NonFiction / Reference

The History of Torture

By Brian Innes


However repugnant, torture has been practiced, either publicly approved or clandestinely, for thousands of years. From the rack to electrodes, from witch- hunts to the Inquisition to a post-colonial world, torture is something we have always lived with. The History of Torture tells the complete story, from the ancient world to the present day, from physical cruelty to mental torment. The rack may be thought of as something medieval, but was first written about in ancient Greece, thumbscrews were introduced to western Europe from Russia in the 17th century, and with the 20th century came the use of electricity and hallucinogenic drugs to elicit confessions. Ranging from the ancient world to World War II, from the war in Algeria (1954– 62) to the torture of the IRA in Northern Ireland, from the torture of Native Americans to India, China, Japan and Cambodia’s Killing Fields, the book also details the torture that has taken place since 9/11, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Guantanamo Bay. Meticulously researched, The History of Torture is illustrated with more than 100 etchings, paintings and photographs. It offers a remarkable overview of the uses and abuses of power, both within and outside the legal system.

Content Review

This book was a disappointment.  It should have been titled “Torture in History.” It was more general history than torture history. Contrary to the synopsis provided, this book is not a complete story, not meticulous, and not remarkable.  It is actually incredibly biased in presentation, poorly organized, self-contradictory, repetitive, and vague.

The introduction is literally 5 pages of why torture is bad.
The chapter on “Savage Rituals” politely insults Native American rites of passage for young warriors.
Historical accounts are bleeped over by saying that historians or scholars disagree.
Historical record is replaced with the writer’s opinion in several places.
Chapters end abruptly.
The information on historical torture itself is generalized in many places as if the writer is loath to go into too much detail.

All in all, while I would not necessarily recommend investing in this book, I do not find it a complete waste and will keep it on the shelf.  The writer’s view point is actually amusing in an entertaining way.  That someone with such a delicate constitution would undertake writing a book on this subject is both ridiculous and hilarious.  And much of the information contained therein, while poorly presented, is good information.  Many of the pictures of historic art, pictoral documentation, and etchings are nice to have as well.

The book is obviously meant as an extreme generalization for people who are curious but lack the intestinal fortitude for a true accounting of historical torture.  I do not fall into that category of reader so my personal appreciation is limited.  While some level of author point of view is expected in a book, the level of Ick Factor that comes across is just too much for me to take the author seriously.

I obtained this book at Half Priced Books, but it is available on Amazon as well.  As I said, I will maintain this book in the library, but am on the lookout for a better book on the subject.  If you know of a more in depth book on torture history, please feel free to share.


* Notation regarding the author:  Brian Innes passed away in 2014.  No insult to his memory is intended.  His biography states that he was trained as a scientist and worked in biochemical research prior to taking up writing.  Other books of his focused on criminology, which was probably more in line with his skill set than torture history, which he obviously loathed.  It is interesting to note that his life and education created a distinct opinion on torture in him.


One thought on “The History of Torture

  1. Pingback: Intellectualizing your library | Bibliophilia Templum

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