- Paperback: 688 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (May 13, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393345238
- ISBN-13: 978-0393345230
- Product Dimensions: 7 x 1.8 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 73 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #150,085 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Atrocities: The 100 Deadliest Episodes in Human History 1st Edition
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“[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
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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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.
One vehicle for taming history is various patriotic holidays, with Thanksgiving at the heart of U.S. myth-building. From an early age, we Americans hear a story about the hearty Pilgrims, whose search for freedom took them from England to Massachusetts. There, aided by the friendly Wampanoag Indians, they survived in a new and harsh environment, leading to a harvest feast in 1621 following the Pilgrims first winter. Some aspects of the conventional story are true enough. But it's also true that by 1637 Massachusetts Gov. John Winthrop was proclaiming a thanksgiving for the successful massacre of hundreds of Pequot Indian men, women and children, part of the long and bloody process of opening up additional land to the English invaders. The pattern would repeat itself across the continent until between 95 and 99 percent of American Indians had been exterminated and the rest were left to assimilate into white society or die off on reservations, out of the view of polite society. Thanksgiving is the day that celebrates the beginning of a genocide that was, in fact, blessed by the men we hold up as our heroic founding fathers. The first president, George Washington, in 1783 said he preferred buying Indians' land rather than driving them off it because that was like driving "wild beasts" from the forest. He compared Indians to wolves (unfortunate metaphor as both are noble creatures), "both being beasts of prey, tho' they differ in shape." President Thomas Jefferson and author of the Declaration of Independence, which refers to Indians as the "merciless Indian Savages", was known to romanticize Indians and their culture, but that didn't stop him in 1807 from writing to his secretary of war that in a coming conflict with certain tribes, "We shall destroy all of them."
Regrettably, this the single greatest extermination in the history of the world receives ZERO attention. This fact is proof positive of the adage that the victors write a sanitized version of historical events to support their agenda.
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.