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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.

©2009 David Grossman (P)2009 David Grossman

Critic Reviews

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

What listeners say about On Killing

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

More to it than I knew.

I always thought I had a solid combat mindset and I still think so, however this book revealed to me how little thought I had given it. I now see clearly combat mindset is not so simple as knowing you will press the trigger when you need to. This book also gave me some insights into other generations.

21 people found this helpful

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The seminal work on this subject, but*

This book is known as the "seminal" work on this subject in the last 75 years, and I would mostly agree with that. Where the book lost me, was at the anti first and second amendment screed at the end. Likely due to the time it was initially written in the mid-late 90's where pointless gun control was all the rage, and everything was video games' fault.

13 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

47 people found this helpful

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Great until the very end.

The perspectives and information in the majority of this book were fascinating and creatively examined, and intricately supported with factual data and historical accounts. However, the last thirty minutes were generally mired in conjecture and unsubstantiated reports of data correlation which the author assembled in such a way as to suggest, and say outright, that the freedoms on which the United States were founded (particularly the first and second amendments) should be limited for the greater good, for the children, and because humans have no more ability than animals in overcoming "programming", whether through rational thought or moral character.

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Deadly Accurate

Col. Grossman is a dynamic speaker in person. He reads the book in a conversational tone. This book is packed with information on the psychology of making the decision to use or not to use deadly force, as well as the emotional response to the aftermath. He is the foremost expert on the psychology of killing. I read the book several years ago and was not dissapointed by the audio.

25 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Deep insight into the psychology of killing

As a Soldier in the US Army, I was intrigued and hesitant about reading this. I assumed that the book would be biased and uninformed, but I listened anyways. LTC Grossman provides a deep study of the human condition and the effects that the mind goes though, before, during, and after the kill. Not only does LTC Grossman explore the psyche of the killer, he touches on the use of modified operant conditioning by modern militaries to train its Soldiers to kill. Then to top it off, he talks about how this type of conditioning is being implemented in our society today, and the potential effects that it has on everyone, including children, who are a prime candidate for conditioning. A MUST READ for Combat Arms leaders, so that they can understand what their soldiers are going through, and how they can help with the process.

27 people found this helpful

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Fascinating sources - flawed & dated viewpoint

The best thing I can say about this book is that it has some very chilling and fascinating first hand accounts from combat veterans. A majority of those came from other sources though. It's a largely U.S. centric view of war minus a few looks into how Napoleon and the Romans conducted warfare. There are definitely good insights into the psychological trauma of combat and killing in this book but I really don't buy into Grossman's interpretation of data in some places. He claims that low firing rates among US soldiers in WW2 is evidence that humans are naturally opposed to killing and that was the largest factor. I don't disagree that most humans on their own are averted to killing and conflict. It's just that from what I gather in other reading, I would suspect the soldiers fired less, largely out of fear of exposing themselves to the enemy much more than the aversion to possibly killing another human being. Also less training and conditioning would be a factor when comparing them to Vietnam firing rates, which he does mention. What he doesn't mention is the close quarters nature of fire fights in Vietnam, where the NVA would ambush and hug their enemy to stay out of artillery and airstrike range is another reason for increased firing rates. As well as having more access to full auto weapons.

Grossman also tries to use some WW2 statistics regarding fighter pilots to the same end. The stats show that an extremely small amount of pilots accounted for a vast majority of the air to air kills. This statistic is true but I would argue that evolving air combat tactics were the main reason for this, not just the pilot's aversion to fire at enemy planes and kill. My understanding from reading how air combat worked in this war, is that aces relied heavily on their wingmates to distract and pull targets. The wingmates would rely on the higher flying ace to quickly and accurately ambush (boom & zoom) the enemy before they, the bait; was shot down. This kind of tactic helped aces rack up a lot of kills while the majority of pilots acted as distractions and support.


The main thing Grossman pushes that really makes no sense in this book is that media violence spawns real life violence in America, which is extremely unproven to say the least. Statistically we are in the least violent time in American history, so it seems that violent media could've actually lowered the amount of violence in real life. He also makes claims about how the violent crime rate would sky rocket if the US didn't lock away as many people as it does. It's complete ignorance. We all should know the prisons have been overflowing for decades because of a bullshit drug war that exploits the poor and largely people of color in this nation. The massive majority of people are locked up for non-violent drug offenses. Fucking violent movies and video games are not the problem here. It's really disappointing to see Grossman continue to peddle this shit even to this day. Look at his upcoming book "Assassination Generation".

I wouldn't recommend this book or author but recommend checking out the source material used here. Also check out "What It Is Like To Go To War" by Karl Marlantes for a deep and honest look into the war and killing experienced by a Vietnam veteran.

4 people found this helpful

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Excellent work

Where does On Killing rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Extremely well written and thought out.

What about Dave Grossman’s performance did you like?

You can hear his interest and sympathy as he reads his work.

4 people found this helpful

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Good book

I enjoyed this book. I have a history degree and I think this book, whether you want to agree with the thesis or not, should be required reading to fill in the gap between those who see war as the pinnacle or the scourge of society. I think Grossman makes a good argument that it is neither.

16 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

"Most Powerfull"

This was a very enlighting experience! Some points were a little disturbing. It sure was a great listen. Especially if you want to know what goes through a soldier's head.

11 people found this helpful