Having a passion for books and an eight-month-old baby that’s feverishly growing a mouthful of teeth makes for some difficult evenings. You think she’s finally drifted off to sleep for the night and you make your way into your office with firm intent. I’m going to spend an hour reading before I get back to work, you promise yourself with a false resolve.

Then, as you’ve settled into your chair, book in one hand, drink in the other, you take one long, slow sip as you crack the cover and then there it is. The crackling static-laden cries of your pride and joy — she’s lost her binkie, and her aching gums have stolen away both her much-needed sleep and your time to read. You sigh but certainly can’t hold it against her. I haven’t grown any teeth in some time — but it seems like rough work.

Working your way through some reading as a new dad has to be a labor of love, or it simply won’t happen. Like a good video game, a book has to call you back with the promise of both challenge and reward, pressing you back into the pages during your brief bouts of free time like a kid hoping to reach the next level of whatever game it is they’re playing this week. It’s not even really just about gaining knowledge — you can get facts anywhere — no, a book is like getting a glimpse into another person’s perspective, and a really good one might even help to change your own.

“Narrative Warfare” by Dr. Ajit Maan, the Director of the think (and do) tank Narrative Strategies, was just such a book, and the best evidence I have to support that claim is that no one asked me to read it. There have certainly been times when I’ve been approached by my editors with a book to review, and while I always give my honest assessment of them, I often read them because it’s my job. It’s easier to justify stealing time away in your office to work your way through some pages when you have a deadline looming — but when you’re just reading for fun, the drive to consume a few more paragraphs, pages or chapters has to be stronger than your desire to get to bed a little earlier or spend some quality time with Netflix.

Maan’s background isn’t quite what you’d expect from an expert in counter-terrorism and security strategies: academically versed in philosophy, her interest in the way narrative molds the world we live in arose organically through her work. In her words (from the book’s introduction):

Plato would have banned artists from his ideal Republic because he feared the way artists, poets in particular, could sway the emotions of the populous. Aristotle also appreciated the power poets wield but he understood a bit more about what we now call human psychology and viewed the effects of poetry as an opportunity for people to practice managing emotions.”

Over time, Maan’s unique perspective and insight into how narrative shapes our lives led to the formation of Narrative Strategies through partnerships with scholars and service members alike. Maan’s recognized expertise in the field has led to her being invited to address leaders from America’s Special Operations Command, as America’s defense apparatus grew to recognize the ways modern warfare extends beyond the kinetic operations we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing on the news. Maan argues that in many cases, a concerted effort to manage the narrative in situations and places where extremism is embraced can actually result in a more lasting and effective peace.

Put in dangerously simplistic terms, the effort to kill extremists in some situations can result in creating martyrs or emboldening others that remained on the fence, but discrediting the stories used to indoctrinate people into extremist views can eliminate the threat at its source before it has a chance to take root.