A single book might not change the world. But this utterly original meditation on art and war might transform the way you see the world—and that makes all the difference.

“How to live in the face of so much suffering? What difference can one person make in this beautiful, imperfect, and imperiled world?”

Through a dazzling combination of memoir, history, reporting, visual culture, literature, and theology, Sarah Sentilles offers an impassioned defense of life lived by peace and principle. It is a literary collage with an urgent hope at its core: that art might offer tools for remaking the world.

In Draw Your Weapons, Sentilles tells the true stories of Howard, a conscientious objector during World War II, and Miles, a former prison guard at Abu Ghraib, and in the process she challenges conventional thinking about how war is waged, witnessed, and resisted. The pacifist and the soldier both create art in response to war: Howard builds a violin; Miles paints portraits of detainees. With echoes of Susan Sontag and Maggie Nelson, Sentilles investigates images of violence from the era of slavery to the drone age. In doing so, she wrestles with some of our most profound questions: What does it take to inspire compassion? What impact can one person have? How should we respond to violence when it feels like it can’t be stopped?

Praise for Draw Your Weapons

“A collage of death, savagery, torture, and trauma across generations and continents, Sarah Sentilles’s Draw Your Weapons is painful to read, hard to put down, and impossible to forget.”O: The Oprah Magazine
 
“In her dynamic, impressionistic (and cleverly titled) book, Sentilles focuses on language and images–particularly photography–and considers what role they play in peace and war. Eschewing a traditional narrative, Sentilles focuses on two men–one a World War II conscience objector who makes violins, and the other an Abu Ghraib prison guard who paints detainee portraits. In brief, delicately layered pieces rather than a narrative, Sentilles has created a collage that explores art, violence, and what it means to live a principled life.”The National Book Review
 
“It’s the kind of book that, after reading just half, you have to stop and catch your breath, because reading it changes you, not just in terms of what you know–it changes the way you think and how you feel–so much so that, halfway in, I wanted to go back and start again because I felt I was already a different person to the person I was when I began.”Turnaround
“A collage of death, savagery, torture, and trauma across generations and continents, Sarah Sentilles’s Draw Your Weapons is painful to read, hard to put down, and impossible to forget.”O: The Oprah Magazine
 
“In her dynamic, impressionistic (and cleverly titled) book, Sentilles focuses on language and images–particularly photography–and considers what role they play in peace and war. Eschewing a traditional narrative, Sentilles focuses on two men–one a World War II conscience objector who makes violins, and the other an Abu Ghraib prison guard who paints detainee portraits. In brief, delicately layered pieces rather than a narrative, Sentilles has created a collage that explores art, violence, and what it means to live a principled life.”The National Book Review
 
“It’s the kind of book that, after reading just half, you have to stop and catch your breath, because reading it changes you, not just in terms of what you know–it changes the way you think and how you feel–so much so that, halfway in, I wanted to go back and start again because I felt I was already a different person to the person I was when I began.”Turnaround

“Sentilles delivers a learned, poetic, and interdisciplinary assessment of the ways in which the photographic image has been abused and weaponized, while also suggesting ways in which the arts can help serve as an antidote to this problem.”Publishers Weekly
 
“Sentilles assembles the case for art as a weapon against weapons. It’s a premise that may sound painfully idealistic, but to dismiss the book on that basis is to miss a thoughtful conversation with an author whose eyes are wide open. Sentilles is willing to interrogate her own beliefs, on the page and in life.”The Australian
 
“A broad work of creative nonfiction in the tradition of Maggie Nelson or Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being that melts memoir, cultural criticism, and research-based reportage together . . . a wide-ranging collection of cultural fragments created by war, including, ultimately, the book itself.”The Rumpus
 
“[A] lyrical meditation on art and artists as witnesses to war, terror, and other dark hallmarks of our time . . . That war is destructive and displacing is well-known; that it yields accidental moments of beauty is, too, but Sentilles has a good eye for those arresting glints.”Kirkus Reviews

“It’s not often that a book’s description can double as its blurb, but ‘A would-be priest decided not to become one and instead wrote a book on how art and metaphor condition us to accept violence’ comes damn close. Draw Your Weapons is a unique and necessary book that makes a passionate, thought-stoking argument.”—John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead

“Now more than ever, the world needs a book like Draw Your Weapons. With mastery, urgency, and great courage, Sarah Sentilles investigates the histories of art, violence, war, and human survival. In her haunting and absorbing narrative, the act of storytelling itself becomes a matter of life and death.”—Ruth Ozeki, author of A Tale for the Time Being

“With a stunning weave of ideas and images, Sarah Sentilles shows us the world we’ve broken, and she shows us how soldiers, prisoners, artists, thinkers—all of us—are, piece by piece, repairing it. Fearless, stirring, rhythmic, this book pulses with energy and is full of insights, dark yet ultimately hopeful.”—Nick Flynn, author of Another Bulls*** Night in Suck City

Draw Your Weapons is as much about peace as it is about war; it is as much about life as it is about death. Sarah Sentilles, with her passionate, clear-eyed prose and her brilliant, generous mind, confronts us with the realities of standing idly by in a world that urgently needs voices of peace and reconciliation.”—Emily Rapp, author of The Still Point of the Turning World

“A beautiful, haunting book so original that it is a genre unto itself—a poem, a sermon, a polemic, a memoir, a narrative . . . I won’t be able to think of our era of constant conflict without recalling Sentilles’s lessons, her imagery, and her prophetic voice.”—Franklin Foer, author of How Soccer Explains the World