior caste to the central rite of the mass religion we know today as nationalism and shows the persistence of ancient fears in the most modern rituals and passions of war. Blood Rites is an work that will transform our understanding of the archaic practice that has become the greatest single threat to human life.


Praise for Blood Rites

"Keen and arresting . . . One of today's most original thinkers has tackled one of humankind's most intractable subjects."—Michael Sherry, The New York Times Book Review

"Original and illuminating. It is a large step from the all-male hunting band to the U.S. Marine Corps. Barbara Ehrenreich plots the path, nevertheless, both passionately and persuasively."—John Keegan, The Washington Post

"Ehrenreich has outdone herself in breaking with conventional history, and the result is thrilling in that seeing-the-world-anew way."—Susan Faludi, The Nation

"Exceptionally wide-ranging, Blood Rites is brilliant, persuasive, and thoroughly accessible."—The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Splendid . . . A fascinating perspective on our staunch devotion to mass, mutual slaughter. Blood Rites is that rare animal, a nonfiction page-turner."—Newsweek

Reviews from Goodreads



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Barbara Ehrenreich is the bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed, Bait and Switch, Bright-sided, This Land Is Their Land, and Dancing in the Streets, among others. A frequent contributor to Harper's and The Nation, she has also been a columnist at The New York Times and Time magazine. She is the winner of the L.A. Times Book Prize for Current Interest and ALA Notable Books for Nonfiction.  Ehrenreich was born in Butte, Montana, when it was still a bustling mining town. She studied physics at Reed College, and earned a Ph.D. in cell biology from Rockefeller University. Rather than going into
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  • Barbara Ehrenreich

  • Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of fourteen books, including Dancing in the Streets and The New York Times bestsellers Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. A frequent contributor to Harper’s and The Nation, she has also been a columnist at The New York Times and Time magazine.

  • Barbara Ehrenreich Sigrid Estrada
    Barbara Ehrenreich