Pros: Clear prose, good explanation of methods, essential reading.
Cons: A bit on the depressing side.
I bought this book as part of a class that I'm taking for a PhD in Political Science. It was required, but this is a book that, along with Philip Gourevitch's book, should be required reading by more policy-makers who wish to understand more of the banality of violence.
The key question that this book asks is how and why did genocide happen? Strauss agrees with other scholars that it was planned by elites in among the then-ruling Hutu group, and that the death of President Habyarimana acting as the trigger moment. However, Strauss develops a theory of genocide for Rwanda that shows that it was a combination of factors that led to the outbreak of genocidal violence.
The combination of factors can be summed up as Hutu elite fear of what a Tutsi government might do in terms of revenge, Hutu elite manipulation with coercion of Rwanda's Hutu population, with a backdrop of civil war and the uncertainty that it brings. The pre-existing cleavages in Rwandan society also played their part. But overall, the pressures that ruling Hutu elites were able to bring to bear on ordinary Hutu citizens to ensure that they also took part in the massacres proves to have been a major factor in a citizenry that is marked by a good degree of compliance with the state's rulers.
Strauss highlights the degree to which societal, ethnic and coercive forces pressured large numbers of Hutus to participate in the genocide, and although he focuses strongly on his different methodological approaches, you never forget that he was originally a journalist. The unfolding of the tragedy is clearly written and the story is never lost in his clear prose.
The book finishes with some clear policy recommendations that perhaps will continue to be ignored even as continuing atrocities take place in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The book is a bit of a depressing read, but vital in helping outsiders understand the motivations that push ordinary people into committing unspeakable acts of violence.