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Book Review


William D. Carrigan and Christopher Waldrep, Swift to Wrath: Lynching in Global Historical Perspective. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2013. Pp. 256. $39.50. (hardcover).


     Carrigan and Waldrep take on the challenging task of placing lynching in a world history perspective through a collection of essays. The works examine lynching in a multi-dimensional context from the world-wide use of the word itself to the American behavior pattern which coined the term, and they explore foreign use of the term to create an image of the United States. Collectively the essays make it clear that lynching is an Americanism that has found its way in some form into multiple world languages with varying degrees of having the same historical connotations as in the United States. As for the behavior itself, terms derived globally from lynching have been applied to many forms of informal justice and extralegal collective violence to the degree that the behavior identified by the term appears cross-cultural. Such a recognition, the editors carefully point out, is not intended to justify lynching as mere human behavior, but rather is designed to point out the wide reach of the American term. The final articles explore topics such as how lynching shaped British opinion about the United States and how propagandists in Japan during World War II and their Soviet counterparts during the Cold War employed lynching against the United States.

     The work's breath extends from the ancient Near East to modern Northern Ireland, from French witchcraft trials to the American Wild West, and it does so while maintaining a core unifying set of themes that are laid out well in the introduction. It raises some interesting questions about American exceptionalism and provides an original context in which to examine the usefulness of that concept. Why have other cultures expropriated the American term to describe aspects of behavior in their own societies even though those behaviors sometimes have only surface similarities to the American reality? That question is not answered, but valuable works ask good questions.

Tom Williams is Professor of History and Chair of the History Department at Green Mountain College. He can be reached at


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