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Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

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Sebastian Junger, the bestselling author of War and The Perfect Storm, takes a critical look at post-traumatic stress disorder and the many challenges today’s returning veterans face in modern society.

There are ancient tribal human behaviors-loyalty, inter-reliance, cooperation-that flare up in communities during times of turmoil and suffering. These are the very same behaviors that typify good soldiering and foster a sense of belonging among troops, whether they’re fighting on the front lines or engaged in non-combat activities away from the action. Drawing from history, psychology, and anthropology, bestselling author Sebastian Junger shows us just how at odds the structure of modern society is with our tribal instincts, arguing that the difficulties many veterans face upon returning home from war do not stem entirely from the trauma they’ve suffered, but also from the individualist societies they must reintegrate into.

A 2011 study by the Canadian Forces and Statistics Canada reveals that 78 percent of military suicides from 1972 to the end of 2006 involved veterans. Though these numbers present an implicit call to action, the government is only just taking steps now to address the problems veterans face when they return home. But can the government ever truly eliminate the challenges faced by returning veterans? Or is the problem deeper, woven into the very fabric of our modern existence? Perhaps our circumstances are not so bleak, and simply understanding that beneath our modern guises we all belong to one tribe or another would help us face not just the problems of our nation but of our individual lives as well.

Well-researched and compellingly written, this timely look at how veterans react to coming home will reconceive our approach to veteran’s affairs and help us to repair our current social dynamic.

182 pages, Kindle Edition

First published June 21, 2016

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About the author

Sebastian Junger

55 books2,370 followers
Sebastian Junger is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of War, The Perfect Storm, Fire, and A Death in Belmont. Together with Tim Hetherington, he directed the Academy Award-nominated film Restrepo, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. He is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and has been awarded a National Magazine Award and an SAIS Novartis Prize for journalism. He lives in New York City.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,069 reviews
May 30, 2019
Junger has his head in the clouds about Native American tribes. Their life was so idyllic that even white prisoners would refuse to return to their communities etc. It's all so... romantic and New Age and spiritual and even paleo. He ignores the fact that each tribe had a different culture and a great many were warlike and peace was often kept between different tribes because their methods of torture were so extreme. Similarly the position of women within the tribes varied from near-equality to utter subjugation. But then Junger is not concerned about women at all, this, like War is a book about men.

Junger is better discussing the troops coming home from Afghanistan and the Middle East with the difficulties of adjustment necessary when moving from the tribe of the military, a 'boy's club' back into the mainland and family 'tribe' and especially if they had been physically or psychologically damaged.

The book, to me, was not in the same class as the absolutely brilliant almost flawless War.

Yesterday [This is a while back now] I had a friend request saying that he didn't want to friend me just to tell me that he objected to my review being so prominent when it was wrong, crap etc. as the author hadn't meant what I said. I didn't read the rest of the long wodge of no doubt insulting text but the ending was that he was flagging the review.

I ignored his FR and wrote back tl;dr. He replied (although I don't know how he got through the privacy settings and blocks) some more troll stuff and that I was wrong, bad etc. I replied that he failed to understand that reviews on Goodreads were opinions and my interpretation,my opinion was as good as anyone else's. But I should have written how did he know what Junger 'really' meant? A clairvoyant in his own head, no doubt.
Profile Image for Greta G.
337 reviews243 followers
December 11, 2018
A nostalgic and masculist view on group behaviour and PTSD.

Junger promotes a more tribal lifestyle and he thinks we all need hardship, catastrophes and war in order to connect with others.
I think he confuses cause and effect. While it seems true that a tight-knit community can be preventive or therapeutic in case of hardship; war and other tragedies will surely generate more trauma.

I could hardly finish this short book and he certainly didn't convince me. His arguments felt too simplistic. Life is more complex, as are trauma's.

The book is thought provoking, but Junger forgot to mention that tribes don't have libraries nor bookstores!
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,738 reviews14.1k followers
June 3, 2016
Proves the adage that good things can come in small packages. In this short book, not a wasted word, Junger combines memoir, journalism and scholarly writing to give us a book that makes one think about where our society has been and where it is heading. Tackles the tough subjects of the rising rate of mental illness and PTSD that many in our society are experiencing. Starting at the beginning with the Native Americans and their society that celebrated communal living. Warning us of the selfishness and lack of connection that our way of living has fostered and the results that many continue to live with. Informative and thought provoking, made such alot of sense to me as I am sure it will do for many. So glad I read this one.
Profile Image for Matt.
919 reviews28.3k followers
March 2, 2018
“Robert Frost famously wrote that home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. The word ‘tribe’ is far harder to define, but a start might be the people you feel compelled to share the last of your food with…This book is about why that sentiment is such a rare and precious thing in modern society, and how the lack of it has affected us all. It’s about what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty and belonging and the eternal quest for meaning…”
- Sebastian Junger, Tribe

Tribe is like the best bar conversation you’ve ever had. I can almost imagine this is how it came about: Sebastian Junger hunched over his whisky neat, holding court like some rugged Malcolm Gladwell with a five o’clock shadow, sharing his vast insights with an inimitable growl that combines both Wesleyan and war. Like most bar conversations, especially if you’ve had a few, Tribe initially feels deep and profound. When you think about it more, though, especially in the cold and sober light of day, you start to question that first impression. Most people forget their bar conversations by the next morning. Sebastian Junger turned his into a book.

The thesis of Tribe is straightforward. Junger believes that the reason we’re all so unhappy and dissatisfied with modern society is because we don’t feel necessary, and we don’t feel necessary because we’re isolated and disconnected and aren’t a part of anything larger than ourselves. In his introduction, Junger mentions that for many people, war and disasters are “remembered more fondly than weddings and tropical vacations.” Thus, the first of many questions I found myself asking was: Really? Is that actually what’s ailing us all? We need more war and less paid time off? Do you have proof of this?

If Junger does have supporting documentation, he does not provide it. Instead, he accepts as a given that modern society is in shambles, and proceeds to tell us why. The discussion that follows comprises 136 pages of text in my scaled down hardcover version. This is too short for a thorough and substantiated discussion, and too long for a tightly argued New Yorker article, which partially saps it of some of the force it might otherwise have carried.

Before I go any further, a disclaimer is in order. I did not hate this book. That’s far too strong a word. I appreciated it as a conversation starter. I think it is loaded with insights and useful provocations. It may not actually be the result of a bar-stool disquisition, but you can definitely use it to start any number of debates. With that said, I'm not a huge fan, and I ultimately found Tribe problematic for a number of reasons.

Junger has never lacked for confidence, and he writes with an authority bordering on smugness that he is correct in all respects. However, his book is far from empirically based or rigorously argued. To the contrary, Junger’s assertions are supported by a mélange of personal anecdotes, random scholarly studies, some personal interviews, and a bit of secondary reading.

Junger traffics in really broad generalizations, and in drawing really specific conclusions from them. In the first couple pages of Tribe, he reduces hundreds of individual American Indian cultures into a single entity he refers to, on several occasions, as “Stone-Age tribes.” He then uses a quote by Benjamin Franklin, and some incidences of whites choosing to live among the Indians, as some sort of proof of an evolutionary need to live in a certain way. This doesn’t prove anything. It does, however, confuse me as to what definition of “tribe” Junger is using. Is it living simply, at a subsistence level, which he implies on several occasions? Or is it deriving meaning, by being part of a group, of mattering to a group, as he implies on several other occasions?

Much of Tribe is based on Junger proving something by relating a story from his own life. It goes something like this: “Once, when I was in [insert interesting location], I met [insert interesting figure] and then [insert interesting occurrence].” After describing the situation, whether it’s hitchhiking outside Wyoming, or in a bar in Pamplona, Junger will extrapolate that personal experience into a universal value. This is just fine in a conversation over beers; it works less well when packaged in a book by a writer who is attempting to position himself as a public intellectual.

This is not to say that Tribe is void of research. It is not. The source notes are filled with scholarly articles, studies, and interviews. Still, there are times when Junger’s attempts to buttress his arguments with hard facts and statistics is pretty shaky. For instance, Junger indulges a discussion about how men are more likely than women to become a bystander-rescuer. In order to support this, he cites a “century of records at the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission.” Okay, fine. What is that? Does its records comprise a statistically relevant sample such that you can make those generalizations? These aren’t rhetorical questions. These are actual questions I had, while reading, that Junger doesn’t bother to answer.

Tribe is presented as a kind of revelation. But it didn't feel revelatory. Many of Junger’s propositions have been made before, and often. His descriptions about the intense bonds and comradeship of soldiers is well taken, and something Junger has documented before, in his film Restrepo. Yet, this notion is as old as war itself, and famously endorsed by Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day speech in Henry V. There is a chapter on societies coming together in the wake of natural or human-made disasters, and how that edified the survivors. Again, though, this is well-trod ground. In 2009, Rebecca Solnit wrote a whole book about the phenomena, called A Paradise Built in Hell. Junger takes these old ideas and attempts to stitch them together into something new in a way that is not entirely convincing.

Structurally, this is all over the place. Tribe is replete with digressions and tangents. These side-paths meandered far afield from Junger’s theme, leaving me with the sense that Tribe works better as a collection of talking points than a single coherent piece. For instance, Junger gives an extended (and quite fascinating) take on PTSD. He starts with the relevant observation that PTSD may be a result of the sudden loss of closeness that fighting men and women experienced in their units once they returned home. Eventually, though, Junger moves away from this, and begins discussing other things, such as the proper treatment of PTSD, the seriousness of PTSD, whether PTSD is turning soldiers into victims, and whether soldiers are using PTSD to defraud the government. He starts in one place, and ends somewhere completely different.

I understand that I am probably in the minority when it comes to rating Tribe. As such, I hasten to add that I have always been a big fan of Sebastian Junger. The Perfect Storm is on my all-time top ten list. He is an excellent writer, with a clear and crisp style that demonstrates his obvious curiosity and his eagerness to show what he’s learned. Tribe is consistently engaging, and Junger is a natural storyteller. I certainly don’t recommend avoiding this. It is a pocket-sized book that can be consumed in a single sitting.

Perhaps the thing that most negatively affected my experience with Tribe is the dark subtext that Junger never dispels. To wit: That war is a positive force that is necessary to give us meaning. Sure, he pays lip service to the millions of people who have died in wars (and other catastrophic calamities), but in Junger’s telling, that suffering and misery pales in comparison to the full actualization of the survivors.

I don’t disagree with Junger on the importance of “tribes” or community. I differ with him that these things don’t exist outside of wars or disaster zones.

Shortly after finishing Tribe, I happened to watch the series finale of the U.S. version of The Office on Comedy Central. Set in a run-of-the-mill paper company, the show was delivered as a faux-documentary on the American workplace. In the last few minutes of the finale, the various characters give their valedictory interviews. “It all seems so very arbitrary,” an eccentric named Creed Bratton says to the camera. “I applied for a job at this company because they were hiring. I took a desk at the back because it was empty. But no matter how you get there or where you end up, humans have this miraculous gift to make that place home.


I don’t know where Junger is looking, but I see communities, tribes, families, everywhere I look. In the morning, I drop my kids off at daycare, which is run by a church. Every morning there are older men and women in the meeting rooms, stuffing envelopes or running committees or maybe just hanging out. That is a tribe. Every weekday, I go to my job, a job, I might add, that I often hate, but also a job where I’ve met some of my best friends. The other night, we had a retirement party for someone who’d left after thirty years. The party was packed. That is a tribe. During the baseball season, I read a blog dedicated to the St. Louis Cardinals. Hundreds of people gather online to chat sabermetrics and xWAR and prospect profiles. That is a tribe. This book was foisted upon me by the Eastern Nebraska Men’s Biblio & Social Club (a.k.a. my book club). We get together once a month, we drink, we eat, and we talk books. And drink some more. That is a tribe.

Maybe the thing that bothered me most about Tribe is that Junger and I are looking out at the same world and seeing – or not seeing – vastly different things. I have never been accused of being an optimist, but this worldview is too grim for me. Junger only gives validity to those communities that spring from catastrophe, when in fact, marvelous communities arise every single day, in the most ordinary of places, in the most ordinary of ways.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,510 followers
August 3, 2016
Junger has an appealing message. That humans have evolved a high order of altruism associated with our tribal social nature which leads us to be willing to take great risks to save another member of the tribe. In many circumstances people are willing to sacrifice themselves for total strangers. Time and again when disasters like earthquakes occur the vast majority of people relinquish all sense of selfishness and pitch in to help. In specific examples like the Blitz of daily bombing of London by the Luftwaffe, the Bosnia civil war, or Nova Scotian miners of Springhill trapped underground, all sense of class and racial distinctions disappear, and a special form of teamwork emerges that expands upon our tribal nature. Qualitative differences may be seen between more immediate physical actions to save others and a more persistent empathetic form of moral courage, roles that often are filled by men and women, respectively. Our tribalism is tied up with a capability to wage war, and, as he emphasized in his outstanding book on an American company fighting in Afghanistan, “War”, the men were sustained in their heroic efforts from their bonds with their immediate buddies and peers and not from a sense of fighting for their country. When the special state of unity is lost with the return from war or the recovery of society from a natural disaster, the recovery from trauma is tragically challenged by the relative isolation and alienation of modern society compared to hunter gatherer societies. PTSD abounds. We can’t go back to living like Native Americans or bushmen of the Kalihari, but we could do a better job in socially validating the experience of those who fight in our wars or survive disasters.

For many these ideas may come across as fresh and accessible. For me as a former scientist I am wary about sweeping generalizations about the foundations of phenomena like altruism, mental illness, and war. The evolution of social behavior is a speculative enterprise, and the diagnosis of the fundamental ills of our present society on the basis of poorly founded inferences about the biology of human nature needs either a more humble outlook or a more systematic construction of argument. Junger adds a bibliography of studies in the back of the book, but rarely makes reference to them in any critical way. Still, I do like the fermentation of ideas and courage of arguments in an essay on important topics like these.
Profile Image for Allison Goulet-Scott.
9 reviews11 followers
December 13, 2016
There are many good ideas in this book, including disorders of trauma as disorders of integration, isolation, and group dynamic, however I had too many issues with the way this story was told to fully embrace the important message it meant to convey.
When I read “tribe” in this book, I imagine only men. Men at war, men at work at construction sites, male aggression, and male friendship. Where are the women? His main example of a “female” style of leadership is about … MEN! (The dual roles taken by men stuck in a collapsed coal mine.) If what Junger implies is true and there are differences to the gender roles in close-knit societies, especially in times of stress, I would like to read more about the female experience and female sacrifice. Even in the Bosnian war story, Ahmetasevic’s quotes were largely centered around the men, taking no account of what the women did when they were alone. The military, for example, would be a fantastic place to expand on the leadership roles and altruistic behavior of women. Yes, historically the military has been a male-dominated institution, however when he is talking about contemporary PTSD statistics, we have to recognize the existence of women in the military. This could have been a chance to explore the potential further isolation caused by being women in a historically “man’s world.” Do they fare better on return because of their female friendships and support systems? Or do they fare worse, because we tend to ignore the existence of female veterans, as this book does? By not discussing women, he misses a potential opportunity to strengthen his argument. If we are to truly become the functioning society that Junger imagines - communal and supportive - I should hope we include the experiences of both/all genders.
Additionally, Junger fails in his attempts to invoke science to support his claims by either being inconsistent with his analogies or getting the analogies wrong altogether. In the chapter, War Makes you an Animal, I struggle to understand if Junger believes that the “tribe” society is an animal behavior, or a human one. In a confusing misuse of biology, he sites group selection as a basis for altruism, an idea generally discredited by evolutionary biologists, except in eusocial animals like bees, ants, or termites (see Dawkins’ “Selfish Gene”; John Maynard Smith 1964; Abbott et al 2011). By writing, “[altruistic choices] are profound acts of selflessness that distinguish us from all other mammals, including the higher primates we are so closely related to,” and that “risking male lives to save female lives makes enormous evolutionary sense,” Junger claims that it is the evolutionary course that pushed humans toward acts of heroism, as we have evolved past our close relations towards greater group unity. But, at the same time, he writes, “virtually all mammals seem to benefit from companionship; even lab rats recover more quickly from trauma if they are caged with other rats rather than alone.” This is true because, as scientists who study them know, rats are social mammals, however many mammals (male deer, most big cats, etc.) are predominantly solitary, and prefer to be. So, I still don’t understand, is being part of a tribe what makes us animals? Or makes us human? In another, unrelated, but equally vexing quote, Junger describes a “state of hyperarousal” as having a “firm basis in the neurobiology of the brain.” A vague hand waving in the direction of an authority called “science,” though this fact means nothing without further discussion.
It is too bad Junger doesn’t research the science as thoroughly as researches the history of war and experiences of soldiers. It has made the reading much less enjoyable than I had anticipated picking it up.
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,294 reviews21.7k followers
April 10, 2019
I’ve started this review twice now – I’m really not sure what to say about this book.

Benjamin Franklin has been quoted in a few books I’ve read recently where he explains the problem of people seeming to like Native American life-styles over European ones. This certainly wasn’t what he expected. But there was lots of evidence of Europeans running off and joining Native American tribes, but precious few of Native Americans willingly joining European cities – and even when they did, they tended to run off at the first opportunity. And worse, there are even photos of white children crying at the prospect of being returned to white society. Even back then, when we might have thought there was stronger community ties within European cultures, this still paled in comparison to Native cultures.

I have no problem with this idea. I think Western culture has become far too obsessed with ‘the individual’ and that this is causing deep scars to our psyche. I’ve read quite a few books lately about the horrific growth in stress, mental health issues and plain old emotional exhaustion that is now rampant in our societies. And we’ve known since Durkheim’s Suicide that societies that are more community minded have lower rates of suicide than more individualistic ones. It is not as if this should come as a surprise to anyone, I guess. But the thing this book does particularly well is to how that going off with a Native tribe isn’t the only way to feel like you belong in a society. Horribly, being the victim of war, or killing people as part of a war effort, or being involved in a natural catastrophe also prove good ways to make people feel like they belong and to improve their well-being.

I’m stating this quite so boldly because I think it might be a bit easy to get the wrong message from this book. I was thinking before that years ago I read something by Nietzsche where he said something like in times of war not only does the suicide rate go down, but people don’t die of diseases nearly as much either. This was probably made up by him to make some other point, of course – and that being that the superman needs to be in a constant state of war and that all sickness is due to democracy and blah, blah… but what is being said here is significantly different.

Basically, it is saying that our societies are highly hierarchical, so much so that it places nearly unbearable stress on most people in society, but particularly those towards the bottom of the hierarchy. This was shown in some research done on public servants in England. Anyway, the point is that when a catastrophe happens, like the Blitz during WW2, people become basically just people. The hierarchies fall away – and people feel as if they belong. And often that becomes remembered as the ‘best’ part of their lives.

Think about that for a second. We have created societies that are so dysfunctional, so intrinsically anti-human, that for many people the best time of their lives was when they were starving and likely to be bombed at any moment.

Like I said, I’ve been reading lots of books lately about how our society causes mental health issues for far too many people. We really do need to take heed. I’ve said it before, but I truly believe this – building community is a revolutionary act. We need more of it.
Profile Image for Monica.
594 reviews622 followers
July 19, 2017
**Warning: This review may be longer than the entire book.**

Interesting and thought provoking; if not entirely convincing. On the one hand, some very compelling ideas about the feeling of smaller, close knit communities and how they can foster and encourage good mental health and enhance happiness. On the other hand, Junger for the most part, blames wealth and technological advances for the moral decline of America. While not without evidence, it's still an arduous climb to get to where he wants you to go. Mostly because I'm not exactly sure where he wants to go.

So this was in the forward:
I do not use footnotes because this is not an academic book and footnotes can interfere with the ease of reading. Nevertheless, I felt that certain scientific studies about modern society, about combat, and about post-traumatic stress disorder had the potential to greatly surprise or even upset some readers. [sic] After giving the matter much thought, I decided that doing so was within my journalistic standards as long as I was clear with my readers about my lack of documentation.
I read this as "caveat emptor" aka brace yourself for some unsubstantiated and perhaps unpalatable bull pucky.

I approached with the appropriate (in my mind) amount of trepidation and what I found was a philosophical potpourri, some of which I suspect to be true (which perhaps demonstrates some bias in me) and some of which details the bias of the author. Junger starts out with a very compelling premise about the nature of communities. His premise boiled down to the idea that smaller, simpler communities were better for mankind in all the ways that matter (spiritually, physically, psychologically). Basically he asserts that the small communities are more egalitarian and force everyone to do their fair share and promotes a view for the common good rather than for self. The bulk of his proof stemmed from the pioneer days where most of the kidnapped settlers ended up preferring the Indian way of life to the European. From the book summary:
Benjamin Franklin lamented that English settlers were constantly fleeing over to the Indians-but Indians almost never did the same.
Junger felt like the pioneers had too much technology and materialism.
First agriculture, and then industry, changed two fundamental things about the human experience. The accumulation of personal property allowed people to make more and more individualistic choices about their lives, and those choices unavoidably diminished group efforts toward a common good.
And in all honesty, philosophically that resonates with me. Fast forward to modern times with our big cities and high tech and wow have we faltered…
Although happiness is notoriously subjective and difficult to measure, mental illness is not. Numerous cross-cultural studies have shown that modern society—despite its nearly miraculous advances in medicine, science, and technology—is afflicted with some of the highest rates of depression, schizophrenia, poor health, anxiety, and chronic loneliness in human history. As affluence and urbanization rise in a society, rates of depression and suicide tend to go up rather than down.
It is as this point that I remember "caveat emptor" because wow that is some unsubstantiated stuff. Though I can admit that it feels very true, the intellectual part of me that thinks that he's wildly extrapolating and/or misinterpreting studies and data aka manipulating to influence thought, though I can't prove it because he has very few notes. But I enjoyed the journey. Junger goes on to say that natural disasters and warfare (in other words stressors) make communities closer and more egalitarian. No he is not advocating for war, he is presenting an observation:
Communities that have been devastated by natural or man-made disasters almost never lapse into chaos and disorder; if anything, they become more just, more egalitarian, and more deliberately fair to individuals.
According to Junger (and it again "feels" true)
If anything, he found that social bonds were reinforced during disasters, and that people overwhelmingly devoted their energies toward the good of the community rather than just themselves.
He by the way seems to think that being poor is in the realm of natural disaster and warfare (again "feels" true, but also biased and unsubstantiated)
The mechanism seems simple: poor people are forced to share their time and resources more than wealthy people are, and as a result they live in closer communities.
But things get a little tilted as Junger continues to assault modern society
Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.
Financial independence can lead to isolation, and isolation can put people at a greatly increased risk of depression and suicide.
The beauty and the tragedy of the modern world is that it eliminates many situations that require people to demonstrate a commitment to the collective good.
As modern society reduced the role of community, it simultaneously elevated the role of authority.

It's at this point that Junger tries to tie the concept of tribalism to military veterans specifically those with PTSD. While I think he had some interesting concepts about the nature of mankind in small communities versus the cities today, I really think he struggled with trying to link veterans. I understand his point about military units being a bit like tribes and how most members of the unit are more concerned with the success of their comrades than themselves. As an ex-military member I know this to be similar to my own experiences. However Junger takes it to a very weird place. Ostensibly he is talking about the type of communities that the veterans return to.
Such public meaning is probably not generated by the kinds of formulaic phrases, such as “Thank you for your service,” that many Americans now feel compelled to offer soldiers and vets. Neither is it generated by honoring vets at sporting events, allowing them to board planes first, or giving them minor discounts at stores. If anything, these token acts only deepen the chasm between the military and civilian populations by highlighting the fact that some people serve their country but the vast majority don’t.
Junger seems to be talking almost exclusively about combat veterans not the entire military, however he doesn't seem to know there is a distinction. His references are to a shared trauma that binds veterans but he also has this rather stunning negativity towards veterans.
The one way that soldiers are never allowed to see themselves during deployment is as victims, because the passivity of victimhood can get them killed. It’s yelled, beaten, and drilled out of them long before they get close to the battlefield. But when they come home they find themselves being viewed so sympathetically that they’re often excused from having to fully function in society.
and those folks familiar with Hillbilly Elegy may find this thinking a little familiar:
Instead of being able to work and contribute to society—a highly therapeutic thing to do—a large percentage of veterans are just offered lifelong disability payments. And they accept, of course—why shouldn’t they? A society that doesn’t distinguish between degrees of trauma can’t expect its warriors to, either.
Essentially, he's saying that veterans are not that different than other traumatic experiences in life and he's not sure they deserve special dispensation.
The public is often accused of being disconnected from its military, but frankly it’s disconnected from just about everything. Farming, mineral extraction, gas and oil production, bulk cargo transport, logging, fishing, infrastructure construction—all the industries that keep the nation going are mostly unacknowledged by the people who depend on them most.
In Jungers view, being a warrior is just another job within the community (tribe) and should be treated in the same way as other occupations. Again, incredibly thought provoking, and again "feels" like a ton of manipulation of data and intellectual bullying to arrive there.

A lot of what Junger said resonated with me. But I read enough to know he was catering to my biases in order to arrive at a place that he wanted to go. Frankly there was a lot of hidden messaging in the book that I picked up on. The contention that a "good" community is a small community where everyone only does things that help the community. Smacks of two things, isolationism and rural America is the only America that counts with just a smidgen of white nationalism. Also throughout the book there was a bit of an assertion of masculinity. There's the statement that
It may say something about human nature that a surprising number of Americans—mostly men—wound up joining Indian society rather than staying in their own.
or the
To the extent that boys are drawn to war, it may be less out of an interest in violence than a longing for the kind of maturity and respect that often come with it.
The book is peppered with such examples that indicate to me that Junger is concerned about the patriarchy. By the way, all of the veterans that he refers to are men. My earworm reading this book was "I'm a maaan, yes I am and I can't help but let you know…" Yes, I know that isn't the real lyric. Look, it's my earworm…

3.5 conflicted Stars rounded up because I was completely fascinated

It's a short read that is well worth a look, but with a watchful eye...

Read on my kindle.
Profile Image for Sam Quixote.
4,486 reviews12.8k followers
October 18, 2017
Is Western civilization the pinnacle of human achievement? In Tribe, Sebastian Junger questions this notion by looking at, among other examples, why colonial Americans left behind the burgeoning settlements to live with the tribal Indians; why, as technological advances have sped up over time (and accelerate still faster today), we are all “connected” and yet more and more of us feel isolated, depressed and unsatisfied with life in the Information Age; and why comfort is killing us and, rather than avoiding it, hardship and intense trauma like war can be the greatest and most cherished experiences life can offer.

Loved it. Sebastian Junger’s done it again (check out his last book, War, for an equally remarkable and powerful read)! Tribe is a fantastic book that’s very relevant to our time, containing a lot of useful insights on our turbulent era.

Junger manages to tackle the enormously complex and deeply important issue of societal disconnection, and break it down clearly, accessibly and compellingly. His thesis is that humans need three main things to be happy: struggle, community and purpose, and that the lack of these things in the West is why so many people today feel unfulfilled and directionless.

And it’s a convincing argument, backed up with several fascinating examples. Junger covered the Bosnian war back in the ‘90s and went back to Sarajevo to interview the survivors who said that was the happiest time of their lives! Everyone was forced to live together, pool their resources so they could all survive, and all other worries were pushed aside as peripheral. And this is a sentiment echoed from survivors of the Blitz in WW2 to soldiers from the most recent Gulf war. There are also studies showing depression and suicide decrease in the wake of tragedies like 9/11 or devastating natural disasters.

And it’s because you’re suddenly and viscerally reminded how small and trivial everyday bullshit is when you’re surrounded by death, deprivation and suffering and you realise what’s important is your common humanity with others around you. Junger talks about the military’s “brotherhood of pain” where soldiers are united by their circumstances which goes back to the plains Indians with their clearly defined roles and how there is a base need for this kind of close unity with others and a shared purpose in all humans. This need is ignored by most people in the West today to our psychological, emotional and physical detriment. In the words of anthropologist Sharon Abramowitz, today “we are an antihuman society”.

The most striking observation Junger makes is how Western society needs to more fully recognise the military as part of the everyday rather than single it out as separate and other. He mentions how in other cultures, like in Israel where military service is mandatory, there’s far less post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because that aspect of their society is a big part of ordinary life. Whereas in America soldiers are very clearly singled out, for better or worse, and that this distinction can be harmful when it comes to reintegrating back into civilian life.

Because life is too comfortable now and most people don’t suffer violence or trauma (at least not on the same level as soldiers), we highlight those who do and view them as unfortunate victims, making them feel alienated from the rest of us. Obviously there are legitimate cases of PTSD among veterans but if the idea that all veterans are assumed to be victims with PTSD, it almost forces them into the role of victims in order to claim disability (disability claims have gone up inordinately for vets while casualties have gone down). This renders them useless going forward because they won’t be able to have jobs and disconnects them further from society and the country they fought for. Junger poetically notes that while these people were willing to die for their country, they don’t know how to live for it.

Even if you don’t agree with Junger’s conclusions, which I absolutely do - and it’s hard not to, particularly with the recent case of the Las Vegas shootings; who else but someone so profoundly disconnected from his fellow man could do something so unthinkably brutal? And that’s just the latest atrocity - mass shootings have been an American fixture for decades now! - it’s worth taking to heart the egalitarian message. To make your community better for everyone by caring beyond our immediate family and close circle of friends, to stop focusing on our differences and look to our similarities, and realize that we could learn from less “civilized” societies, that the West haven’t gotten everything right.

Technological change is great but it’s a mixed blessing; in many ways it’s made our lives better and, in some, worse. And as technology continues to rapidly change, year after year, it’s worth remembering that human nature doesn’t change as fast and that we shouldn’t ignore our basic nature and needs. Struggle and recognise it - you’re alive, this is temporary, so live while you have the chance. Help others because it’s right or for no other reason than to make yourself feel better. And in those actions, you’ll find purpose and satisfaction.

I could go on a lot more but I’ll stop here and encourage you to read it for yourself, that is if any of this struck a chord. I found Tribe to be a fascinating, brilliant book full of thoughtful new ideas (to me at least) and rewarding and enlightening information with an inspiring message at its core.
Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,079 reviews712 followers
March 14, 2017
This book provides a convincing articulation of reasons why modern society is ill suited to the innate social needs of homo sapiens (i.e. human beings). Our ancestors lived—and evolved—many thousands of years in hunter gatherer groups that were closely bonded together in a cooperative bond in order to survive dangerous surroundings. Everybody in the group knew that they were dependent on others, and the group expected loyalty, cooperation, and sharing of resources from individuals in the group.

Modern society in contrast emphasizes competitive individualism, and the sharing of resources is generally limited to the family and sometimes extended family. The mismatch between this modern environment and innate human social needs can lead to clinical depression, anxiety and chronic loneliness.

The book begins with observations made by American colonialists that there was something about the life of the indigenous peoples that was very attractive to some people of European ancestry. Benjamin Franklin observed the phenomenon in 1753, writing, “When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and make one Indian ramble with them, there is no persuading him ever to return.” In contrast to this there were many examples of kidnapped young whites who after living with the native Americans for several years did not want to return to white Colonial life. Colonial society was richer and more advanced, and yet people were voting with their feet the other way.

On a personal note let me mention here that I had an ancestor who was taken captive during the French-Indian War and resisted returning to "civilized" life. THIS LINK is to my review of a historical novel based upon the facts of my ancestor's life.

Next the book moves on to various examples of war and times of great stress during which rates of depression dropped, differences in status were erased, and a spirit of cooperation prevailed. The examples include the London blitz and Siege of Sarajevo. In these and other cases the author quotes people who lived through these horrific events who expressed nostalgia for the spirit of group common purpose that prevailed at the time.

What those events have in common with aboriginal tribal life is the low differences in status and wide spread sharing of resources. These conditions are lacking in modern industrial societies.

Then the book moves on to the experiences of American soldiers returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The prevalence of PTSD is way off the charts. The book explains that PTSD is primarily a maladjustment of return to American society. Veterans suffering from PTSD are having difficulty separating the danger of war from its pleasures. Returning soldiers are leaving an environment of group living where they have been sleeping and working together while being surrounded by danger. A close-knit group of fellow warriors returning to a highly individualised and fractured civilian world is “deeply brutalising to the human spirit”.

The author then explains reasons why American life is probably the most difficult society in the world for a combat veteran to return to. He compares the incidence of PTSD in Americans with veterans of other nations—Israel in particular—and then explains reasons for the differences.

The author points to the American disparity of wealth and income and the lack of jobs for returning soldiers as glaringly examples of lack of sharing and support in our society that differentiates it from a tribal society. The author makes scathing comments regarding the money market and fund managers who wrecked the economy in 2008 and received bonuses instead of prison sentences.

The contrast described in this book between what's needed and what's actually provided to the returning soldier I found to be emotionally moving. Surprisingly, the author suggests that saying "thank you for your service" makes matters worse by reinforcing the differences between civilians and military. If you want to understand the author's reasoning on this issue I suggest you read the book rather than asking me to explain.

Here's a link to a N.Y. Times article written by David Brooks published August 9, 2016 titled "The Great Affluence Fallacy" in which he references this book:
I first learned about this book from the above article.

Here's a link to another N.Y. Times article on a related subject titled "How Social Isolation Is Killing Us."
Profile Image for Otis Chandler.
388 reviews113k followers
February 9, 2017
A fascinating book about community and belonging, and how modern society has moved us away from our roots in potentially signifiant ways. The book opens with a thought provoking fact: in early America, there were numerous instances of white people joining primitive, native Indian societies - but zero instances of the opposite, because "the intensely communal nature of an Indian tribe held an appeal that the material benefits of Western civilization couldn’t necessarily compete with."

The book also argues that the wealth we enjoy in modern society is isolating, against the grain of millions of years of our evolution, and can lead to depression, because our happiness is in large part rooted in a need to feel connected to others. While this feels right and intuitive, it doesn't seem to be the way we are optimizing our lives.

"A wealthy person who has never had to rely on help and resources from his community is leading a privileged life that falls way outside more than a million years of human experience. Financial independence can lead to isolation, and isolation can put people at a greatly increased risk of depression and suicide. This might be a fair trade for a generally wealthier society— but a trade it is."

Another loss the book points out is the loss of the transparency and social justice that being in a small community used to bring. When your neighbors and community members all know each other and what is going on with each other, group peer pressure tends to reward good actions and punish bad ones. The book points out that people wouldn't for instance cheat unemployment if their neighbors were paying for it and everyone knew what was happening. In anonymity we have lost a sense of responsibility to each other.

Another data point about the power of human connection that a disaster, such as a war, can bring to a society. Junger talked about this in a recent guest post on the Goodreads blog, saying "Time and time again in history, civilians have forged incredibly strong bonds in the face of wars and earthquakes and floods and gone on to miss those heady times of cooperation. Also demonstrating the power of bonding is the fact that one of the most devastating thing a soldier can face is the loss of a buddy. "Interestingly, a strong bonding experience can also lead to social change - for instance: "The coming-together that societies often experience during catastrophes is usually temporary, but sometimes the effect can last years or even decades. British historians have linked the hardships of the Blitz— and the social unity that followed— to a landslide vote that brought the Labour Party into power in 1945 and eventually gave the United Kingdom national health care and a strong welfare state."

The book basically concludes that the largest cost or risk of modern society is the loss of community. This is something worth giving a lot of thought in terms of our priorities.
Profile Image for Kelsey Dangelo-Worth.
474 reviews9 followers
April 10, 2019
Junger, a war correspondent and world traveler, seeks to promote tribal life, as seen both historically and currently in American Indian and aboriginal groups around the world, as well as in the military. He blames individualism (in terms of hurting the society, such as in alienation and in greed) for the ills of society (mainly in terms of mental illness).

Although I greatly admire Junger’s points, and I do strongly wish for a greater sense of altruism, selflessness, and community belonging in the world—particularly in terms of our tragic greed, I have many issues with this book. There are sweeping generalizations in much of what he says (none of which is footnoted, and also comes from his memory, observations, and conversations—much of which feels cherry-picked). Sweeping generalizations and glaring holes of logic and understanding, of judgement are always off-putting to me. Life, human life, is so much more complicated.

First of all and most of all, I am frustrated by Junger’s glorification of violence, war and misery, saying that humans thrive on it and that it is good for them. I believe his reason is because he wants us to know that we can survive and thrive from the bad things in our life, but his prose and writing fail to make that clear. He neglects to note that fear is what keeps tribes together, and fear might be helpful in the moment, but it isn’t particularly a great way to live, or even a successful way of life. Art, culture, free thinking, technology, medicine, freedoms, and acceptance do not thrive in fear. And that is a giant blind spot in Junger’s book: if terror creates unity, then where does that terror come from? Often, if comes from “tribes” warring on other “tribes”, on outsiders.

I have major issues with the statistics and findings that he reports to support his points. He says there is less mental illness among the poor. Often because the poor cannot afford to get diagnosed and/or self-medicate. He says that there was much more togetherness during the Great Depression or World War II, but there was also segregation, violence, and incredible sexism. He doesn’t mention the myth of “the greatest generation”. Junger fails to note that with the loss of individualism comes incredibly painful conformity. He quotes Thomas Paine, but not John Stewart Mill. He idealizes American Indian tribes, but otherwise, most of his focus is on white men. Junger neglects to note the drawbacks of “tribal” thinking: what if you don’t fit into the tribe? His conclusions are incredibly simplistic: that communal societies are better than individualistic ones. I am always weary about conclusions like “better”, particularly when they are so simplistic. Junger, I notice, doesn’t bring up living in Japan, where the suicide and depression rates are incredibly high due to the stress of having to live up to the community or tribe. He doesn’t mention the communist block or Nazi Germany or Puritanical England. He also fails to mention the “Springer effect” (so called by The Dollop) observed over and over in history: in the face of discrimination and being terrorized, two groups will fight each other. It doesn’t often cause bonding together against a foe. He also provides no ways or solutions for communities to come together. Are we all just supposed to ignore individual freedoms? Or is he talking about everyone just trying to help each other more? The answers aren’t clear, and it is confusing.

I am also incredibly turned off by the sexism/male-centrism in the book. I understand that we are a gendered species, but this book’s focus was almost completely on men. It was about men’s need to be heroes, to go to war, to serve, to protect, and their feelings of identity and belonging due to those feelings. If a man doesn’t, then he is a playing the woman’s role. The few times when studies or points on women are mentioned, they are dismissed because they don’t fit his points. For instance, he mentions that women’s depression rates rise during war time, but because they don’t commit suicide, he dismisses it and moves on. Maybe that is because their men are warring and their children and loved ones and selves are in danger because they are put in a situation of being the helpless victim? Maybe because women don’t find a need to go fight in order to take care? The dismissal of half of humanity throughout this book was incredibly off-putting and worked against his points.

Also, I always get a little peeved with the old line: technology alienates us! Things were so much better back when! I live in a very loving, supportive, caring community, I work as a teacher in another loving and supportive community that takes care of each other. I see what is in place, I see how people help each other. I have helped and receive help. And communications technology and online has brought that even further and give voices to people, break down barriers. I see a world that in my lifetimes has become much more understanding and accepting to LGBT people. Of course there are things we need to work on, but going backwards always seems problematic to me. Learn from the past, all its complications—good and bad—and move on.

His metaphors and analogies, his research and studies are inconsistent and often illogical. Junger often uses studies done at the moment of the terrorizing events and uses them to make long-term judgements.

Junger makes a wonderful point: that we need to come together as a community, take care of each other, be a tribe. But this isn’t balanced out against extremes. And, as an academic, I just can’t go along with a book that has bad writing, bad academics, bad history, bad science, bad statistics, bad psychology, bad sociology, bad anthropology, bad logic, that is simplistic and overly generalizes, is myopic in scope.

I did read that this is a think-piece from Vanity Fair. I suppose, if I went in understanding that, and reading it as food for thought over my morning cereal, I could forgive the pop-academia and just take it as something from Vanity Fair, rather than something to study and understand deeply. Take its message for the best, but don’t think too much about it.

The message: be part of the community and help each other, for your sake and everyone else’s.

“When people are actively engaged in a cause their lives have more purpose… with a resulting improvement in mental health.” (Lyons in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 1979 (The article I should have read.)

Grade: C
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,690 followers
December 31, 2018
"The economic and marketing forces of modern society have engineered an environment...that maximize[s] consumption at the long-term cost of well being."
- Brandon Hidaka, quoted in Sebastian Junger, Tribe


In a series of four essays that grew out of an article Junger wrote in 2015 for Vanity Fair called How PTSD Became A Problem Far Beyond The Battlefield, Junger explores how we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging, the quest for meaning, and strategies for surviving the communal issues that the modern world thrusts on us.

I liked this book more than I expected to. I was hoping for a series of essays written by a writer I respect for his clarity of prose and thought. Sebastian Junger holds a special place in my heart. He reminds me a bit of my little brother. They are both great writers, both have both written for Vanity Fair, share friends, share an affinity for Native Americans/American Indians* (my little brother loves the Jicarilla Apache). In fact Junger wrote a blurb for Matt's new book: American Cipher. So, it was nice to see part of the last chapter of this book deal (a bit) with Bowe Bergdahl.

But more than seeing my little brother in this book (which I do; Matt is a combat vet with PTSD), it was nice seeing an author not just attempt to diagnose some of the ills of our nation (there are plenty), but actually explore interesting and relevant answers. sometimes, I feel Junger gets close to PTSD but still just misses it. I’m sure I would miss the mark a bit too (because combat-based PTSD is really ONLY experienced and understood by those who have lived the trauma of combat). Anyway, there are few politicians that are doing this, so it is nice when I see writers take a stab at ideas to help heal and "thread back" the core aspects that might not have been extinguished from our nation, but are certainly (except in instances of disaster, war, or violence) hidden.

* I live in Arizona, roomed with a Navajo roomate my freshman year, have several Apache, Navajo, Métis, etc., friends. But I will be the first to tell you that I know so very little about so very much concerning these tribes that I am not going to claim to know if Junger gets things right, wrong, or insultingly wrong about some or all of his tribal information. Every year I try to learn more, become more exposed, and listen when I am corrected. What I can say, however, is I believe Junger's heart is directed in the right way and he is trying purposefully not to offend, but I'm always a bit nervous about claiming to know something I don't know.
Profile Image for Darlene.
370 reviews132 followers
June 6, 2018
"The Army might screw you and your girlfriend might dump you and the enemy might
kill you, but the shared commitment to safeguard one another's lives is unnegotiable
and only deepens with time. The willingness to die for another person is a form of love
that even religions fail to inspire, and the experience of it changes a person profoundly."
-Sebastian Junger- 'War'

I chose to begin this review with a quote from Sebastian Junger's honest but discomfiting book, War because I felt that what he wrote about in THAT book is closely tied to the theme of this book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. This book began as an article Mr. Junger wrote for the June 2015 issue of 'Vanity Fair' magazine entitled, "How PTSD Became a Problem Far Beyond the Battlefield". This book centers around an observation Mr. Junger made regarding returning service members from Afghanistan. He realized that for many veterans (and also himself) that their homecoming gives rise to mixed feelings... happy to be home and with loved ones again but also feeling isolated and directionless. For many veterans, being at war and deployed with their units, feels better than feeling purposeless at home; and many veterans express that they, in fact, miss the war and would like to return. Although these sentiments may be surprising to some, I have discovered in my reading that these sentiments are not uncommon at all. In fact, many books have been written discussing this very topic.... War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges; Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel; and Shooting Ghosts: A U.S. Marine, a Combat Photographer, and Their Journey Back from War by Finnbar O'Reilly and Thomas J. Brennan (to name a few). Over and over, veterans are expressing similar sentiments and reactions not only about their war experiences but also their feelings of isolation and their seeming inability to resume their civilian lives when returning home from deployment. Over the years, the lingering trauma and the inability to assimilate back into civilian society has been characterized as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder); however, Mr. Junger (and other authors of similar books) seem to be proposing that their may be another explanation for their feelings and their difficulties.

In this book, Sebastian Junger proposes several thought-provoking questions for readers to consider: "How do you become an adult in a society that doesn't ask for sacrifice?; How do you become a man in a world that doesn't require courage? ; and finally, Why has western society become so unappealing? " Drawing on the work of anthropologists and sociologists, Mr. Junger proposes an explanation for the isolation and disconnectedness that not only veterans, but also many people in the modern society as a whole, feel.

Mr. Junger begins to make his case by describing the evolution of human societies. When discussing the earliest societies.. the hunter gatherers... he describes this society as the most egalitarian. All members of society had to do their part or the society would not survive. Each day, members of the hunter gatherer society would set out to gather the food they could find and upon their return at the end of the day, the food was distributed equally among the members. This type of society placed emphasis on sharing because sharing resources was necessary for group survival. In addition, hunter gatherer societies never remained in one place for long and therefore, members could not accumulate more possessions than they could carry.

With the development of agricultural methods and later, industrialization, societies changed dramatically from their hunter gatherer roots. In these modern societies, people did not HAVE to rely on each other for their very own survival. Instead, people found they could live independently and could begin to make decisions and choices based on their own individual needs and desires. People in these modern societies could then theoretically accumulate wealth and property (although and it turns out, this was not possible in reality for all members of society) and could and DID choose to live away from others in the group. This inevitably has led to an unequal society... one without social cohesion or a common bond and shared experiences to hold them together.

Sociologists began to notice that in modern wealthy societies, people struggle with higher rates of depression, anxiety and loneliness. As the level of wealth in a society increases, and the level of inequality also increases, so do the rates of mental illness and suicide. These trends seem to reverse themselves only in times of crisis... such as natural or man-made disasters or war. National crisis appears to strengthen social bonds, making the rates of depression and suicide decrease.

So how does this discussion of the evolution of the modern society relate to returning veterans and how they experience their homecoming and even how they deal with the traumas experienced during war? Mr. Junger believes that when deployed, the soldiers' experience is one that is most similar to our evolutionary, egalitarian history (hunter gatherer). Soldiers in a unit are reliant on each other for their survival; they spend months sharing resources in close proximity. Their war experiences create a state of social cohesion that is just not present in their civilian lives. Also, the battlefield provides soldiers with a sense of meaning and purpose for their lives.. they are useful and productive. Unfortunately, many soldiers do not return home to these conditions. Instead, many soldiers return home to a society which has not been able to find a meaningful way to acknowledge the sacrifices and losses that were experienced by veterans in war.

Mr. Junger writes... " Today's veterans often come home to find that although they're willing to die for their country, they're not sure how to live for it. It's hard to know how to live for a country that regularly tears itself apart along every possible ethnic and demographic boundary. The income gap between rich and poor continues to widen, many people live in racially segregated communities, the elderly are mostly sequestered from public life and rampage shootings happen so regularly that they only remain in the news cycle for a day or two. To make matters worse, politicians accuse rivals of deliberately trying to harm their own country.. a charge destructive to group unity..... " .

I don't disagree with any of the facts presented by Sebastian Junger in this book. He meticulously constructed his case, discussing the evolution of societies; veterans' experiences with war and homecoming and finally, he even addressed how society can aid returning veterans in their struggle to find their place in civilian society. But I still wasn't entirely convinced by his arguments. I DO agree that our society is characterized by ever increasing levels of inequality, racial intolerance, horrifying mass murders and a toxic, non-functioning political environment. And I also believe that shared war experiences can be powerful and uniting forces for the men and women who serve in the military. But I don't entirely agree that PTSD can be so easily explained by simply lack of social cohesion. Yes, he does demonstrate how cohesive society was during World War II and directly after the war. But I admit to being bothered by what I perceived as Mr. Junger's seeming trivialization of PTSD and his implication that there are a (unknown) number of veterans who fabricate PTSD to collect lifelong disability benefits. he seemed at times to be subscribing to that old and outdated military code which told soldiers to 'suck it up' and 'tough it out' and most importantly, NEVER show weakness... directives which I had hoped were finally disappearing and were being replaced by compassion and a willingness to treat war trauma as something which required the help of the military AND society. Sadly, I think I may have been wrong. I can't explain PTSD but I find it difficult to believe that anyone would fabricate what seems like terrifying, unsettling experiences simply to collect a monthly disability check.

Although I agree with Sebastian Junger's characterization of modern society and all of its inequities, I found it difficult to connect his description of society with how veterans are experiencing trauma, war and coming home. I think he made too many intellectual leaps that just weren't backed up with hard evidence. And although I agree that people in society have become quite disconnected from each other and that this disconnection has led to widespread depression and loneliness, I am bothered by Mr. Junger's occasional and what seems like a bizarre wistfulness for national tragedy or disaster to occur to pull us all together again.. if only for a short time. It seems as if there should be a better way to accomplish this feeling of solidarity.

Having said all of this, I am still assigning 4 stars to this book because I think it provides a perfect starter for many important but difficult conversations that society needs to have. In particular, I liked Mr. Junger's suggestion that on every Veteran's Day in November, instead of waving flags, having parades and thanking veterans for their service in that commonly vague way, we should instead hold town hall meetings in every community and invite and encourage veterans to talk about their war experiences... no matter what those experiences might be and REALLY LISTEN to what they have to say. Man's endless search for meaning and belonging should not require perpetual war and national catastrophe; but in the United States, after 17 long years of war (and still counting), listening to a veteran seems like the very least society can do.
Profile Image for Louise.
1,649 reviews291 followers
January 8, 2017
Sebastian Junger poses that tribal societies had a strong sense of community and fairness because these values were necessary to survive. He poses that while tribal culture buffered its members against catastrophic loss (illness, death, violent weather) its sense of community was protection from what today we call PTSD. He makes his case mostly through anecdotes and a few statistics.

While there is a lot of food for thought in Junger’s anecdotes they have alternative interpretations. For instance, the introductory example was that colonials captured by Native Americans opted to stay with the tribe when freed, while Indians captured by settlers always wanted to return to their tribe. Tribal bonds may not be the sole reason. Other possible reasons: perhaps settlers had no home to return to. Female captives might have to leave children behind. Reasons Native Americans would want to return to the tribe could have been experiences with racism, preference for hunting vs. farming and not having the tools for settler society such as fluency in English, literacy and access to money.

Like the anecdotes, some data has wide open holes. The increasing isolation of modern life is not the only reason for the increase in PTSD, rising fraud in government programs such as Medicare or the decrease in crime at the time of natural disasters, but how big a role does it play?

There is a long (for the size of the book) list of resources, but the items are not footnoted to any of the content in the book.

Despite the breezy arguments, the thesis is worth thinking about. Why would a Sarajevo survivor miss living in those dangerous days? What are the differences of today’s soldiers returning from today’s battle theaters from those of previous wars? Are wars and catastrophes the only the causes of people pulling together in modern life?
Profile Image for Jean.
1,710 reviews742 followers
December 19, 2016
I have read several articles recently about our society’s problems with individualism. When I saw Junger’s short book on the subject, I thought it might give me a more in-depth viewpoint on the subject, which it did.

Junger tells of Benjamin Franklin’s 1753 observation that white prisoners of Native American Tribes when recused would run back to the Native American Tribe they had been with. But the situation never worked it reverse. Franklin concluded there was something wrong with our society.

Junger primarily is addressing issues of the returning military personnel and the difficulties they have returning to civilian life. They have been an integral part of a “tribe” or unit then sent home and feel unwanted or needed as a civilian particularly if unable to obtain a job. He says our society honors individuals and being alone rather than being part of a cohesive group, village or tribe. Junger also discusses the bonding of civilians such as with the blitz in England or 9/11 in New York. He states that with WWII both military and civilians sacrificed for a common goal but that is not the case with the current war and the disconnect between civilians and military is widening. He claims we need to bond together in villages, groups and country; he claims that would reduce crime and mental illness.

Sebastian Junger is a journalist and has been in many wars over the years. The book is well written and researched. His analysis and thoughts are clearly presented and backed with documentation. This is an interesting book and worth the effort to read. Junger narrates his own book.

Profile Image for Jan Rice.
523 reviews445 followers
January 23, 2019
This book surprised me.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but, if tribal tends to have a negative connotation these days, this was the opposite. Junger thinks society has fallen apart and lost a necessary tribal aspect. He begins by recounting how American settlers couldn't keep their people from staying with Indian tribes, once they had experienced them, yet the reverse never happened. People are happier in tribes. They even have more leisure time. Of course he's talking about relationships within tribes; wars between tribes were also interwoven with that way of life. But he doesn't emphasize the wars, and he's on the other side of the moon from Steven Pinker (The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined), who says the tribal ways of the prehistoric and ancient past led to a life that's "nasty, brutish, and short."

After the initial shock, I was reminded by this book that everything has two sides. We're inclined to think that everything we like and support will yield unmitigated benefits, while what we abhor entails all loss and no gain.

For example, war: he describes how wars and other disasters bring out deep communitarian impulses. Despite the death and destruction, people often find their most meaningful life experiences and their best selves in those kinds of situations.

As mentioned, he de-emphasizes those wars that so felicitously furnished tribal society with a context for the warrior aspects of male personality--those wars that lead to care and protection of the tribe but also led to the wiping out of losing tribes. Or the fact that disasters that allow people to be needed and useful and inspire them to heroism also wipe out large numbers of other people, as many as 90% of them in one of his examples. In fact, it was fairly recently that I came to understand how many public intellectuals pre-WWI were urging war as a good, and how weird that was, and now along comes Sebastian Junger, saying that war must be of some good or it wouldn't happen so often.

But that's not his point. His point is that modern society is messed up. We have a problem. We're at each other's throat rather than on each other's side. How do we fix that?

He talks a good deal about war and soldiers, and about returning soldiers being alienated from society. Although people want to honor them, they do so with empty thanks and meaningless honors, while what they need is a useful place in our economy.

He talks about the abuses of military disability benefits. What people do not need is a disability check and a permanent victim image.

He says we are alienated not only from our soldiers but also from all our basic industrial workers: those in farming, truck driving, mineral extraction, truck driving and transport, infrastructure construction, etc. This angle leads directly into the subject of another book I have queued up: Richard Rorty's Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America.

In this context, Junger condemns our call-out culture that picks on hapless little guys while bigger fish elude notice or get off scot-free.

This is the first book I've read by Sebastian Junger (whose most well-known book is The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea). He does a good job both with what he says and in narrating this book for the audio edition. In this case the audio is the superior format. It has more gravitas. The book gives the impression of being slight, but of course is only slight in size.

Just after I finished this book but before I wrote the review, I saw the Peter Jackson WWI documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, which contributed to the gravitas.
Profile Image for Andy.
1,377 reviews467 followers
April 3, 2018
A quirky little book about a big topic, much bigger than vets and PTSD, and American Indian tribes. Our entire society is sick because there's a lot of suicide and evil people get away with their assorted crimes.

Civilization produces many benefits but many bad side effects as well because we keep throwing out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to the old ways. I believe him about the white settlers taken prisoner who were happier living with the indigenous American tribes, but it's not clear what that means for various reasons (Stockholm syndrome?, differences in those who stayed vs. left?, etc.) The author is on shakier ground still when he ventures into evolutionary biology. But I take this book as a long essay by a non-scientist.

I think "Tribe" is worthwhile as a think piece because the issue of balance between old/new, natural/artificial, happy/wealthy, citizen/consumer, caring/tech, etc. is very important. What is the just middle? How can we be safe and happy? The pursuit of happiness for others is a worthy quest. We should decrease suicides if we can. But I don't want to go back to constant war and peril to accomplish that. Junger suggests we need new initiation rites and shared struggles. OK, fine. It seems like there are enough real problems in the world for that to be arranged without starting wars and other disasters. If we have to have overseas conscription, for example, does it have to be for war? Could it be for the Peace Corps, etc.?

Profile Image for Robin.
210 reviews15 followers
May 20, 2016
There are many great books that I cannot wait to introduce to my customers - but then there are other books that I become obsessed with and so passionate for that I need to put it into every single person's hand that walks into my bookstore. Sebastian Junger's new book "Tribe" is one of those books. It is historical, psychological, anthropological and personal. I will think about this book for a very long time. It helped me to understand so much about war, about community, about self. Isn't that what a great book should do? It is so compact that you will want to read it in one sitting because trust me, you won't want to put it down. Junger is a true hero journalist who has done his research, asked the tough questions ,probed so much deeper than Americans care to look at our problems, our disgraces, our greed, our lack of justice and responsibility in order to begin the powerful work needed to save our country and ourselves!
Profile Image for Malia.
Author 6 books550 followers
April 2, 2019
This is a short book, but well worth reading. Junger's analysis of what makes a tribe and what brings people together and pulls them apart is very thoughtfully done. I read this right after David Wallace-Wells somewhat apocalyptic book about climate change, Uninhabitable Earth, and even though Junger isn't exactly cheery, I came away from the book feeling more hopeful. In the end, idealistic as I know it sounds, we have more in common than not. We want to be safe, want those we love to be safe and happy and healthy, and isn't that shared by just about everyone (with the exception of some truly awful people, that is)? Junger brings up the point that in today's society, there is a powerful focus on extrinsic values, which can manifest in materialism, whereas the intrinsic values are what ultimately make us happy or sad. He doesn't discount the fact that money and position can make life easier in many ways, but that it's not everything. My only criticism is that a lot of what he said could have been fleshed out a little more. That being said, I won't forget this book soon, I'm sure of that.

Find more reviews and bookish fun at http://www.princessandpen.com
Profile Image for Ammar.
448 reviews217 followers
July 5, 2018
This tiny book packs a lot of informations and experiences.

What does it mean to be part of something bigger ... society.... tribes.... the army... its various units ... how soldiers act in war and how they act in peace... are we making use of the veterans that are out there... how to deal with PTSD... how war is good for the cohesion of the community and how natural disasters bring people together and the notion of class vanishes.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
598 reviews28 followers
July 9, 2016
Tribe provides a good foundation for discussions about war, community, gender roles, government, economics, justice, violence, and the intersections of all of the above. It also has some really interesting statistics kind of scattered throughout. That said, as a book on its own, I found it disappointing. There are too many oversimplified or over-generalized observations; there are too many times that an outcome is explained using one variable (sense of community, for example), and then explained again using an altogether different variable (like upbringing). Governmental and economic systems are conflated time and again; there is no questioning of nationalism, even as there's a fundamental (if wholly general) questioning of political and societal structures; there's no questioning of some pretty broad gender role assumptions; and there is, overall, a tendency towards stream of consciousness criticisms that come back, time and again, to the ultimate point of the book, which is tangentially related to PTSD, but really has to do with Junger's concerns about the atomization of modern American society. All of that said, those very weaknesses make the book an excellent jumping off point for a broad range of relevant current debates and, therefore, worth reading.
Profile Image for Chantel Coughlin.
24 reviews2 followers
February 27, 2016
Sebastian Junger takes us on a historical journey that is both anthropological and psychological in his latest work of non-fiction, Tribe. The age old cliche that history repeats itself is being realized in today's society and Junger presents many examples of this with warrior re-integration into their communities following traumatic conflict throughout history and their varied success rates at combating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Junger documents many of the thoughts today's veterans struggle with upon returning home to an individualist society that continues tear itself apart. Rather than face the issues at hand, our politicians (and citizen on the whole) point fingers towards one another that they are deliberately destroying the country. Meanwhile, our veterans continue to suffer with depression and suicide, as the ethnic and demographic boundaries that divide our nation, did not exist in their close-knit unit. Rather than returning to a normalcy contributing in their communities, many veteran's issues are simply being written off with a tax free check every month and a “Thank you for your service”, when all they really want is a sense of belonging. Unless we can forge those social bonds with a common goal, our veterans will no undoubtedly continue to suffer progressively the further America disjoints itself. Tribe is a quick read that makes one contemplate many of today's issues and the ancient driving forces of evolution that are the root of our two parties. This book should be at the top of everyone's summer reading list!
Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,893 reviews430 followers
July 13, 2016
"Today's veterans often come home to find that, although they're willing to die for their country, they're not sure how to live for it." -Sebastian Junger.

Every veteran and visitor to a war-zone should read 'Tribe" when returning to their home country. Not only does the book connect the dots of being a feeling human being and a soldier, and illustrate briefly war experiences from history and more current adventures, it describes what sort of games an ex-soldier can expect from returning home after the drama and fear of being in war-zones. Homecomings might be a little less stressful and wrenching if the soldier understands what to expect - that some common reactions may occur and why, especially when the home country is one as self-involved, disengaged and selfishly affluent as the United States.

People do not really get any long-term psychiatric help or advice about mental issues in America, only lip services of support are offered, coupled with vague promises and a moment of uncomfortable patting, usually while being handed a blurry much-copied list of out-of-date contacts for veterans, elderly and the handicapped, and/or directions to psychiatric services. It is a wonder most people get some help; and people should know that many people only need psychiatric help for a short time - PTSD CAN be short-term.

Sebastian Junger's book can be read in a few hours, by the way. It may be short, but it is concise and surprisingly comprehensive, despite the few pages. In back is a section of source notes for further reading. There will be those who need to find follow-up advice, so this back section is very useful.

Soldiers in war zones become cohesively tribal because first of all, its biologically instinctual, and because of the dangers. They learn to be focused on helping those in their units survive. Every member of their unit is vital to their well-being, important to their society. Life is a Big Deal, every friendship is worthwhile, a value beyond measure, thus a sacrifice beyond measure.

However, unfortunate for soldiers, average Americans are trained to value individualism, and to value a consumerism designed to inculcate the philosophy of forever seeking competitive consumption of shiny stuff, and to seek and share the minutia of entertainment. Average Americans have memories as long as the next twitter because of our culture. Many ordinary Millennials, the latest generation of YA and soldier fodder, for instance, do not understand anything about World War II or the Vietnam War, and they have already forgotten there were two Iraq wars. Feelings about death and killing come mostly from watching movies and youtube videos, and sometimes the news (which most do not watch) and the emotions last as long until the next Instagram or Snapchat notification; at least, until they are sent away on their first rotation somewhere in a war-zone if they enlisted.

I am a baby boomer, and I get caught up in minutia and shiny things, quickly moving on to the next cellphone notification or shopping coupon. The difference between me and younger generations is only the speed with which we can check our messages, plus, perhaps, a deeper awareness of death and loss from having lived longer and having experienced more drama and trauma. But I wouldn't count on it....

One of the traumatic experiences common to modern American soldiers is the realization on returning to everyday America is that they find their fellow non-combatant consumer-mad countrymen shallow, petty and oblivious, quick to utter trite expressions without meaning it, such as "thank you for your service,", while in the next breath discussing how much other Americans (Democrats, Republicans, the rich, the poor, whites, non-whites, immigrants, women, men, educated elites, the 'parasite' poor, the police, the criminals, etc.) should be destroyed or shot. As Junger says, many ex-soldiers suddenly feel they had fought for their military unit, not Americans. At least, they feel they did not bleed and die for this silly culture they forgot existed - not this divided fretful loud ignorant celebrity-crazed bumper-sticker-politics America.

However, personally, I think therapy can remind some soldiers such innocence in ordinary Americans is good sometimes, actually, and protecting this lack of comprehending what killing is about, and sometimes what killing the wrong people is like, and the fact that some killing is a joy, IS what the soldiers' sacrifice is all about; but certainly not in every case or circumstance. ( Junger does not talk about this, I simply know this from my own therapy. It is similar to hiding and editing violence and ugly stuff for beloved children - and sometimes a survivor wants to feel more normal by being with innocent people unaware of terror and horror. Sadness and hard-eyed awareness of death is not just a bitch and debilitating, it can be boring and tiring. Innocent people have a puppy cuteness which can be lovely. Sometimes.)

Cocooned within their fighting unit, the soldiers had each other's backs in the war. The usual divides in American culture - race, sexual identity, class, wealth, education - were unimportant to their survival. Loyalty, friendship, common goals, familial acceptance, and sacrifice were what mattered. Then, later, the soldiers return to dull jobs, or worse, no jobs, and their actual families and neighborhood friends that they now cannot talk to (I can see the problem - how do you tell your religious mom, for example, that you accidentally killed a kid, or shot a guy who surrendered because he killed your best friend and you hadn't slept in four days or ate for three???), and see people walking about playing Pokemon on their cellphones. They miss the emotional closeness of their unit members, the thrill of surviving near-death (yes, it is addictive and an incredible high) and the feeling of the importance of their work and technical skills, and the feeling they are literally fighting for their country - because they were, and did.

They come back to the shallow petty ugly reality of us, gentle reader.

Do your war-zone veteran a favor, and offer this book as a gift - after you have read it. Show them you 'get' it.
Profile Image for Anca Zaharia.
Author 23 books428 followers
June 1, 2020
O afirmaţie cu care sunt în totalitate de acord este aceea că societatea modernă, cu oameni aparţinând unui grup format din zeci, sute de mii sau chiar milioane de oameni, eşuează în a-i face pe membrii săi să se mai simtă utili. Dezrădăcinarea resimţită de oameni după ce am trăit în grupuri mici şi egalitariste se manifestă acum, după ce am ajuns să trăim în comunităţi cu milioane de membri. În astfel de locuri, chiar şi traumele sunt mai greu de vindecat (sindromul post-traumatic al celor întorşi din zonele de conflict armat, de exemplu, care vin dintr-un grup mic şi compact unde fiecare era responsabil pentru celălalt şi care ajung să fie aruncaţi, expulzaţi într-o societate care s-a aflat prea departe de conflict pentru a-l putea înţelege, pentru a-l simţi, deci fără a reuşi să empatizeze cu veteranii şi fără a mai putea să-i integreze, fără ca măcar să-i asculte).

Recenzia integrală aici:
Profile Image for Cheryl.
426 reviews40 followers
September 5, 2018
Powerful Intro! Appreciated this read's concept of solidarity as it underscores and helps me hone thoughts I've had about topics like the boom of social media in our more isolated existence, young men's susceptibility to recruitment into gangs/terror orgs, and my own contributions to community and country. This also begged more Qs from me: tribes view those back from war as having superior skills and wisdom, why don't the rest of us? Does modern society require too many specialized skills? (Author makes point the military is one of few/only spaces in today's society where humans don't compete but rather rely on each other, like our million years of ancestry.) This read would've packed more punch without the underlining, liberal bend -- arguments are often more persuasive when made from no apparent viewpoint. Also, while this is more of a long essay, it still felt unnecessarily embellished; guessing I'd have preferred the brevity of the original article but respect it needed further flushed-out for mass publication.
Profile Image for Ron S.
420 reviews27 followers
April 11, 2016
An expanded version of an article that first appeared in Vanity Fair titled "How PTSD Became a Problem Far Beyond the Battlefield." Junger has matured as one of the finest American reporters in print. Thinking of him as "the Perfect Storm guy" is as reductive as thinking of Jon Krakauer only as "that guy that wrote Into Thin Air." In this work, Junger looks at community, tribal behaviors, and issues facing veterans while briefly weaving in personal experiences that help connect us to this work of history, anthropology and psychology along with social issues. My only criticism of this book is that he didn't expand it further.
Profile Image for Langston.
8 reviews2 followers
June 5, 2016
Loved it. A well-written rumination on the basic human need for belonging and communal living. And how our fractured, alienating and isolating modern society opposes our tribal instincts which can lead to very unfortunate circumstances.
Profile Image for Numidica.
372 reviews8 followers
May 28, 2023
I wish Sebastian Junger had organized his argument in this book a little better, with references to peer-reviewed articles or other highly credible studies, because I think he's got a point, but it's not a well articulated point. In short, he feels that people, but particularly men, and more particularly combat veteran men, are not integrated into American society in a way that gives their lives meaning after the intense experience of combat, or at least membership in highly cohesive military units with clear missions. I know plenty of such men, starting with myself, who struggled a little or a lot with leaving the military and adapting to the corporate world. Junger contrasts that with the way tribal societies easily re-integrated their men after wars. In my case, the struggle was short-lived; I had children within eighteen months of leaving the Army, and I did not have time for self-pity about how unimportant my engineering job seemed compared to my Army assignments. I moved on, but I never really took my jobs in tech companies all that seriously; we were not saving lives or preventing despots from invading their neighbors. Only in retrospect do I see how much the tech revolution of the '90's and 00's changed the world, and it had a much bigger effect than US military special operations in that era.

But if the answer, as Junger seems to imply, is that we need war in order to bind societies together, I disagree. National service, maybe including military service is a good idea, and reducing wealth inequality is an excellent idea, but war is what we do not need. So at the end of the book, I'm really not entirely sure what Junger is advocating, but I do think he is right to call out the growing lack of a sense of community, and the growing us-versus-them partisanship in the US, and to name the ways American individual success undermines the success of the society writ large. There were a lot of interesting anecdotal arguments about why "American Indian" societies were so cohesive, but little in the way of how to bring such cohesiveness to American society.
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