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Book Review: Small Wars, Big Data

Small Wars, Big Data: The Information Revolution in Modern Conflict. By Eli Berman, Joseph Felter, and Jacob Shapiro. ​Princeton University Press;; 408 pages; $29.95.

A 2012 Forbes article titled "How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did" showed the power of data collection. In that article, author Kashmir Hill wrote that every time you go shopping, you share intimate details about your consumption patterns with retailers, who study those details to figure out what you like, what you need, and which coupons are likely to make you happy. Target figured out how to guess that a baby is on the way long before the parents need to start buying diapers.

Big data has revolutionized retail, and it has also changed the way nations deal with war and conflicts. In Small Wars, Big Data: The Information Revolution in Modern Conflict, authors Eli Berman, Joseph Felter, and Jacob Shapiro have written a fascinating book that explains how big data and data analytics can be applied to modern warfare.

The authors show that by using empirical data gathered from battlefields and other locales, countries can create a new paradigm to deal with localized conflicts and save countless lives. While wars of the past had two large armies fighting against each other, today's conflicts often involve small rebel insurgencies. Using data and analytics can make the difference between a battle won and a battle lost.

It's an old saying that generals always fight the previous war. Small Wars, Big Data shows that some generals have learned that lesson and are using the right data to fight and win these new conflicts.

Reviewer: Ben Rothke, CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional), PCI QSA (Qualified Security Assessor), is a principal eGRC consultant with the Nettitude Group.