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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 members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Story
  • Larsen
  • Clovis, CA, United States
  • 09-12-11

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.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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.

24 of 26 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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.

18 of 20 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Erik
  • Manhattan, KS, USA
  • 05-14-10

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.

20 of 23 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story
  • John
  • Canada
  • 02-12-13

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

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.

12 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Kept my attention from play to end ... non-stop

Albeit, a bit "pop", and some ideas proposed at the end are a little sketchy ... this book seems well researched, -I spent six years in the Army-, very intriguing, at times captivating, and well written. I would highly recommend.

10 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • John
  • HobartUS Minor Outlying Islands
  • 07-05-09

"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.

9 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Strong start

Most of the book is very engaging and Grossman is clear and convincing in his defense of his thesis that human's are naturally averse to killing and need to be conditioned to do so effectively in times of war. The anecdotes, mostly from soldiers, are very moving.

Unfortunately, he relies heavily on S.L.A Marshall's work, and the quality of that work is now seriously questioned. Worse, his final claim that the world is becoming a more violent place seems to contradict a large body of evidence, and goes against recent studies, such as Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature.

I still recommend it, for it is entertaining, although I'd balance it with some critical reviews.

7 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jennifer
  • austin, TX, United States
  • 08-30-09

a bit too pop psych

It's an interesting book. It certainly looks at this issue from a perspective I never had before. Having said that though, I question the methodology and find the conclusions less than absolutely compelling. Correlation is not causation, and for almost everything for which he asserted a single cause, because of an existing correlation, I could think of an unexplained alternative. Perhaps he dealt with them in his research and simply didn't put it in the book, but if so, that elevates it only to the level of pop psychology which tends to oversimplify its subject matter in order to break it down into easily digestable bites for non-psychology readers. That's not necessarily a bad thing since it can give those readers insight into the human condition, which is almost always useful, but it can be frustrating for anyone with a background in psychology. Having said all of these things which seem negative, I rather enjoyed the read. It gave me a new perspective on the subject of killing. It made me think in a new way, and I forced a friend to read it so we could discuss the more interesting points.

15 of 25 people found this review helpful