The question of why warfare has been an inescapable part of human history – and most likely its future – is the subject of a landmark new book from one of the country’s leading authorities on the Second World War.

Why War?, written by historian Professor Richard Overy, draws upon different disciplines and perspectives in an attempt to explain how humanity is almost inevitably pulled back into violent conflict despite its appalling consequences.

From biology to belief, and psychology to security, the book, published by Pelican (Penguin) today, takes a uniquely broad approach to the topic, alongside its consideration of more commonly held motives such as resources, power and security.

Professor Overy, Honorary Professor in the University of Exeter’s Department of Archaeology and History, has written extensively about the Second World War, most recently with his award-winning 2021 book, Blood and Ruins.

“I have long had this idea of exploring the ways in which the sciences have responded to this central question about the human condition,” Professor Overy says. “So, in addition to drawing upon a lifetime of historical research, I began to read literature in specialised academic fields like osteoarchaeology, areas that many historians including myself have little experience of. It was an illuminating and humbling experience and enabled me to write a book that is very different to almost anything I’ve written before.”

Why War? devotes several chapters to these different disciplines, offering biological, psychological, ecological and anthropological perspectives on conflict. The second half of the book then moves on to focus upon major motives for war identified by human and political sciences such as belief, resources, security and power.

Professor Overy began writing the book prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – but he says that it and the ongoing crisis in the Middle East have made Why War?’s theme even more urgent.

“I think many readers would like an answer to why wars occur throughout history,” adds Professor Overy. “There is no single or simple answer, but I hope they will come away from Why War? with an understanding of the most important ways in which it can be explained. Understanding war is now more important than ever in the current crisis, although understanding it will not necessarily eliminate it. War has a long history, but it will also have a future.”

Blood and Ruins, which explored the idea that the Second World War represented ‘the violent end of global imperialism’, won the country’s foremost prize for military history writing, when it was awarded the Duke of Wellington Medal for Military History in 2022. Professor Overy’s other books have focused a number of Second World War topics including the Royal Air Force, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union.