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

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  332 ratings  ·  66 reviews
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, w ...more
ebook, 688 pages
Published November 7th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 2011)
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This book isn't in the best possible taste. Like one of those countdown programmes on cheesy tv - 2011's 100 Most Shocking Celebrity Moments it ranks massacres, wars and man-made catastrophes of limitless human suffering and discusses them all in a slightly unnerving jokey chatty unhistorianlike manner :

The Germans had come so close to winning the First World War they couldn't believe they didn't.

Communism lasted longer than fascism, jazz, John Wayne, Bonanza and the American Motor Corporation.
You know that scene in Maus Part II when Art Spiegelman, seated at his drawing board, is perched high up on a Holocaust bodypile? Okay. Matthew White is made of something *steely* because this man's work has him sitting on top of not just *a* tragic body pile, but *the* tragic body pile, the ENTIRE HUMAN BODYPILE. And I just spent the last couple of evenings mountaineering with him to the human bodypile's damnable peak. From up here, let me tell you what it was like: I was impressed because I am ...more
I expected to be utterly depressed throughout my reading of this fascinating trip down Atrocity Lane, but instead I found myself enthralled by the history being presented to me and the different way it was being presented. Though the sordid history of humanity is quite the cautionary tale in how we fail to treat each other in the ways in which we wish them to treat us, from slavery to warfare to acts of genocide to politically and racially induced famines, "The Great Big Book of Horrible Things" ...more
The first thing you need to know about The Great Big Book of Horrible things is, you're going to not only learn things, but you'll at times be embarrassed about the things you know almost nothing about. The worst genocide since the Holocaust occurred in Bangladesh in 1971? The bloodiest war since WWII, the Second Congo War, ended less than ten years ago, and nobody in the United States noticed? 20 million Indians died in the 1800s due to famines that the British didn't want to respond to?

Makes y
Mary Overton
From the introduction:
"Aside from morbid fascination, is there any reason to know the one hundred highest body counts of history? Four reasons come to mind:
"First, things that happen to a lot of people are usually more important than things that happen to only a few people....
"Second, killing a person is the most you can do to him....
"Therefore, just by default, my one hundred multicides had a maximum impact on an enormous number of people. Without too much debate, I can easily label these to be
Reading with hopes of an article on the value of statistics in understanding human atrocity--especially for those (like me) who tend to favour personal stories and even fictionalized accounts over this kind of data. We'll see what develops...

(Also: this is a whopper of a book, and while I don't often read eBooks, this one is helpful to have in this format; scrolling and searching is much easier).

Update: ended up writing a post on this topic here:
Shana Dennis
This book had a good chance of being dry and rambling, given the subject matter, but the author's tone and way of explaining each event kept me reading. White does not pin down a single cause for all of the horrible things in his great big book, which I liked. It is a bad historian that does that; a good historian recognizes that the world doesn't function in terms of black and white.
Essentially what you have hear is a concise yet surprisingly richly detailed, informative and intriguing encyclopaedia of the last three thousand years as told through a chronological rundown of events ranked by body count.

When I first picked this book up I was under the misunderstanding that it would be a collection of the most depraved examples of man's inhumanity towards their fellow man (or woman). Rather than basing his countdown of the most inhumane acts based on perceived depravity, cruel
For people who appreciate military history and the great battles waged here on Planet Earth, this is probably going to entertain you, as it did me. The personalities, settings, and sheer number of those involved with these 100 atrocities make for some fantastic non-fiction reading. However, be warned that the author does not hold back in describing some intensely gruesome scenarios -- millions of wasted souls fly out of these pages. It got me down a bit, close to the end of the book, reading abo ...more
Apr 16, 2012 Cwiegard rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who finds history fascinating
This is a surprisingly fascinating examination of the dark side of human history- the ways in which large numbers of humans die at the hands of other humans. We learn among other things that 3 million or more people died in the Roman gladiatorial games over some 700 years. Who knew? White may not be a Harvard professor, but he is clearly a bright man who has done a lot of research and thought deeply. It is well worth reading. This turns out to NOT be a freak show or a list of horrors- it is an h ...more
Apr 02, 2012 Nelson is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
So far so good...some best lines I read so far:

"While fighting over land is quite common, the land in dispute usually provides some practical resource - minerals, crops, harbors, farms, strategic location, exploitable labor, or sheer size. Palestine has none of these. The sole resource of the Holy Land is heritage. There's no gold, no oil, very little fertile land, and few natives, nothing but sacred sites, so in essence, the Crusades killed 3 million people in a fight to control the tourist tra
This was an amazing book. I learned so many things about history that I never learned in school. Basically anything having to do with African or Asian history was news to me. The writing was also quite witty for being about horrible atrocities.
This guy writes with so little emotion about world events, it's hilarious. For example, he describes the Crusades as a fight to control the tourist trade. Also, it's comical how easily humanity resorts cannibalism. Loved it.
Susan Morris
In this book, the author attempts to list every atrocity that occurred in the history of mankind. It's an ambitious project, especially considering that many of the atrocities occurred so long ago that it's nearly impossible to validate the ancient accounts. When possible, he does verify the facts with archeological evidence, but at other times, it seemed he researched and made an educated guess based on conflicting stories. He's been criticized for that but I think he is to be commended for tak ...more
Stephen Cranney
Like a lot of pop-history books, this one is a little lacking in details; but this is forgivable because of the sheer amount of material he covers. People often have these "who was the worst" person discussions, and body counts inevitably get brought up, so it was nice to have a source that compiles all the different arguments.

Also, we've all heard of the Holocaust, Stalin, etc., but there were a lot of these genocides and massacres that I had never heard about before (Bengali Genocide, etc.),
The book I read was titled 'Atrocitology Humanity's 100 Deadliest Achievements'. White ranks man-made causes of death devoting between a page and ten pages to each and covers them chronologically. Most of the 100 are wars but not all. I appreciated his irreverance and lack of political correctness. He stands controversially with Marvin Harris in explaining Aztec human sacrifice as a need for protein. A valuable point is made about doubt historians have for the scale of murder caused by Chinggis ...more
Dale Muckerman
I picked this book up thinking I would read a little here and there, but I ended up reading it straight through from beginning to end. It really puts a perspective on history and on the extremes of human nature. Before you think times are bad now, read this book and get a perspective on what's happened in the past. It's amazing how cruel people have been. It's amazing how complicit religion has been in wholesale death and war. But what's most amazing is how no matter what some of these villains ...more
This is quite possibly the most important history book I've ever read.

White has a particular perspective: that the human cost of human actions should be quantified and studied thoroughly. This book uses a systematic approach to provide an overview of human events which does not ignore any of the ugliness in history. His use of a simple definition and exquisite sourcing give the reader quite a bit to digest - from the Punic wars to the Congolese civil war to the Three Kingdoms to the Atlantic sla
Laid out chronologically the author covers the 'top 100' with classifications (religion, civil war, political, etc.) that highlights the terrible things that we have done to one another throughout history. We are very efficient at killing and we also have short memories He also brings a little levity where appropriate (yes, it can be appropriate)

I really enjoyed this book. And it makes a great reference!
More of a "read through the chapters that interested me" than a "put-aside." This is more of a reference book to me and not something I could ever read all the way through (unless I was into genocide and war in a big way).

I quickly realized human suffering on a grand scale doesn't interest me. I'll stick to Cormac McCarthy for my fictionalized and personalized human suffering and violence, thank you.
Paul Valente
Fascinating account of the deadliest multicides in history, written in a refreshingly non-academic but engaging style, scrupulously impartial and thoroughly absorbing.
I'm starting this book again. I had to take it back to to the library. So I am going to start with Joseph Stalin on pg. 382.
Tobias Bremner
It is not very often you will reading a book about war, plague, famine and disease and find yourself saddened and entertained at the same time. White will sometimes even surprise you with a witty remark that will make you laugh in the middle of a blood gorged battle scene.
Sometimes while I was reading I discovered something I already knew and sometimes I would learn about things that I never heard of, like the Sino-Dzungar war that took place in modern day Korea.
I read it cover to cover but I b
I totally would have paid more attention in social studies if this was my text book.
I like lists, I like
History. This book combines
Them exhaustively.
Michael Burnam-fink
This book is unbelievable. Not the numbers; White does an admirable job seeking reasonable consensus views based on a variety of sources, and explains the limits of his knowledge and the biases of the historical record. Not the basic fact of man's inhumanity to man; as a species, we are horrific monsters. What's unbelievable is that anybody could write such a book and not wind up insane/dead/torn from reality by Yog-Sothoth.

Each of the 100 atrocities (minimum 300,000 deaths) is covered in a brie
Timothy Stead
A surprisingly good quality guide to mankind's worst nastiness.

I work in a bookstore and I picked this one up one day, a little apprehensively, to browse through on my lunch break. The quality of these list-style 'pop history' books tends to vary from poor to horrendous, with the overall impression being that they are churned out by hack authors with very little knowledge of the subject matters, usually relying on other dubious works.

This book though - this book wasn't half bad. For a start, Whi
Alex MacMillan
"I'm ahead, I'm a man. I'm the first mammal to wear pants, yeah" - Pearl Jam, "Do The Evolution."

"455 million killed overall. This comes to about 725,000 people killed for every page of this book, or 2,000 people killed per word."

This is the most informative and entertaining history book I've crossed paths with. Matthew White's chronologically-ordered top 100 countdown of the biggest body counts during the last 2,500 years brings readers up to speed with the major events that define the world we
David Brown
There’s no question that mankind is the most dangerous species in the world. We’re capable of a lot of devastation against and, as Matthew White’s book proves, each other. White has researched our history and come up with our 100 deadliest achievements going back to Ancient Greece and continuing throughout the timelines to the twentieth century. There are no happy endings in this book but there are many frightening statistics and accounts of just how horrible our predecessors have been to each o ...more
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