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on November 20, 2011
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. The book covers a period from the Second Persian War (Rank: 96), circa 480 - 479, to the Second Congo War (Rank: 27) that ran from 1998 to 2002. The author Matthew White surveys the entire world, which results in entries from the Goguryeo-Sui Wars (Rank: 67) between Korea and China, crica 598 to 612 A.D., to the Bahmani-Vijayanagara Wather (Rank: 70) between Muslims and Hindus, circa 1366, in Indian, to the "Heart of Darkness" which was King Leopold I of Belgium's Congo Free State (Rank:14), circa 1865 - 1908. The result is a book that is easy to dip into to read whatever the reader is interested in, but then pulls the reader into reading "just another" selection, then another selection, as the reader is confronted by well-known and unknown mind-boggling, "Gosh! Wow!" histories of events whose passions have either died completely or are in the process of dying out.

The author has a couple of nice appendices where he crunches some numbers for determining who and what are the greatest killers. Although my senses was that he had a secularist bias, he was encouragingly even-handed in analyzing both the cliche that religion causes war and the contribution that Communism has made to mass-killing in the 20th Century. For my part, I was surprised by the number of Chinese rebellions that were inspired by a form of "Christianity," to wit, two: the Fang La Rebellion (Rank: 37) of 1120 - 1122 was led by "Vegetarian Demon Worshippers," i.e., Manichaeans, and the Taiping Rebellion (Rank: 6) of 1850 - 1864 was led by a person who fancied himself to be the "younger brother of Jesus Christ." Granted that there are a lot of Chinese rebellions that did not need to be ignited by a a Christian heresy, one has to marvel - Gosh! Wow! - about the fact that any of them - let alone two - were ignited by such an alien influence, as Christianity is to China, and ponder what effect that may have had on the antipathy of Communist China in the 20th Century to Christian missionaries. (Admittedly there are other reasons for Communists to suppress Christianity, but the virtue of a book like this one is that it allows such patterns to become apparent because of the breadth of its coverage.)

This is a great book to leave on the night stand or coffee table for those occasions when the reader has a few minutes to get lost in the the great ethnic cleansing of the Sino-Dzungar War (Rank: 67), circa 1755-1757, when China eliminated the Dzungar nation by eliminating something on the order of 600,000 Dzungars in an atrocity that has essentially been forgotten.
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on December 29, 2011
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. But, whites history is unapologetically inclusive of recent acts of unspeakable barbarity, such as WWII, the senseless monstrosities from the Korean peninsula, and human induced horrors from Central Africa, and other acts of inhuman butchery many of which have happened in this century! White tries to find some pattern to it all in his closing chapters and yet, the reader has to come to the conclusion, there is nothing that can be directly blamed for it except gross human stupidity and madness of mob mentality. We really are a unique species in more way than just our so-called high intelligence. We are crafty apes, with murder in our black hearts. We are ruthless and selfish and pitiless. We are not just capable of grand individual sweeps of specie-cide, we seem to gladly and massively follow the inhuman and murderous orders of any tyrant willing to toss us a few crumbs of moldy bread to us so such evil creatures can magnify their well thought out horrors a million fold. It is fascinating and disgusting, horrible and informative, sickening and intriguing to learn this dark side to our own inner psyche. The word "humanity" takes on an entirely different shade after reading this well written and intensely informative book.
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ATROCITIES: THE 100 DEADLIEST EPISODES IN HUMAN HISTORY provides a blunt view at mankind’s destructive ways from the Second Persian War (480 BC) to the Second Congo War (2002). Between these two bookends are a multitude of wars, genocides, rebellions, crusades, revolts and general acts/missions of deadly cruelty that consumed hundreds of millions of lives. As astonishing as the sheer number of deaths are, even more astonishing is that author Matthew White only details and ranks (by death toll) the 100 deadliest events. What makes ATROCITIES such a worthy reference is not only the abundance of details, but the presentation of the material along with White’s mordant narration.

Organized in a chronological manner, each “episode” (war, genocide, etc.) is presented as a chapter. Each chapter includes a summary header that encapsulates the episode by including: death toll, participants, time frame, location, general reasoning behind episode, who or what’s to blame and the episode’s rank on the list of 100. Following the header, White delves into the dirty details of the event in a succinct manner that is rich with details. His witty summaries of each episode include a degree of sarcasm that somehow manages to blend the grave subject manner with a bit of humor. The humor relates mostly to how mankind’s stupidity often leads to mass death … many of the episodes presents will have readers shaking their heads. White makes the depressing topic rather enjoyable to read. There are no illustrations/pictures (other than the cover) and only a handful of maps in the book, but the text renders such visual aids unnecessary. The appendices at the end of the book provide the rationale behind the rankings, additional summarized data and the sources used to create the book.

Overall, ATROCITIES is a terrific and useful reference that brings to light many lesser-known historical events from all over the world. There were quite a few episodes that I had never heard of, especially in Africa. I have always enjoyed almanacs, older versions of the Guinness Book of World records and The Book of Lists, so this book really hit the mark with me.
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on April 24, 2015
Man's inhumanity to man on parade! A history text, a sociology primer, and casebook on deviant psychology superbly written and organized. Mr. White is a scholar. This, his witty, sometimes sardonic and comprehensive survey of human greed on a massive scale, teachers all one needs to know why man's defining characteristic is the willingness -- nay, compulsion -- to kill other human beings. No education is complete without a thorough reading of this delightful, appalling and altogether damning chronicle of that monster that is humankind.
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on July 11, 2014
I have long been a fan of the website and was happy to find there was a book to purchase. "Atrocities" is an excellent, thoughtful, and fact-filled compendium of death tolls and human suffering in a well-organized format. The author gives his opinions and discusses how he arrived at them based on available sources. Full of information and very readable.
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on March 18, 2015
It's big and it's horrible. Why do I read things like this...? Why 4 stars? It is a well researched and written book, of horrible things. Happily, most of history occurred before cameras and videos so you don't have to see all the gore.
Why not 5 stars? Don't really like the way it's organized. The author explains why he chose and formated it like he did, just a difference of taste.
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VINE VOICEon February 24, 2015
My colleague (teaches history) and requires this book for her students. At first I thought, really how academic could this be? Well it is. It chronicles the death and destruction of historic acts while communicating the 411 of the acts/actions. Worth reading but be ready to be depressed...but it is history.
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on December 21, 2014
If you're a history buff or just like reading about human nature you'll really enjoy this book. It gives a nice general overview of major historical events but don't expect it to go into great details. If you want to know more about a specific event then you'll definitely need to read on your own. But, if you want a nice, casual stroll through history then this is your book!

It's divided up nicely and each event is highlighted in bite size chunks allowing you to read just one or two stories right before bed.
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on January 30, 2012
This is a very good work that dispells the myth that the majority of autrocites were caused by religion. I have heard the myth oft repeated, but this work presents facts that counter that statement. Yes, there have been autrocities in the name of religion and I am not justifying them in any way. However, the author sums up the number of deaths due to communism (Barely 160 years old) compared to religion (thousand of years old) and communism trumps religion by over 20 million. Just imagine how many would have been killed if communism was still being rolled out to new major countries. In his summation, religion is responsible for about 10% of the autrocities. Still not good, but hardly the worst offender.

I do have a few issues with Mr. White's work, but they are mostly where his bias conflicts with my bias and nothing excessively blatant.

I do disagree with him saying the 6 million Jews killed by Hitler were religious in nature. While, I understand his reasoning that the Jews and Germans were ethnically the same and it was only religion that defined them, I have to give creedence to the reasons Hitler and the Nazi party stated. Their arguments were not based on the difference in theology, but in the alledged genetic inferiority.

We can argue how he slices and dices the data, but if we do, we need to be able to provide a convincing argument as to why. In general I agree with his work. He appears to be consistent and thoughtful without being overly biased.

Available on Kindle, which is where I got my copy.
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on August 31, 2014
My husband is a history nut but I am not. While I find it interesting, my attention span with a long history book wanes quickly. That being said, this book is great for both of us. It condenses information into easily read, quick summaries that all types of people can enjoy. This was a great purchase and I keep it handy for whenever I have a few extra minutes to cram in a chapter (which is usually anywhere from 2 - 7 pages).
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