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Book Review: The Five Percent


Book reviews > Book Review: The Five Percent


Peter Coleman, The Five Percent (2011), Public Affairs, Philadelphia


Conflict is a constant problem in this troubled world of ours. And there is a strong literature out there on conflict resolution and mediation that considers all levels of difference, from domestic disputes to international enmities. Peter Coleman's book is an important addition to this canon.

Most conflicts can be resolved with a certain amount of mediation and negotiation. A third party typically shuttles between either side or otherwise stands between them until a deal is done. However, as Coleman (a Columbia professor) points out, there are some conflicts -- about five percent -- that seem intractable. For examples, think pro-life vs. pro-choice, Israel vs. Palestine, ecological sustainability vs. global capitalism.

The sheer messiness of it all is shown in the book through fifty-seven essences of intractable conflicts, such as 'hidden agendas' and 'moral exclusion'. However the author offers a simple way of knowing you are in a five percent conflict:

  1. You find yourself denying or discounting any and all positive information about your opponent, and
  2. You feel overwhelming resistance (from yourself and others) to act differently towards your opponent.

Of such stuff are feuds built, that unpleasantly continue for generations. When highly polarized views deny the other side any reason or humanity,

Complex problems need complex solutions and the author views such situations through lenses such as Gestalt and Kurt Lewin's theories, chaos theory and (particularly) the principles of attractors, and then offers ways of using these ideas to help work on intractable conflicts.

With many examples throughout the book, this is a most readable and highly illuminating tome that addresses what are perhaps the most pressing problems in modern society. Resolving these problems is not magic and is perhaps not impossible, it seems.

This book provides important and intelligent support not only to those who are working in such fields, but also to anyone who is faced with difficult problems, from sales people to parents sstruggling with teenager issues. For this, it gets a rare five stars.


Buy Me

Peter Coleman, The Five Percent, Public Affairs, Philadelphia, 2011

There are many conflict that can be solved by normal methods. Here's what you can do for the intractable 5%. A brilliant and practical book.. 



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