A well-written, thoroughly researched, if flawed, history of human brutality.



In this reprint, previously published by University of Louisiana Press in 2018, Abraham details some of humanity’s most ruthless figures.

The book begins with a characteristically lurid description of a murder before asking, “What sort of people would admire these butchers?” Its answer, which sets the tone for the subsequent 300 pages, is simply, “We would.” Though figures from Genghis Khan to Idi Amin make appearances, the book focuses on Western civilization, which “has been anything but civilized.” The West’s history of conquest dates back to the “sadistic cutthroat” Alexander the Great, whose legacy of brutality and thirst for territorial domination echoed through the 20th century, as seen in the British Empire, which brutally put down independence movements in India and Africa and turned a blind eye to the starvation of its subjects. To the author, the self-proclaimed benevolent empire “rivals the body counts from Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.” Not only do Western rulers have a history of world conquest, they also have been notoriously ruthless to their own people. Comparing European kings and queens to “thugs” like Al Capone, Abraham sees few differences between extortion and murder committed by the Mafia and the wanton violence of French King Clovis I or the role of Catherine de’ Medici in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Abraham is perhaps most dismayed that despite this voluminous record of violence, many in the West “overlook the horrible realities of civilization” and celebrate the very people who are responsible for mass murder. Even the prototype of the West, ancient Athens, which is lauded for its contributions to democracy and philosophy, was a society dominated by “remorseless killers” whose obsession with war appeared even in their most sophisticated cultural materials, like The Iliad and The Odyssey.

To the author, America is perhaps the biggest hypocrite of all—evidenced in the paradox that exists between its ideals and its history of violence, from the Puritans’ “ruthless and vicious” treatment of Native Americans to the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam and beyond. The book also concludes with a frighteningly convincing juxtaposition of amoral rulers of yore to modern day corporations (“corporate psychopaths”) who accept that their products will result in deaths, from General Motors to the military-industrial complex. Abraham’s academic background as a biologist and medical doctor influenced his ugly portrait of humanity. For example, in idyllic outdoor scenes full of vegetation and playful wildlife accompanied by the sounds of birds chirping, Abraham sees “the songbirds’ melodies are actually avian challenges,” and “the squirrels’ games are struggles over territory.” Though the book’s scientific analysis, which spans Darwin’s concept of evolution to cutting-edge psychology, is a welcome addition to historical conversations, some historians may be left wanting for deeper discussions of sociocultural contexts of specific times and places. The historical research, however, is solid, and ample footnotes are included. The book includes haunting images and photographs that span the history of human warfare.

A well-written, thoroughly researched, if flawed, history of human brutality.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-578-68059-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Hidden Hills Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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