Book Review: Atrocities: The 100 Deadliest Episodes in Human History

 I have long kept in my memory statistics such as the fact that the Thirty Years War (1618 - 1648) managed to kill off 25% of the German population. Or there is my personal favourite; during the War of the Triple Alliance, the Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano Lopez questionably and unwisely led Paraguay in to a war against Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, which resulted in the deaths of something like 90% of the mature Paraguayan male population.

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 events happen?

RRP: £14:99
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Co
Publication Date: July 2013
ISBN: 978-0393345230

'Atrocities' collects and ranks the Thirty Years War (Rank: 17) and the War of the Triple Alliance (Rank: 79) with ninety-eight other appalling instances of man's brutality, and provides a brief synopsis of their causes, course and results, all done in a cheerful and humorous approach to the all-too serious subject matter.

Matthew White, independent scholar and self-described 'atrocitologist', has amassed the sorts of facts and figures that men like to have at their fingertips. It is essentially a compendium of deaths. We know the wars of the last century caused tens of millions of deaths. But what about the Crusades, the African slave trade, and the many conflicts in China's history? How do they compare? Were they even worse? The answer, of course, is that both were relatively appalling. “War kills more civilians than soldiers,” writes the author. “In fact, the army is usually the safest place to be during a war.”

Each of the entries gets a good 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 India, 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. Definitely a mans coffee table book.