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The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History's 100 Worst Atrocities Hardcover – November 7, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Genius.” (NPR)

“[White] doesn’t take sides so much as report the facts—and the death tolls. . . . Full of fascinating information about parts of the world little-known to most Westerners.” (Washington Post)

“White . . . gives voice to the suffering of ordinary people that, inexorably, has defined every historical epoch.” (Military Review)

“A fascinating read thanks to White’s keen grasp of history and his wry take on the villains of the past.” (Christian Science Monitor) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Matthew White is the creator of the online Historical Atlas of the 20th Century. His data has been cited by forty-five published books and eighty scholarly articles. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 688 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (November 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393081923
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393081923
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #524,110 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I have long kept in my memory statistics such as the fact that the the Thirty Years War (1618 - 1648) managed to kill off 25% of the German population. Or there is my personal favorite - during the War of the Triple Alliance, the Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano Lopez improbably and imprudently led Paraguay in to a war against Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, which resulted in the deaths of something like 90% of the mature Paraguayan male population.

These statistics are simply imponderable. What was it like to live after the cataclysm of the Thirty Years War? How did Paraguay manage to continue as a nation after the debacle of the War of the Triple Alliance? How did these "democides" happen?

The Great Big Book of Horrible Things collects and ranks the Thirty Years War (Rank: 17) and the War of the Triple Alliance (Rank: 79) with ninety-eight other mind-boggling instances of man's inhumanity to man, and provides a brief synopsis of their causes, course and results, all done in a breezy and humorous approach to the all-too serious subject matter. This approach is not a flaw of the book. All but five or six of the wars are long-forgotten, and the fact that so many can die for what appear to be transient and ephemeral causes is a cautionary instruction for the modern age. Moreover, the effect that these statistics and the stories behind them have - particularly the ones removed from modernity - have on me is "Gosh!Wow!" as in "Gosh! Wow!" can you believe that Genghis Khan (Rank: 2) managed to kill 40 million human beings with nothing more than muscle powered weapons?!?!?

Each of the entries gets a fairly short write up that provides background, players, setting, course and effects of the particular piece of human tragedy being reviewed.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book with some hesitation. Who wants to read about a billion deaths of human beings brought on by mass homicide? It almost says something about people who would find such a topic interesting. But, I am a student of history and after reading the table of contents, I thought it could give me a few insights I might not have previously heard of. I was delightfully correct. Just about every page I found new facts and insights on historical figures, some of which I had never heard of. And, as a huge plus, Matthew white has a charming writing style that somehow seems to make the study of such gruesome subject matter easy to read all without trivializing the human tragedy of it all. What monsters we humans can be? We are just ghastly creatures and particularly beastly toward our own kind. I came away from the book a bit ashamed I am of the same species as such creeps as "Genghis" Kahn and Napoleon Bonaparte, Mao Tse Tung and Joseph Stalin. I could find no refuge in my European ancestry, either; From famous British monsters who starved millions of Indian Hindus to death deliberately or Spanish conquistadores who systematically murdered and enslaved millions of North American indigenous people. My nationality was no help either as American slave masters and traders helped butcher millions more helpless Africans and slaughter more American natives. It is ghastly, and like any unfolding human disaster you just can't look away.

I also developed a rather intense sick feeling knowing human beings have changed very little over the last ten thousand years. We immodestly pat ourselves on the back as rising to unheard of levels of civilization and enlightened social intercourse.
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2 Comments 29 of 32 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Atrocities is an interesting book, not only in the short sections describing all these horrors, but also in some of the conclusions (“What I Found: Analysis”): hereditary monarchs were definitely safer than “talented evils” (pp. 538-539), “every Communist regime in history killed huge numbers of its own people … when death and destruction have followed every single Communist regime ever established, there would seem to be a flaw somewehere in the system” (“The Black Chapter of Communism”, p. 453).
Therefore it is shocking to read that, as an exception of the safer hereditary monarch rule, King Leopold II of Belgium was in the Free State of Congo "the deadliest" (p. 539), with a death toll of 10 million (p. 325) (1) in 23 years (1885/1886-1908): In the section "Crazed Tyrants. Who's Worse: Stalin or Hitler?" (p. 393), he is ranking Leopold II just behind Hitler, Stalin and Mao.
Matthew White should read Joseph Ki-Zerbo, the most respected African historian, who calculated that in 1903, supposedly one of the peak years of the rubber production, the total figure of Congolese workers in this industry was only 43,500. It is impossible to reconcile these findings with the totally inflated 10 million figure, which would have required the death of 435,000 Congolese per year or about 1,200 per day (2) (3).
The estimate of 10,000,000, in the absence of accurate records, is derived from a difference between British politically motivated "wild guesses" (Prof. Jean Stengers) (4) estimates of the Congo population in 1886 and the records of the 1924 Census.
« Il est tout à fait naturel de préférer les mensonges aux vérités. Ils sont moins compliqués.” (It is quite natural to prefer lies to truth. They are less complicated.
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