The A-Z Of Punishment & Torture review

A book, er, all about different ways to inflict pain. Jenny was wincing by page nine...

Coffee table reading?

How many methods of causing somebody serious hurt can you think of? Two? Six? A dozen if you work for HM Revenue and Customs? I thought of quite a few and then had to discount one when I discovered that trepanning didn’t count because it was a medical procedure. Although frankly, having read the Wikipedia entry on it, I’m surprised it didn’t.

It doesn’t matter anyway, because your research has been done for you in this book. No fewer than 114 forms of making people go “Ow!” are included, from the rather worrying ‘amputation’ through to the distinctly less-worrying (especially for criminals) ‘zero tolerance’. I lived on the edge of a zero-tolerance area once. It was both punishment and torture. Britain, you see, is too small for it and the rotters just come and smash your windows in instead of somebody else’s. But I digress.

James Herbert promotes this book right across the front cover, which is not necessarily a good thing given his recent efforts at writing. Thankfully, Thompson’s work can be taken a bit more seriously. This is veering, ironically, more towards the ‘coffee-table’ (goodness knows whose) category with its short paragraphs and simple explanations, with some entries being a list of incidents carried out over the years.

‘Gouging’, which I had the misfortune to open up on at random, tells the horrendous story of a woman in Iran who had her eyes gouged out because she blinded a man who was trying to rape her at gunpoint. Yes, this manages to be horrifying, informative and downright eye-opening (excuse the pun) all at the same time, so those with strong stomachs or a particular beef against any religion need not apply. I haven’t found anything unpleasant done in the name of Buddhism yet but it’s probably in here.

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The author clearly enjoyed reading around the subject matter, resulting in some fascinating facts – for example, “the worst discipline which can be imposed on an idle army recruit today is a 200-metre run, 15 sit-ups or 25 press-ups”. (I’m not being funny, but I’ve just done more than that in the name of Sport Relief.) And King Xerxes, in case you were wondering about the first thing beginning with X, apparently ordered 300 lashes and a rollocking to the sea.

This is a difficult book to ‘like’, although the misanthropists amongst you will probably quite enjoy it. For everyone else it’s a tad too specialist in a topic that most people would seek to avoid, but that’s like saying Football Manager is crap because you don’t like football. If you really want to read about lynchings and mutilation, here it’s all condensed into one convenient volume for you. You psycho.

Author: Irene ThompsonPrice: £9.99