And that’s not all. There’s the consternation of a journalist upon discovering that Ernest Hemingway had already emancipated the bar of the Hotel Ritz, a key booze-related contribution to the Allied liberation of Paris. The fact that the mushroom cloud at Bikini atoll was 23,000 feet high and 11,600 feet in diameter. A South African judge not sentencing Nelson Mandela to death. The words of an American general in Vietnam: “I don’t know how you think about war. The way I see it, I’m just like any other company boss, gingering up the boys all the time, except I don’t make money. I just kill people, and save lives.” The results of Saddam Hussein’s 1988 chemical-weapons attack on Halabja: “Near by, a family of five who had been sitting in their garden eating lunch was cut down—the killer gas not even sparing the family cat, or the birds in the tree which littered the well-kept lawn.” A bit later, it’s Tutsi corpses littering the streets of the Rwandan capital Kigali. Then it’s two lovers, Serb and Muslim, four days dead on the pavement, cut down by sniper bullets in Sarajevo. The scene slides to New York and 9/11: “And then, within an hour, as my wife and I watched from the Brooklyn building’s roof, the south tower dropped from the screen of our viewing; it fell straight down like an elevator, with a tinkling shiver and a groan of concussion distinct across the mile of air. We knew we had just witnessed thousands of deaths….” Enter the War on Terror…and on and on and on and on. 

Take this book to the beach. Read it from beginning to end. Read it backwards. Start from the middle; it won’t matter. It’s history as sound bites; they are all pretty much interchangeable. You won’t learn much, but you won’t be bored. As the song goes: “It’s interesting when people die.”


Robert L. O'Connell is a contributor to CJR.