Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Book Review: The World's Bloodiest History - Massacres, Genocide, and the Scars They Left on Civilization

I received a free review copy of The World's Bloodiest History - Massacres, Genocide, and the Scars They Left on Civilization last week. On the whole, I enjoyed reading it even if the subject matter was less than pleasant.

Here is a description of the book:

In a somber survey leavened by sparse but inspiring accounts of heroism, author Joseph Cummins revisits some of the most dreadful and destructive acts of violence in history—from moments of sheer madness and merciless military offensives, such as that of the Spanish conquistadors in 1521 in what is now Mexico City, to clinically orchestrated campaigns of genocide, as took place in early twentieth-century Armenia, Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, and 1970s Cambodia. Engaging, harrowing, and enlightening, his accounts convey the terror and trauma of these incidents while identifying the zealotry, prejudices, and animosities that fuelled them, and analyzing, in revealing fashion, their enduring and sometimes insidious influence on history. Handsomely illustrated with more than 100 striking, sometimes shocking, archival images gathered from around the world, The World’s Bloodiest History combines compelling depictions of momentous events with fascinating character portraits and arresting eyewitness accounts to create an absorbing, multifaceted chronicle of a sobering, all-too-human legacy.

The incidents recorded are easy to read. The historical background of each event are covered and are followed with accounts of the actual horrors. It also gives some opinion on how each event may have altered history. First hand testimony is also shared from survivors if such accounts are available. Some events are true genocides (such as the fate of Carthage and the Armenians in Turkey) while others are well known massacres (such as Calcutta in 1756 and Sharpeville, South Africa.)

The author (Joseph Cummins) has strong opinions. He clearly has big sympathies with the victims he is writing about. This is mostly good but it also appears to give him a strong anti-Mormon bias (in the chapter on the Mountain Meadows Massacre) and a strong anti-Catholic bias (in the chapter on the St. Bartholomew's Massacre). Some editing could have made these chapters less objectionable although I am sure some enjoy that tone. Despite the case that Cummins makes, I have trouble believing that either church is guilty today even if some followers and leaders in the past were responsible. What religion, ethnic group or nation is not responsible for some evil at some point in their history? Why make examples of these two churches?

Probably the most interesting chapter to me was the first which dealt with the Roman genocide of Carthage. Cummins gives a nice account of Roman-Carthage relations which ended in the destruction of Carthage in the Third Punic War. He also is willing to point out flaws in the society of Carthage such as the practice of infant sacrifice. My complaint is that there are not more ancient or even medieval history chapters. Could not the Huns, Mongols, or Mayans been included? History has accounts of questionable bloodletting from each of these for example. The tome is too heavily skewed towards the 20th Century.

If you are interested in this topic, buy this book. It is a worthy read despite some flaws which I have pointed out. I hope many libraries stock this book as well. This is an area that I wish many students learn about in hopes it may cut down on these events in the future.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In covering the Armenian Genocide, the author somehow has left out the Assyrian and Greek whose genocide is well recorded and was equally devastating.In that same period of time between 500 to 750,000 Assyrian were also massacred which in percentage was a larger ethnic cleansing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assyrian_Genocide). His selective choice raises questions about his objectivity.