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.
Believe me, I don't want to discuss Shaka's penis any more than you want to read about it
It's not all like this, the rest of it is breathlessly potted history - there's more history in this book than 20 others put together, and often very obscure history too - and naturally the poor reader is going to suffer from factual brain overload if he reads this from page 1 to page 565, so this is for dipping into.
But who wants to dip in and read about an event which caused the death of 2 million people and rates 18 on Matthew White's list? Er, so what's this book for? To settle really morbid pub arguments?
"Derek, I think you will find that the Haitian Slave Revolt killed far more people than the Albigensian Crusade."
"Marjorie, Marjorie - before we go any further I think we should consult our well-thumbed copy of Atrocitology, don't you?"
The best parts of this odd book are the essays thrown into the mix. Here are some interesting conclusions from Mr White, who has thought about men, women and children dying in huge numbers more than is surely healthy for anyone -
1. Chaos is deadlier than tyranny.
2. The world is very disorganised - soldiers and nations change sides in the middle of wars, it's often hard to tell where one nation stops and another starts, and same goes with actual wars.
3. War kills more civilians than soldiers and more people than oppressive governments do. This last point will not please libertarians.
4. If you are a tyrant who has killed millions (you know who you are out there in Goodreadsland), you have a 49% chance of dying peacefully whilst still in power and an 11% chance of retiring from office and dying peacefully in retirement. The rest of you will be shot. That's not bad odds.
5. Let's hear it for India and Hinduism - the most peaceful nation & religion, based on its nearly complete absence in these pages. The only atrocities inflicted in India have been by non-Hindus.