Your new book, ‘War: How Conflict Shaped Us’, is based on the BBC Reith Lectures you gave in 2018. How did that influence the process of writing?
I like giving lectures and answering questions. At the Reith Lectures there were questions I hadn’t thought of and things that came up in discussion afterwards, for example on the role of women and civilians in war. And the questions were quite tough. Most of them were good. I remember a question I got in York, from a young woman who was a captain in the Brit- ish Armed Forces and who had served in Afghanistan. It was so good to hear her talking about her fears. I thought it was very, very touching.
Much of the book is devoted to discussions of gender and the role of women in conflict. In fact, it starts with a quote from Svetlana Alexievich’s ‘The Unwomanly Face of War’. Why was that important to you?
Interview: Margaret MacMillan
The historian of conflict and peace-making talks to Krisztina Csortea about the mystery of war, how it can usher in positive social change and the difficult art of learning lessons from the past