Book Review: Elusive Peace by Douglas E. Noll

Book Review: Elusive Peace by Douglas E. Noll

In his new book, Elusive Peace, nationally recognized mediator and peacemaker Doug Noll asks some bold questions. How does one mediate peace in the face of evil? This question has perplexed peacemakers, international leaders and diplomats for millennia. The easy political answer is that there can be no negotiation with evil; it must be met with irresistible force. However, that emotionally satisfying and anxiety-reducing answer is inadequate. Superior military power simply does not eradicate evil, and the expenditure of blood and treasure is often futile against modern forms of violence.

Whether peace is really achievable or is merely an elusive dream of tree-hugging liberals depends on whether the skills of the modern peacemaker are qualitatively different than the set of skills presently employed by the diplomats or the politicians. According to Noll, that answer is a resounding “yes!” These new strategies must be utilized in our international negotiations, and Noll offers persuasive support that, if we truly desire peace in our world, our leaders and their envoys must add an entirely new set of skills and knowledge to their repertoire.

What we know about the causes and resolution of human conflict from both a scientific and practical perspective has grown exponentially in the past 20 years. This has developed as a result of the explosive use of mediation around the world to solve a vast array of human conflicts, from commercial disputes in litigation to public policy disputes to mediations between victims and offenders in criminal cases.

In addition, our knowledge about human conflict and peace has benefitted from advances in emerging fields such as social neuropsychology and behavioral economics. The ability to watch the human brain process information through techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, transcranial magnetic stimulation and sophisticated electroencephalography techniques is demonstrating that the core assumptions of law, economics and the philosophy of human behavior are incomplete.

Moreover, as researchers devise ever-increasingly clever means of investigating the source and nature of emotions, beliefs, moral development and decision making in the brain, mediators are taking the research and applying it to the practical problems of peace. The result is a set of powerful tools that, when used appropriately, can lead us to understand human conflict at a much deeper level. With that understanding, we can approach the problem of peace with a greater degree of subtlety and nuance than was ever before achievable.

Noll argues that the use of Old World methodologies hinders the ability of international negotiators to engage each other constructively when there are huge chasms of difference. When nations do come together, they are cast into an unwieldy process that is often nonproductive. Not surprisingly, international negotiators often end up angry and disgruntled with each other. The media inflames these failures, making things worse.

Elusive Peace penetrates the headlines and takes a critical look at peace negotiations through the eyes of a professional mediator and peacemaker. The international community’s approach to peace negotiations is based on outdated and flawed assumptions of human behavior, sovereignty and power. These ideas and the diplomatic strategies based on them, employed by our world leaders, are inadequate to solve our 21st-century problems.

The complexity of world problems requires modern attitudes, assumptions and experience based on what works today rather then what worked 300 years ago for an elite group of Europeans. Elusive Peace applies these 21st-century concepts and shows how they might be implemented more effectively to bring peace to the world stage. Elusive Peace removes the mystery from the headlines and the reader gains an appreciation and understanding of what it will really take to solve our most intractable international problems.

Noll asserts that our only hope is to abandon the old processes in favor of approaches to conflict that take into account the knowledge we have gained in a vast array of disciplines around decision making, neuropsychology and human behavior, invoking processes that promote collaboration and discourage competition. Elusive Peace stands as a critical next step in bringing peace to the world—a foundational statement for implementing peacemaking on the world stage, a standout to which all of us need to give our attention.

Elusive Peace was published by Prometheus Books and released in April of this year. For more information, visit


Douglas E. Noll, Esq., is a full-time Fresno-based peacemaker and mediator, specializing in difficult, complex and intractable conflicts. He is an adjunct professor of law at the San Joaquin College of Law and has a master’s degree in peacemaking and conflict studies from Fresno Pacific University. Noll was a business and commercial trial lawyer for 22 years before turning to peacemaking.

Noll has been the president of the Fresno Free College Foundation, was a co-founder of the Fresno Folklore Society and is a former chairman of the Board of Directors of Valley Public Television. He currently serves on the board of Valley Public Television, is chair of the Board of Trustees of the San Joaquin College of Law and is a board member of the Fresno Business Council. At the state level, Noll is a member of the Board of Directors of the California Dispute Resolution Council. At the international level, Noll is a member of the Board of Directors of Mediators Beyond Borders International.


  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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