Booklist | ‘The Great Big Book of Horrible Things,’ by Matthew White – NYTimes.com

One of the most common quesitons from the general public for international relations is whether the war and conflict is increasing or declining.  Now the librarian Matthew White has compiled and impressive new tome ranking atrocities by body count.  (Grim, and certainly not cocktail party chatter–but very informative.)

Mr. White’s methodology is simple. He gathers every estimate he can find, including some that mainstream historians might reject as unsavory. (“Beggars can’t be choosers,” he writes.) He throws out the highest and lowest numbers and then calculates the median, arriving at what he acknowledges is often just an informed guess. Deaths from famine and disease stemming from armed conflict count, but natural disasters and purely economic events do not. (“There has to be a core of violence,” he explained.) All sources are listed on his Web site, along with darkly witty ruminations on the inherent uncertainty of numbers, especially where what he calls “mass unpleasantness” is involved.

Mr. White’s estimates are “at the high end of the range,” Mr. Pinker said. But he called Mr. White’s transparency about his sources impressive and his methodology statistically sound, in keeping with the scientific tradition of meta-analysis of previous studies.

via ‘The Great Big Book of Horrible Things,’ by Matthew White – NYTimes.com.

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One thought on “Booklist | ‘The Great Big Book of Horrible Things,’ by Matthew White – NYTimes.com

  1. tcrompton3 says:

    This is pretty interesting for a couple of reasons. First, I also question where the world stands at this point in time. It seems like the news and media ( I won’t name any channels specifically, but some are worse offenders than others) make it seem like we are living in an unprecedented time, plagued with war and violence. While I cannot doubt that it is tragic and certainly true that bad events are happening around us, I wonder if it really IS worse than ever before. I think his method of calculating deaths related to war and violence is pretty inclusive and covers most aspects that even I would normally overlook.
    I do wonder however if we just think war and violence is worse now than ever simply because we have the communication ability to see it and measure it more accurately than in the past. Even sites like Youtube give the world a front row seat to protestor violence, revolution war scenes, and videos or war filmed by soldiers themselves. A good article on this is http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/08/15/think_again_war

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