Twisted History: 32 True Stories of Torture, Traitors, Sadists, and Psychos... Plus the Most Celebrated Saints in History

Twisted History: 32 True Stories of Torture, Traitors, Sadists, and Psychos... Plus the Most Celebrated Saints in History

by Howard Watson


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780594723028
Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
Publication date: 02/24/2015
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 513,996
Product dimensions: 7.30(w) x 9.60(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Howard Watson is a writer and editor who has written factual books for adults and children, including The Atlas of History's Greatest Heroes and Villains, Awesome Facts and Gruesome Facts. He has contributed to a range of websites, magazines, and newspapers, including the Independent.

Table of Contents


Treachery & Torture

    William Wallace
    Gilles de Rais
    Vlad the Impaler
    Richard III
    Guy Fawkes
    Benedict Arnold
    Adolf Eichmann
    Pierre Laval
    Lavrentiy Berla

Saints & Sinners

    Judas Iscariot
    Joan of Arc
    Tomás de Torquemada
    Thomas More
    René Goupil
    Adolf Hitler
    Mahatma Gandhi
    Martin Luther King, Jr.
    Bernie Madoff

Murder & Mayhem

    Dick Turpin
    Thug Behram
    John Wilkes Booth
    Billy the Kid
    Jack the Ripper
    H.H. Holmes

    Al Capone
    Kazuo Taoka
    Joseph Stalin
    Lee Harvey Oswald



From the beginning of human existence there has been a darkness that has accompanied almost all the major events in the world: the tales are stained with murder, assassination, torture, betrayal, lust, revenge, remorselessness, and boundless ambition. The darkness is not unique to narratives of serial killers, gangsters, torturers, and assassins, and their sometimes almost unspeakable depravity. Close examination of the life of almost every king or queen, emperor, politician, and even priests and saints, reveals its own twisted history.

Different characteristics of twisted history are borne out in the three sections of this book—Treachery & Torture, Saints & Sinners, and Murder & Mayhem—although each of the themes bleeds, quite literally, into the others.

Traitors-In A Cause?

Treachery & Torture focuses on those who have shaken free of the constraints of honor and humanity, and embraced the dark side. Brutus, Guy Fawkes, Benedict Arnold, and Pierre Laval are all marked as the greatest of traitors against each of their own states, deviously plotting against the lives of their fellow countrymen or leaders. And yet there is often light and shade within the twists of their connivance: Brutus and Fawkes turned to assassination to uphold their own beliefs; Laval, the French prime minister who collaborated with the Nazis, believed, until his dying breath, that he was helping his own country; and Arnold . . . well, he betrayed America because of injured pride and financial gain, but even he had previously fought with valor and risked his life for his country.

Then there are those whose actions are darker still: the men implicated in mass torture and who seemed to revel in the gore, such as Adolf Eichmann, the cold-hearted architect of the Holocaust; Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin's diabolical henchman; and Gilles de Rais, the mass murderer of children. The dark depravity of some of the instruments of torture and execution is highlighted: the rack, the strappado, and, perhaps the most nausea-inducing form of execution, being hanged, drawn, and quartered. This method of dispatch, sanctioned by the English state as the punishment for treason, deliberately kept victims alive as long as possible so they could witness their own emasculation and disembowelment. Saints & Sinners explores the lives both of those who were more sinned against than sinning, and those who just concentrated on the sinning. Martyrs, ranging from tormented religious saints to leading twentieth-century figures who were slain for promoting peace and justice, rub shoulders with those who mercilessly pursued religious persecution: Emperor Nero, who torched Christians to illuminate his garden; Torquemada, who victimized Jews; and Hitler, who carried persecution into a new realm of darkness—all revealed the darkest shade of the degeneracy of which humans are capable.

Murderers, Gangsters, Assassins

Nothing strikes fear into a population more than the threat of a serial killer, who cunningly defies the law to strike again and again, making us all too aware of the fragile and perilous nature of our existence. Murder & Mayhem uncovers the lives and modus operandi of the killers who snatched the innocent, dragged them into a world of pain, and extinguished them, only to evade capture and set off in pursuit of a fresh victim. Like serial killers, gangsters such as Al Capone have the power to cause mayhem by terrorizing the world with lawlessness, striking at the heart of both the individual and society's desperate need for security. Presidential assassins John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald also rent fissures in the foundations of civilization by snuffing out the lives of two much heralded and heroic American heads of state.


History is twisted and fortunes are changed by the remorseless characters, driven by greed, evil, or insanity, who transgress the boundaries of humanity, but the telling of history itself is sometimes twisted, too. As we assess the dark reputations and crimes of the historical players, we must always remember that history is written by the victors: an idea extemporized by French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault and many others to the point that it has become a truism of historiography (the writing of history). Historians have their own dark reasons for contorting the tales of previous leaders to make them appear as monsters. Richard III, often regarded as the most treacherous and evil king of England, is to some extent the victim of historians' desire for grace and favor from his royal successors. His crown was taken by force by the Tudors, who only had a weak claim on the throne; contemporary historians became the agents of Tudor lies,
blackening Richard's name in order to make the new dynasty seem less tyrannical and more valorous. To some extent, the reputations of Nero and Vlad the Impaler suffered in a similar manner.

Facts are also the victims of exaggeration and salaciousness on the part of chroniclers and historians. It is not enough that the serial killer Thug Behram killed well over a hundred people: he is associated with the deaths of 928, so the latter figure is often misused as the total number of his personal victims. History is also twisted with regard to H.H. Holmes; apparently the twenty-seven murders to which he confessed are not enough, and he is sometimes said to have killed 200 despite the absence of any evidence for such a huge figure.

There is a natural human thrill taken in reading of debauchery and vice. Perhaps more than any other historian, the Roman Suetonius played on this and reveled in the salacious, fleshing out the skeletal facts about emperors such as Caligula and Nero with a weight of conjectural claims about the sheer depths of their vice. Suetonius was always willing to conjure more darkness, to add a new, terrible twist to history. But even within the exaggeration, there is almost always the kernel of truth.

History as these pages reveal, is twisted, dark, and soaked in blood.

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