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

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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: 0.7 x 0.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #279,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“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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Customer Reviews

The humorous writing style makes it even better.
Loose Cannon
The book is great as a secondary source to cite in any historical logic, research, and detailed summations for college purposes.
I highly recomend this book to any one interested in history.
Gustavo E. Oroza

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Peter S. Bradley TOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 20, 2011
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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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Mike3746 on December 29, 2011
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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19 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Hande Z on November 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a book about the episodes in history that resulted in mass killing. They are ranked according to the number of deaths. The crusades which resulted in 3 million deaths is ranked 30 and the Vietnam War with 24 million, is ranked 24th. The author included deaths in Laos and Cambodia. World War II took top place with 66 million and Ghenghis Khan with 40 million to his discredit took second spot. The episodes are in chronological order but there is a useful list of rankings from page 529 -531.

If the author's sources are accurate, the list can be useful. The book is a relatively large one with 638 pages (a list of three pages probably can't sell) because the author provides a short account of each episode. This is the part that some might find questionable, that is, whether his accounts are accurate. There are some inconsistencies, such as referring to Ghenhis Khan elsewhere in the book as Chingghis Khan. The accuracy of the accounts is best left to professional historians - Matthew White worked as a Law librarian, though he might consider himself an historian. His notes are too brief, and consequently, his conclusions seem a little superficial, if not entirely extreme. For instance, White says Mao Zedong was constantly tinkering with the country and attributed the deaths to this tinkering. This is probably too simplistic an analysis. "Tinkering" clearly calls for explanation and a fuller discussion.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Loughlin on August 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Interesting and thought provoking. I liked how the author stays objective but still puts in anecdotes and interjects some humor. Made this tough subject much more bearable to read about. The author pulls off this very fine line well, which is hard to do with such a controversial subject and with the limited data available for much of history. While the book covered a lot of material I already knew, it also included a lot of material I had never read about before. I liked how the author did not just cover that same old stuff you might read about in a basic history book but rather often had a non-traditional approach.

I was disappointed that the Irish Potato Famine was not included in the top 100. It should rank somewhere in the middle. It was similar to the British India famine but even more clearly a genocide. Enough food, such as oats, was exported out of Ireland during the famines than would have been needed to feed the Irish. The Irish starved while there were millions of cattle on the island. Relief food from the US was blocked. So while the British India famine could have been stopped by importing food into India, the Irish famine could have been stopped by not exporting the food off the island. Including the Irish famine would have added credibility to the case for the British India famine being a genocide and not just bad management. In the comments at the end of the book the author writes that he does not include the Irish Potato famine because "I am setting my limit at two [famines]--no more." I am not sure if this is a joke.
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