John E. Cort, Denison University, in Religious Studies Review, January 2006



For more than three decades Sharp's work has been indispensable reading for scholars of and activists for nonviolent social change. His books and pamphlets have been translated into dozens of languages, and have served as "how to" manuals in many recent nonviolent struggles. This book summarizes his long path-breaking career. Twenty-seven case studies of twentieth-century nonviolent movements, with all degrees of success and failure, illustrate the breadth of the use of nonviolent tactics: the Indian independence movement; resistance to Nazi rule; opposition to dictatorships in Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa; the American civil rights movement; and the breakup of Communist rule in Eastern Europe. In most cases the use of nonviolent means was almost accidental. Sharp argues for the potential of nonviolent strategies and tactics to change dramatically how people struggle for justice, and thereby change social and political relationships and structures, if they are studied and analyzed at the same depth military strategists such as Sun Tzu, Clausewitz and L. Hart have studied how to wage violent war. Although he mentions it only in passing toward the end of this masterful book, key to Sharp's argument is that he discusses nonviolent struggle, not the moral or religious justifications for nonviolence. One need not have an ideological or theological commitment to "nonviolence" in the abstract to use nonviolent tactics in one's work for social change. Thus this book will be a useful addition to courses that do have such a philosophical or theological focus, as well as serving as a practical bible for the next generation of nonviolent activists.