The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History's 100 Worst Atrocities

The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History's 100 Worst Atrocities

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by Matthew White
     
 

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A compulsively readable and utterly original account of world history—from an atrocitologist’s point of view.
Evangelists of human progress meet their opposite in Matthew White's epic examination of history's one hundred most violent events, or, in White's piquant phrasing, "the numbers that people want to argue about." Reaching back to 480 BCE's

Overview

A compulsively readable and utterly original account of world history—from an atrocitologist’s point of view.
Evangelists of human progress meet their opposite in Matthew White's epic examination of history's one hundred most violent events, or, in White's piquant phrasing, "the numbers that people want to argue about." Reaching back to 480 BCE's second Persian War, White moves chronologically through history to this century's war in the Congo and devotes chapters to each event, where he surrounds hard facts (time and place) and succinct takeaways (who usually gets the blame?) with lively military, social, and political histories. With the eye of a seasoned statistician, White assigns each entry a ranking based on body count, and in doing so he gives voice to the suffering of ordinary people that, inexorably, has defined every historical epoch. By turns droll, insightful, matter-of-fact, and ultimately sympathetic to those who died, The Great Big Book of Horrible Things gives readers a chance to reach their own conclusions while offering a stark reminder of the darkness of the human heart.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Who was worse, Adolf Hitler or Genghis Khan? An odd question, perhaps--but after finishing prolific historian White's compendium, it's one readers will be better prepared to entertain. The answer, of course, is that both were quite terrible. Between the two dictators, something on the order of 100,000,000 people died during their regimes--most of them noncombatants. "War kills more civilians than soldiers," writes the author. "In fact, the army is usually the safest place to be during a war." That said, White patiently works his way through 100 atrocities, examining each with a tone that's sometimes waggish, sometimes even flippant, but never less than smart. He reckons, for instance, that the dreaded Persians, whom the Greeks supposedly kept from destroying Western civilization, really weren't such bad guys, even if their military machine dispatched many a foe. Timur, known to the West as Tamerlane, was similarly a pretty good guy, at least if you were on his good side. By one of history's little ironies, those who were on his bad side were usually co-religionists: "He was a devout Muslim who almost exclusively destroyed Muslim enemies." Stalin? A rotter. Mao? Perhaps worse. Hitler? Well, to the conservatives who insist that we were wrong to ally with Stalin against Hitler, White writes that "the world went to war against Hitler because he was dangerous, not because he was evil," adding, "when you start invading your neighbors, the rest of the world gets jumpy." Observing that nothing will prompt a fight more quickly than a set of numbers, White merrily quantifies the grimmest records humans have set--and if there's any overarching lesson to take from his book, it is that our species is little more than a pack of chimps with guns and murderous intent. Fight or not, White is an equal-opportunity quantifier, showing that if Zulu chief (and sometime hero) Shaka had plenty of innocent blood on his hands, so did the French and British imperialists, to say nothing of Robert McNamara. A strange, brilliant and endlessly arguable book, one every student of history needs to have close at hand.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393081923
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
11/07/2011
Pages:
688
Sales rank:
303,849
Product dimensions:
7.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 2.10(d)

Meet 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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Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History's 100 Worst Atrocities 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
HarryVane More than 1 year ago
Borrowed this book from my local library believing that the premise has some sort of potential, however it proved quite disappointing. It is a voyeuristic history, one that is almost obscene...the numbers eventually become meaningless. The historical synopsis of each event (especially the ancient events) are inaccurate, vague and highly generalized. This is history in masturbatory form-a lazy work; ideally I assume for a reader that appreciates the historical merit of "Storage Wars," or some other insufferable thing from the History Channel. Those who are looking for a better read: I suggest "The Pessimist's Guide to History," which has a better narrative and a concise chronology of events.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was the first history book I've ever read outside of school and I have to say that it was fantastic.  I was not before, but am now a sort of history buff.  This book discusses 100 terrible events in history in chronological order describing some truly unique event in history I had never heard of.  For each event the author informs you of whom is most often blamed for the atrocity (note the author does not assign the blame himself, only tells you who historians typically blame).   The book is written with a dose of humor and a touch of pessimism and is very entertaining. Another thing worth mentioning is this historian is not afraid to admit that historical records (especially the ancient ones) should have a degree error associated with their numbers.  He points out often that the number of lives lost in some battles are disputed among historians and thus we must make assumptions as to what really happens.  He also reminds you that history is written by man, and typically those who win wars, and what you read should be taken with a grain of salt.  A great book for the coffee table because it provides very interesting short reads.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago