Heroes and Cowards:

I'm delighted to report that Profs. Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn from the UCLA Economics Department will be guest-blogging next week about their new book, Heroes and Cowards: The Social Face of War. The book looks fascinating, and has gotten accolades from some top people both in military history (for instance, James McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom) and in the social science of social relationships (for instance, Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community). "This remarkable book is destined to become a classic in social science," writes Putnam, who certainly knows things about classics in social science. "It addresses issues of supreme importance and timeliness -- loyalty, betrayal, heroism, cowardice, survival, the challenges of diversity, and the benefits of social bonds. It rests on rigorous statistical analysis of an extraordinary historical archive, and yet it is so readable as to be unputdownable. It deals with a single epochal event in one nation's history -- the U.S. Civil War -- and yet its lessons are highly relevant in many other eras and societies, including our own."

Here's a brief summary to get you an idea of the coming week:

When are people willing to sacrifice for the common good? What are the benefits of friendship? How do communities deal with betrayal? And what are the costs and benefits of being in a diverse community? Using the life histories of more than forty thousand Civil War soldiers, Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn answer these questions and uncover the vivid stories, social influences, and crucial networks that influenced soldiers' lives both during and after the war.

Drawing information from government documents, soldiers' journals, and one of the most extensive research projects about Union Army soldiers ever undertaken, Heroes and Cowards demonstrates the role that social capital plays in people's decisions. The makeup of various companies -- whether soldiers were of the same ethnicity, age, and occupation -- influenced whether soldiers remained loyal or whether they deserted. Costa and Kahn discuss how the soldiers benefited from friendships, what social factors allowed some to survive the POW camps while others died, and how punishments meted out for breaking codes of conduct affected men after the war. The book also examines the experience of African-American soldiers and makes important observations about how their comrades shaped their lives. Heroes and Cowards highlights the inherent tensions between the costs and benefits of community diversity, shedding light on how groups and societies behave and providing valuable lessons for the present day.