Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger

4387B5FD-4304-4C6C-AE33-3F41ACB0136CA few years ago, I fell in love with reading books about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one of the most respected journalists of that subject is Sebastian Junger. He helped to create the film Restrepo which I love, and write the book War which is really good. When I saw that he wrote another book about the struggles that face our veterans when they return home, I couldn’t resist it.

If you’re not familiar with Tribehere is a little more about this book.

Decades before the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin lamented that English settlers were constantly fleeing over to the Indians-but Indians almost never did the same. Tribal society has been exerting an almost gravitational pull on Westerners for hundreds of years, and the reason lies deep in our evolutionary past as a communal species. The most recent example of that attraction is combat veterans who come home to find themselves missing the incredibly intimate bonds of platoon life. The loss of closeness that comes at the end of deployment may explain the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by military veterans today.

Combining history, psychology, and anthropology, TRIBE explores what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging, and the eternal human quest for meaning. It explains the irony that-for many veterans as well as civilians-war feels better than peace, adversity can turn out to be a blessing, and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. TRIBE explains why we are stronger when we come together, and how that can be achieved even in today’s divided world.

I thought this book would be about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I thought it would be stories of individual soldiers and their journeys through PTSD and how they did or didn’t find community. That is not what this book is at all. It is more of an essay on how we need to rethink our social obligations to one another. How important having a “tribe” is. And that these tribes, weather they be neighborhood or nation, help to keep humans mentally healthy.

Junger weaves in a lot of context of the power of tribe through discussing American Indian tribes (as well as other cultures more generally) and how they treat one another. How they work and live together, what things are needed to succeed, and what transgressions can not be tolerated. It is all interesting and gave me a lot to think about. He compares these tribes with American society, where they differ, and how these differences can be devastating on human survival. The book is less about the military than I thought it would be, and that was a welcome surprise. Junger is drawing larger conclusions about American society as a whole, and then connects those overreaching ideas with the military.

For the most part the book is thought provoking and well done. I loved hearing alternative theories about PTSD and more. He makes great points and really shifted my thinking about mental health. I did listen to Tribe on audiobook, and I think that Junger’s tone negatively colored my understanding of the book. Junger can be condescending. He presents his theories as fact and doesn’t leave room for any push back. He can be a little harsh. The book is short, he doesn’t give much credence to any alternative opinions.

I think this book is interesting, I know that I look at society, soldiers, and how we can do better as a people, differently thanks to Junger. I think if you’re interested in sociology and human behavior this book would make a great fit.

  • Harcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Twelve; 1 edition (May 24, 2016)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Tribe on Amazon
  • Listen to Tribe on Audible (for free 30-day trial and audiobook download click here)

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