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Making and Unmaking Nations

War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa

In Making and Unmaking Nations, Scott Straus seeks to explain why and how genocide takes place—and, perhaps more important, how it has been avoided in places where it may have seemed likely or even inevitable.

Author Information


Scott Straus is Professor of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is the author of The Order of Genocide: Race, Power, and War in Rwanda, also from Cornell, and coauthor of Intimate Enemy: Images and Voices of the Rwandan Genocide and Africa’s Stalled Development: International Causes and Cures. He is coeditor most recently of The Human Rights Paradox: Universality and Its Discontents.


Michael Mann, UCLA, author of The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing:

"By contrasting African countries that experienced genocides with African countries that might have experienced genocide but did not actually do so, Scott Straus has made a major contribution to genocide studies. His conclusion that political leadership and the 'founding narratives' of nations are the most important factors in determining outcomes is original and compelling."

Dan G. Cox:

"It is clear that Straus is interested in honestly exploring why genocides occur—and do not occur—rather than selecting favorable cases to promote a preconceived policy or theoretical agenda.... In the final analysis, this is a great book for anyone interested in studying genocide, state formation in Africa, the power-of-elite narrative, and policy responses to genocide."

Will Reno, Northwestern University, author of Warlord Politics and African States:

"Making and Unmaking Nations is essential reading for anyone concerned about the nature of state violence in the twenty-first century and finding practical measures to prevent it. In this reasoned and carefully written book, Scott Straus presents high-quality analysis of the causes and processes of genocide. He finds that the character of official statements over decades—either portraying exclusionary visions of a pure nation or promoting inclusion of plural communities—frames how state violence is deployed during conflicts. This brilliant book shows how the climate of political discourse at the highest levels can tip the balance toward genocide or toward deescalation."

Paul Staniland:

"Scott Straus has written an extremely important book, arguing that genocide has crucial ideological foundations, but that these conditions only lead to genocide when situational incentives drive a process of escalation. This contribution highlights the central role of ideas as a cause of genocide, while also outlining forces of restraint that can hold mass categorical violence at bay. Anyone interested in political violence must engage with this book.... Making and Unmaking Nations is a major achievement. Not only does it help us better understand the ever-vexing question of genocide, but it also identifies key open questions for future research and offers a set of useful policy diagnostics and prescriptions. As the prospect of mass killing looms over ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, this is a particularly timely and important work."

Pierre Englebert, Pomona College:

"Genocide studies do not make for fun reading. Scott Straus's latest book might not violate this rule, but it bends it. This is an exciting, erudite, thought-provoking, and highly readable book. It engages with the highest levels of scholarship on genocide and African politics while remaining largely accessible to general readers, and it offers a new comparative theory of genocide that is both illuminating and intuitively appealing."

Stephen W. Smith, Duke University:

"Scott Straus knows Francophone as well as Anglophone Africa like the back of his hand. In this bold book, he turns the powerless lament after each genocide—'never again'—into a helpful insight: mass annihilation is actually more often than not prevented on the strength of ideas that make nations where categorical ‘otherness’ survives."

Nicolas van de Walle:

"Straus' previous book was a penetrating analysis of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Here, he returns to the issue of large-scale ethnic violence in Africa, demonstrating an impressive command of the historical material to contrast the cases of Rwanda and Sudan, where genocides took place, with three cases in which ethnic conflict did not reach that point (Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal). In the end, he concludes, whether interethnic strife results in genocide depends almost entirely on national leadership."

Caroline Varin:

"The originality of Straus's study lies in his focus on the intersection of local and national actors in their approach to ideas such as nationalism, violence and power....Making and Unmaking Nations is an original and interesting book."

Audience: General/trade;