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  • Cited by 78
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
June 2012
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Book description

In this groundbreaking book Christian Gerlach traces the social roots of the extraordinary processes of human destruction involved in mass violence throughout the twentieth century. He argues that terms such as 'genocide' and 'ethnic cleansing' are too narrow to explain the diverse motives and interests that cause violence to spread in varying forms and intensities. From killings and expulsions to enforced hunger, collective rape, strategic bombing, forced labour and imprisonment he explores what happened before, during, and after periods of widespread bloodshed in countries such as Armenia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nazi-occupied Greece and in anti-guerilla wars worldwide in order to highlight the crucial role of socio-economic pressures in the generation of group conflicts. By focussing on why so many different people participated in or supported mass violence, and why different groups were victimized, he offers us a new way of understanding one of the most disturbing phenomena of our times.


‘In this pathbreaking book, Christian Gerlach undermines the tunnel-vision of mainstream genocide research. Introducing a challenging new theoretical approach, Gerlach convincingly demonstrates the messy, complex patterns of mass violence in the modern world. Everyone interested in these issues will enrich their understanding by engaging with his arguments and case-studies.’

Martin Shaw - University of Sussex

‘A tour de force of thinking and research, Extremely Violent Societies is a bold and original analysis of mass violence in the twentieth century. Writing global history at its best, Christian Gerlach ranges from Ottoman Armenia to Nazi-occupied Europe, from Indonesia to East Pakistan and further to explore why, at particular times, these societies exploded in paroxysms of violence. In supplanting a simplistic, state- and ideology-centered genocide model with a multi-causal approach, he convincingly argues that complex processes during transitional crises enlist all social groups in producing these terrible outcomes. At once sober and humane, this book is a landmark in the scholarly analysis of the most troubling phenomenon of our times.’

A. Dirk Moses - University of Sydney

‘After his remarkable study on the Holocaust, Christian Gerlach demonstrates in this very innovative book, his capacity to tackle mass violence from a comparative perspective. His approach is not only courageous and challenging, but also insightful and certainly deserves to be discussed in genocide scholarly circles and beyond.’

Jacques Semelin - CERI-CNRS, Center for International Studies and Research

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