Book Review – The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History’s 100 Worst Atrocities by Matthew White

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I should have done another picture to show you how big this book is. It’s a hefty hardback that’s a little under 600 pages long, packed with loads of information and analysis. The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History’s 100 Worst Atrocities is a really long title. On the back there are some images of statistics but this is misleading as the book isn’t made up of graphical representation. Instead the author, Matthew White, takes us on a tour of history through the most brutal wars and the most savage dictators.

The book takes a chronological look, although towards the back there’s a direct list of the top 100 that you can look to for quick reference. Obviously, it’s a pretty heavy read at times as it’s basically all about war and death, so it may be a book that you want to dip in and out of rather than read straight through. I happened to read it without taking a break to read any other books, but even I have to admit that once I got into the late 20th Century it did become a bit of a slog. I’m not sure if this is because the stories behind the conflicts weren’t as interesting or whether I just tired of all the megadeath.

This book is amazing though. White has put in so much research and while this book could be a grim endeavour he manages to infuse some dry wit, meaning that at times you will be chuckling, if you’re anything like me anyway. He provides a good history of the world, and fully admits that while the title of this book may be definitive that isn’t actually the case as he’s going by ancient records, which can’t always be verified, so sometimes he just has to take his best guess. He remains objective though and I can’t imagine how many hours it must have taken him to put all this together. It’s a commendable effort. I liked the way he analyzed the events and tried to put them in some sort of context, and showed how things progressed through the centuries. There are some really interesting stories hidden behind the statistics and I’m glad that this book doesn’t boil down to a lot of dry numbers. It never forgets that these are actual people we’re talking about.

At the end White gives his analysis and some final thoughts, which provides a nice summation of the book. I think anyone who likes history will enjoy this one. It’s very interesting and gives some new insight on some well-known events. I just hope that humanity can find a way to prevent anything else from appearing on this list, but sadly I fear that is not the case, especially when you read this book and realize just how prevalent conflict has been throughout our history.

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