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  • The Frontlines of Peace: An Insider's Guide to Changing the World by Séverine Autesserre
  • Karie Cross Riddle
Autesserre, Séverine. 2021. The Frontlines of Peace: An Insider's Guide to Changing the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 221 pp. ISBN 9780197530351.

Séverine Autesserre's The Frontlines of Peace offers a refreshing reprieve from the traditional academic analysis of what goes wrong in peace-building. With compelling stories of success from conflicts across the globe, Autesserre insists that peace is "something that already exists, and you can see it if you know where to look" (16). In the foreword to the book, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Leymah Gbowee expresses appreciation for her focus on success, given that "analysts… keep telling us how and why we get things wrong, but they rarely explain what we can and do get right" (xi). The Frontlines of Peace is at its strongest when Autesserre relates detailed stories of surprisingly peaceful zones—places where violence is absent, or limited, despite the prevalence of violence nearby. This intuitive, comparative approach offers clear visions of two paths: one toward the default of violence, juxtaposed against what so-called ordinary people can achieve when they act on behalf of peace.

Readers of this journal will be particularly interested in the extended examples of Idjwi (an island in Lake Kivu on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda) and Somaliland. Autesserre says that one might expect Idjwi to be as violent as the surrounding areas, due to their similarities in ethnic make-up, natural resources, weak institutions, and more. However, it remains a literal island of nonviolence due to its unique "culture of peace." One of her interviewees argued: "We are all educated in the belief that we are special. There is a strong local identity. My grandfather always said that Idjwi has been an oasis of peace for more than 200 years" (36). This culture creates a constructive space in which multiple [End Page 127] actors—individuals, grassroots organizations, churches, and traditional chiefs—all help to keep the peace.

Autesserre readily admits that this unique culture cannot simply be reproduced elsewhere. However, this detailed example and others presented throughout the book (e.g., Colombia, Somaliland, and the Neve Shalom settlement in Israel/Palestine) help to build the case for looking for peace where it already exists. Autesserre argues that such creative, grassroots-level work deserves as much attention and funding as the more typical, elite-level peace work associated with the international practitioners of "Peace, Inc." (Although she also rightly highlights the dangers of too much funding, with the example of the Life Peace Institute in chapter 2.)

The final chapter offers several practical suggestions to support peace. Among other ideas, Autesserre advocates for focusing on successes; putting insiders in the driver's seat; connecting and supporting both top-down and bottom-up initiatives; remaining wary of checklists, toolkits, and rules of thumb in favor of creativity; and planning for long-term work (180–91). She closes with a call to action. The individuals and organizations she has highlighted are the true heroes, she argues, "they are the ones changing the world, one day at a time. And now you and I have the tools to do the same" (192).

As an inspirational read, this book is well worth anyone's time. To evaluate whether it lives up to its subtitle, "a guide to changing the world," however, we must consider it from the point of view of three possible audiences. To whom is it really speaking, and is it likely to create change? Before I read this book, I heard Autesserre speak about it at two academic conferences. This suggests that at least one possible audience is the peace and conflict studies scholarly community. These scholars have questioned, for decades, the kind of top-down, elite-directed technical intervention that she criticizes in this book. While Autesserre's anecdotes would remain interesting to this audience, her conclusions in favor of more contextual, locally driven peace and improved insider-outsider partnerships are far from new (as she notes when she cites John Paul Lederach's influence on the field [45...