... a rigorous yet readable analysis of the prospects for a second American civil war ... the civil-conflict equivalent of How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt — a much-needed warning that uses cross-national research to examine the United States. Given how prescient Levitsky and Ziblatt were, and how expert Walters is (she is a leading scholar of civil wars), it is a warning to heed ... I’ve been skeptical of the notion that the United States is on the verge of another civil war. Walter has made me reconsider ... This is a book that everyone in power should read immediately ... Besides delivering an up-to-date view of civil wars, Walter provides a state-of-the-art accounting of why they begin ... Walter has answers, lots of them.
The title of the book is misleading. It isn’t really about civil wars generically, but about one conceivable conflict in particular: the Second American Civil War. Roughly at the halfway point, having established how fratricidal conflict occurs, Walter turns her attention fully to her own country. Naturally, she knows how absurd such a possibility will seem to many readers as they take the subway to their downtown offices or listen to the audiobook as they drive the kids to school ... Yet for all that, Walter is not fatalistic.
Only a fanciful vignette about two-thirds of the way through — envisioning a morning of chaos in November 2028, with bombs going off across the country as California wildfires rage — made me think that Walter was 'fear-mongering,' or at least pandering to our most literal-minded instincts. Then again, if things are as dire as she says, forcing us to see what a collapse might look like may arguably be the responsible thing to do ... Walter’s earnest advice about what to do comes across as well-meaning but insufficient — though I’m not sure how much of it is her fault, considering that the situation she has laid out looks too inflamed to be soothed by a few pointers in a book.