The Mystery of Courage by William Ian Miller

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Few of us spend much time thinking about courage, but we know it when we see it--or do we? Is it best displayed by marching into danger, making the charge, or by resisting, enduring without complaint? Is it physical or moral, or both? Is it fearless, or does it involve subduing fear? Abner Small, a Civil War soldier, was puzzled by what he called the "mystery of bravery"; to him, courage and cowardice seemed strangely divorced from character and will. It is this mystery, just as puzzling in our day, that William Ian Miller unravels in this engrossing meditation.

Miller culls sources as varied as soldiers' memoirs, heroic and romantic literature, and philosophical discussions to get to the heart of courage--and to expose its role in generating the central anxieties of masculinity and manhood. He probes the link between courage and fear, and explores the connection between bravery and seemingly related states: rashness, stubbornness, madness, cruelty, fury; pride and fear of disgrace; and the authority and experience that minimize fear. By turns witty and moving, inquisitive and critical, his inquiry takes us from ancient Greece to medieval Europe, to the American Civil War, to the Great War and Vietnam, with sidetrips to the schoolyard, the bedroom, and the restaurant. Whether consulting Aristotle or private soldiers, Miller elicits consistently compelling insights into a condition as endlessly interesting as it is elusive.


About William Ian Miller

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William Ian Miller is Professor of Law at the University of Michigan.
Published June 30, 2009 by Harvard University Press. 360 pages
Genres: Health, Fitness & Dieting, History, War, Law & Philosophy, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

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Acknowledging that “courage is no easy virtue to get a grip on,” Miller nonetheless charges fearlessly ahead in this entertaining, troubling, and fluid meditation on what he calls “the most frequent theme of all world literature.” Miller focuses principally on the military variety, for “no theory...

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Publishers Weekly

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The rate of compliance flabbergasts us, because we cannot quite trust that we would not have collapsed sniveling or cowering."" The emphasis on fear, especially physical fear of death or injury in combat, leaves Miller nonplussed by non-martial forms of courage that have less to do with fear than...

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