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Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur Paperback – February 17, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0300144253 ISBN-10: 0300144253

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (February 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300144253
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300144253
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #395,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"'Humans have been slaughtering each other for thousands of years, but only now is the field of genocide studies blooming. This grim account of history notes remarkable parallels in the patterns of mass slaughter, from Carthage to Darfur. With references to the genocides sanctioned by the Bible, it's ghastly reading. Yet you also can't help feeling a measure of progress over the centuries. Today, we're still far too passive about stopping genocide, but even those leaders who engage in it tend to be embarrassed, rather than boastful.' Nicholas D. Kristof, New-York Historical Society series "Books That Matter", New York Times Book Review"

About the Author

Ben Kiernan is the A. Whitney Griswold Professor of History, professor of international and area studies, and the founding director of the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University ( His previous books include How Pol Pot Came to Power: Colonialism, Nationalism, and Communism in Cambodia, 1930–1975 and The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-1979, published by Yale University Press.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Serge J. Van Steenkiste on January 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Ben Kiernan has realized a tour de force in clearly explaining to his readers the four usual ideological features of genocides: antiquity, agrarianism, racism, and expansionism. These ideological factors have motivated, in greater or lesser degrees, all military, civilian, racist, or religious perpetrators of genocide over time (p. 572). Kiernan focuses most of his analysis on the six centuries since 1400 C.E (p. 3).

To identify present and past genocides, Kiernan mainly draws on the 1948 C.E. United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide and on legal judgments based on that convention for consistency purposes (p. 12). The crime of genocide requires the act of "killing," or another of the specific acts, committed with "intent to destroy" at least part of a protected group (p. 17).

Although Blood and Soil mainly documents genocides committed by Europeans, they have no monopoly on that crime (p. 6). Think for example about Maoism in China (pp. 512-38), Rwanda in Central Africa (pp. 554-68), or non-state actor al Qaeda (pp. 596-604), to quote three recent examples. Kiernan excludes some genocides from his book due to space constraints. Think for instance about the Mongols' slaughter of the inhabitants of Baghdad in 1258 C.E., the Spaniards' destruction of the Inca empire in the 16th century C.E., or the Congo Free State of Belgium's King Leopold II at the turn of the 20th century C.E. (p. 38).

Kiernan notes that genocides are usually undertaken by radical, unstable regimes, who often try to squash any domestic dissent by focusing attention on an external, supposedly common threat (pp. 34, 55-58, 339-49, 393, 409-14, 441, 505, 510-11, 547, 559, 567, 569, 590).
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Ben Kiernan is the leading authority on the Cambodian genocide. He compiled and analyzed a good deal of the primary source material related to the Cambodian genocide and his books are essential reading on that topic. This very ambitious book displays both Kiernan's strengths and weaknesses as a scholar and writer.

Like Kiernan's prior books, Blood and Soil is based on a great deal of careful scholarly work. In the case of Blood and Soil, this is mainly a careful reading of an enormous amount of secondary literature which he attempts to distill into an analysis of genocide. In this process, Kiernan attempts to provide a summary narrative of many of the most horrifying episodes in human history. This is the strength of the book. Many of these episodes, such as the conquest of what is now southern Vietnam, the horrors that accompanied the unification of Japan, German imperialism in Southwest Africa, or the genocidal activity of the Pakistani army in what is now Bangladesh, will be unknown to most readers. Several of his descriptions of better known events, such as colonial American genocidal activities against native Americans, the extermination of Tasmanian aborigines, the crimes of Mao's regime, Japanese imperialism in China, and the Armenian genocide, are concise and insightful.

This book also exhibits Kiernan's weaknesses. Kiernan is not as strong an analyst as he a compiler. Kiernan opens Blood and Soil with an analytical chapter which he uses to set the stage for the rest of the book. Kiernan uses the definitions of genocide established in recent international conventions to define his subject. This is reasonable as it provides a uniform standard to judge crimes across a broad swath of history.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Future Watch Writer on November 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After Hitler's mass murder of the Jews people said "Never again". It has been a futile hope so far. What is particularly chilling has been the growth of ethnic and religious mass murder since the fall of the Soviet Union was supposed to usher in a new age of the "democratic peace". Indeed, as Amy Chua has pointed out in her book World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability the "new" order of capitalism and democracy has been anything but orderly.

Unfortunately, while the shelves of America's bookstores are groaning under the weight of an almost endless collection of books on the Nazi genocide, there has been little attention the larger issue of genocide in world history and the reasons for it.

This book tries to fill that gap. It should be read in conjunction with Death by Government the best book on political mass murder in the last century. I also have a list of books on the subject of political terror and mass murder in the lists section of my Amazon profile.

This book is higly relevant because the incentives for genocide in the next 100 years are going to be far greater than in the past. Rising world populations and global warming are going to create a greater and more brutal competition for food and resources. Rwanda, for example, was one of the most densely populated nations in Africa.

In 1945 people hoped books like this would only be about the past. Today we hope they will only concern the recent present and the past.
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