Tribe Audio Book Review

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

Authored and Narrated by Sebastian Junger

Audiobook, 2 hours and 59 minutes

Published by Hachette Audio, May 2016

Language: English


Sebastian Junger’s Tribe is a natural sequel to his War.  Soldiers in combat develop a communal bond in which each puts the welfare of the group above his own, often resulting in what we would commonly refer to as bravery.  Throughout human history people have naturally formed themselves into communities with an upper number of approximately 160 individuals (not coincidentally, a historically Company-sized unit many armies).  Above that number, the community divides into two groups which are often allied, but separate.  All the members of the group are known to the others, and conduct themselves broadly for the benefit of the group as a whole.  Withholding resources from the group, or taking more than one’s share of the resources are considered among the most serious of offences, punishable by banishment or even death.

Contrast the natural inherent instinct for humans to form small tribal groups with the structure of modern societies.  Nations are huge, neighbors do not know neighbors.  Those who take from the community through manipulating Government programs, theft, or outright fraud go unpunished or are even applauded far more often than not.  There is little opportunity for an individual to feel he or she has done something important, or even belongs to a community where a sense of brotherhood exists, with the one notable exception often being military service.

The yearning for a sense of belonging is intrinsic and strong, its absence is a primary driver in PTSD among veterans.  Benjamin Franklin noted that European settles captured by Indian tribes assimilated into Indian culture, and even when ”rescued” would slip away to re-join their tribes, while the reverse was not true.  Junger cites several examples of groups forming tight bonds when faced with life-threatening adversity, and individuals missing the bonds they formed after the crisis had passed.  Humans appear to need the shared adversity at some level, mental health facilities in Paris during both World Wars were nearly empty, and in the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks both violent crime and suicide rates dropped sharply.

It appears Junger became interested in the topic of PTSD among returning veterans after writing War, and some of the statistical background for Tribe appears in his earlier work explaining the bonds of small units in the military.  The implications for broader society are thought-provoking.  This is a short work, but a natural follow on after reading War, highly recommended.