‘Consider the cattle, grazing as they pass you by,’ Nietzsche asked his readers in his first major essay, ‘On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life’: ‘they do not know what is meant by yesterday or today.’ Animals have no history; they only have evolution. We have a history, or, what’s more important, historicity. Our understanding of what it is to be human is tied to our understanding of what we might yet ‘become’. We are not finished, or even perfectible beings. Our interest in ourselves is rooted in our intuitive sense that of all species on the planet we are the only one whose future is still open.
If history is humanity, when did humanity begin? In this monumental study spanning three volumes, Azar Gat, an Israeli scholar with an established and deserved reputation, who has been fascinated with war for much of his life (as every citizen of his country must), takes us back to what we