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Death by Government [Paperback]

R. J. Rummel
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 1, 1997 1560009276 978-1560009276

This is R. J. Rummel's fourth book in a series devoted to genocide and government mass murder, or what he calls democide. He presents the primary results, in tables and figures, as well as a historical sketch of the major cases of democide, those in which one million or more people were killed by a regime. In Death by Government, Rummel does not aim to describe democide itself, but to determine its nature and scope in order to test the theory that democracies are inherently nonviolent.

Rummel discusses genocide in China, Nazi Germany, Japan, Cambodia, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Poland, the Soviet Union, and Pakistan. He also writes about areas of suspected genocide: North Korea, Mexico, and feudal Russia. His results clearly and decisively show that democracies commit less democide than other regimes. The underlying principle is that the less freedom people have, the greater the violence; the more freedom, the less the violence. Thus, as Rummel says, “The problem is power. The solution is democracy. The course of action is to foster freedom.”

Death by Government is a compelling look at the horrors that occur in modern societies. It depicts how democide has been very much a part of human history. Among other examples, the book includes the massacre of Europeans during the Thirty Years' War, the relatively unknown genocide of the French Revolution, and the slaughtering of American Indians by colonists in the New World. This riveting account is an essential tool for historians, political scientists, and scholars interested in the study of genocide.

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Editorial Reviews


* Named an Outstanding Academic Title by Choice!

"[Death by Government] is a compelling study of what the author calls democide—the intentional killing by governments through genocide, politicide, massacre, and terror. . . . A product of eight years of research by a distinguished political scientist, this is an unrivaled magnum opus with dozens of tables, figures, copious notes, and a massive bibliography. Essential reading for historians, political scientists, and readers interested in genocide."

—R. H. Dekmejian, Choice

Death by Government should be read in history classes not just across America, but around the world. The problem of power, as Rummel terms it, remains with us today. . . . Only if we learn from the past can we ever hope to end state-sanctioned murder. The case for human liberty and limited government has never been made more effectively than by this fearsome book.”

—Doug Bandow, Cato Institute

Death by Government is a good introduction to the general phenomena of state-sponsored mass murder or democide (Rummel’s concept). The numerous case studies are a mizture of carefully wrought description of the horrendous suffering of peoples under maily authoritarian political systems, with just the right dose of personal horror stories to make the book a memorable study of human deprivation and misery. For this effort, Rummel ought to be applauded.”

—Barbara Harff, the Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“With this volume, Rummel has completed his magnum opus on genocide and government mass murder, in short what Rummel calls ‘democide’. . . . Rummel’s methodology is based on averaging figures from a large number of sources, rather than historical source criticism or demographic estimates. This is a controversial method, yet it is clearly documented and well argued. . . . This work if a major achievement and will provide a reference point which no future systematic work on democide can ignore.”

—Nils Petter Gleditsch, Journal of Peace Research

“Governments have murdered about 169 million people in the twentieth century, according to Rummel’s estimate. . . . Yet mass murder by governments has been largely ignored by political science. Rummel argues that, to rectify this omission, a reconceptualization of government and politics is required. To this end he proposes the concept of ‘democide’ , which he defines as the intentional killing by a government of unarmed people. . . . Rummerl draws our attention to facts that are often ignored and should not be.”

—Michael Freeman, the Slavonic and East European Review

About the Author

R. J. Rummel was professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii. He is the author of over one hundred scholarly articles and two dozen books, including Power Kills, China’s Bloody Century, and The Miracle That Is Freedom.  In addition, he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and been the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Conflict Processes Section of the American Political Science Association and the International Association of Genocide Scholars’ Award for Distinguished Lifetime Contribution to the Field of Genocide and Democide Studies and Prevention.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers (January 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560009276
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560009276
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 6.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #558,148 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

R.J. Rummel is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science. He has published twenty-four nonfiction books (one that received an award for being among the most referenced), six novels, and about 100 peer-reviewed professional articles; has received the Susan Strange Award of the International Studies Association in 1999 for having intellectually most challenged the field; and in 2003 was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Conflict Processes Section, American Political Science Association. He has been frequently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

See also "about R.J. Rummel, or his curriculum vita at His website is at, his daily blog is at

Many of his books are downloadable free in pdf at:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
106 of 106 people found the following review helpful
Sometimes it takes the insight of others to help me make better sense of what I already knew. I used to think war was the greatest cause of death and tragedy, but after reading R.J. Rummel's "Death by Government" I came to the recognition that governments killing their own citizens (what Rummel terms "democide") accounts for far more death than war has this century (by a factor of about four to one). War's visibility distorts perception. For example, I have long been aware of the six million Jews executed in the Holocaust because this was part of World War II. Yet even while I also knew the former Soviet Union had annihilated some fifty to sixty million of its own people, until I read Rummel I had not given the Soviet slaughter nearly the same significance as the Holocaust (though the number of Soviet citizens slaughtered was literally ten times the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis!). Rummel has been called the foremost "atrocitologist" of our time and "Death by Government" has been thoroughly researched with expertise. To complete the book this former Yale professor and Nobel Peace Prize nominee recorded over 8,000 estimates of genocide and mass murder from over a thousand sources. As a political science doctoral student, I have reviewed many books on the subject, and, for anyone interested in understanding genocide and government mass murder, "Death by Government" is the most comprehensive compilation of government atrocities I have ever encountered. It contains the pertinent numbers as well as the sad and grisly tales of unimaginable carnage. "Death by Government" is an illuminating book on some of the darkest elements of this century. Any course on these issues will be seriously enhanced by Rummel's very readable accounting of state sponsored homicide.
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89 of 93 people found the following review helpful
And with reason. There is none of the sacrifice, drama or nobility reported in battles. It's not about Thermopylae or Gettysburg.
This is an account of what humanity has done to itself--and continues to this day. It's a book on comparitive demonology. One almost gets the impression that a soldier ripping a baby from his mother's arms, tossing it in the air and catching it on the point of his bayonet is the rule, not the exception. Ditto for POW's captured by front line troops.
The author is a professor of Political Science who finds it amazing that his colleagues write texts on the purposes of government, yet fail to mention that (with the possible exception of the Jewish victims of Nazi genocide) instead of protecting citizens from "the savagery of the jungle" by rule of law, governments have and continue to be, THE greatest killers of all.
"Democide" is the word he coins to combine genocide (murdering because of membership in a hated race, ethnicity,or religion,) plus politicide ( murdering for political purposes, e.g; dissidents ) and mass murder (indiscriminate killing).
Democide is always committed by governments. It is as organized as taxation or road building. Discounting civilians accidentally killed in cross-fires, or even in the aerial bombardments of cities, this still leaves horrifying numbers.
Pre-Twentieth Century? An estimate of 169,198,000 human beings massacred. Since this includes the victims of Genghis Khan, Incas, Conquistadors, etc., There's an obscene tendency to see them as not quite human, not quite real due to the distance in time. So Tarmelane, the Turkish conqueror slaughtered 100,000 people outside of Delhi and he liked to make pyramids of human heads?--Who cares?--Just stuff in history books. . .
Is WW2 is close enough?
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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be Required Reading in College Curricula October 7, 1999
A shocking and sobering account of what happens when governments become too powerful. Rummel's corollary to Lord Acton's dictum is "Power kills; absolute power kills absolutely." His research is top notch. The writing is less so. But the message is clear -- when it comes to forms of government, the freer it is, the less likely the government is to kill its own. The lesson should be to promote poltical freedom wherever possible and limit the power of government. A powerful antidote to advocates of benevolent big brother.
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58 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Democides, Genocides, and Holocausts September 6, 2002
Death by Government examines democides (definition below) of one million or more in the 20th century and before. The author, R. J. Rummel, shows that totalitarian regimes commit most of the democides. The underlying principle is that the less freedom people have, the greater the violence; the more freedom, the less violence. Rummel says, "The problem is power. The solution is democracy. The course of action is to foster freedom."
To understand the book, it is worthwhile to remember the following definitions:
DEMOCIDE: the intentional government killing of an unarmed person or people, including genocide, politicide, and mass murder. Note: "demos" = people. "cide" (caedere) = kill
GENOCIDE: among other things, the killing of people by a government because of their indelible group membership (race, ethnicity, religion, and language).
POLITICIDE: the murder of any person or people by a government because of their politics or for political purposes.
MASS MURDER: the indiscriminate killing of any person or people by a government.
HOLOCAUST: a thorough destruction, especially by fire. A type of genocide.
Although the book examines democides (definition above) of one million or more in the 20th century and before, the rest of this review will focus on the ten worst democides in the 20th century.

We all know the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews. Most American do NOT know that the ten worst totalitarian governments murdered more than 136 million OTHER people during the 20th century. The following is a list of the ten governments responsible for all those deaths.
(* = about 2 million MURDERS)
Soviet Gulag (1917-87)
-Executions during collectivization, etc.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars It was so, so
Death by Government just did not touch on the points that I thought it would. It spoke of past atrocities, but nothing regarding present-day atrocities.
Published 23 days ago by Marilyn Carr
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for the squeamish!
I am not being fatuous or facile. It is an extremely thought-provoking, disturbing and absolutely necessary book.
It exposes the dark recesses of man's inhumanity to man. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Alan Phillips
1.0 out of 5 stars Invented numbers.
Nazi Germany didn't Genocide anybody. The facts are there for anyone willing to look at them. If the Western "democracies" hadn't declared war on Germany, WW2 would never... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Robin Phillips
5.0 out of 5 stars Restrict our right to firearms? You must be joking !!
Anyone who believes the government has a "right" to restrict our possession of firearms should read this book. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Sailor Tom
4.0 out of 5 stars An Encyclopedic Account of 20th-Century State-Sponsored Mass Murders,...
Most people know only about the Nazi German genocide of 5-6 million Jews, commonly called the Holocaust (or Shoah). Read more
Published 12 months ago by Jan Peczkis
4.0 out of 5 stars text book cost
Many of you might not know this book is considered a "textbook" by the major retailers and it seems Amazon as well. That's why even thought its in paperback its expensive. Read more
Published on March 3, 2010 by Diogenes
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Powerful government is a killing machine
R.J. Rummel has spent his career assembling data on genocide, politicide and other government mass murder (studying more than 8,200 reports with estimates). Read more
Published on October 31, 2007 by Thomas Wikman
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most important books I've ever read
It is bewildering to reflect on how many people were murdered in the 20th century by the hand of brutish governments. Read more
Published on April 15, 2007 by Todd Adams
5.0 out of 5 stars Fostering Freedom
Professor Rummel's work, Death By Government, is a product of eight years of research into the roots and causes of Democide - defined as the intentional killing by governments... Read more
Published on February 8, 2006 by M. Scully
5.0 out of 5 stars The Truth
This book is a amazing book of Heroic Truth. It tells the truth about many of the literal hells of the 20th century, the countless deaths of millions. Read more
Published on March 11, 2005 by Materialist
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RJ Rummel is a whacko
And this is any different from the endless communist and socialists ramblings of those in the Obama administration? Oh, the recent use of Executive order and regulation to circumvent the law, that seems to be coming true. What is next?

His book lays out a good explanation of how government... Read More
Nov 10, 2011 by Peter Trzop |  See all 2 posts
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