The time is post-World War II; the place is the United States and sporadically several "at-risk" foreign countries. The story is about a young scientist, Richard, who believes that the origins of violence and warfare can be found in the early life experiences of individuals. To test this belief, Richard insists he must have firsthand research experience, which means traveling to foreign countries to observe local populations under stress and to study their children. In the process, he meets many intriguing people and inadvertently gets entangled in a potentially dangerous espionage operation.
William Charlesworth has created a story embodying two problems: on epistemological, the other biobehavioral. The first is the problem of acquiring the truth of something firsthand as a valid substitute for learning though potentially unreliable intermediaries such as the popular media. The second problem is the question of whether the origins of violence lie in normal resource competition between individuals rather than in some form of innate human pathology. While conducting research to deal with these problems, Charlesworth's scientist encounters individuals whose survival behavior challenges the value of posing both problems.