a single man killed is a misfortune, a million is a statistic (maybe 1948)

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Mon Nov 2 10:49:07 UTC 2009

Quoting Garson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>:

> "A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic."
> Attributed to Josef Stalin in New York Times Book Review, September
> 28, 1958.
> Fred Shapiro gave this citation in his great column at the NYT blog on
> October 29th. This quote and its suspiciously late attribution were
> discussed here on ADS-L in 2004.
> I think I have found an interesting earlier near-match through Google
> Books that does not mention Stalin. Unfortunately, only snippets are
> displayed by the search engine. The volume number specified by Google
> does match the date of 1948, but the database is notorious for
> providing inaccurate dates. Is this citation worth pursuing? Perhaps
> someone conveniently close to a comprehensive library could check this
> citation on paper?
> A Frenchman has aptly remarked that "a single man killed is a
> misfortune, a million is a statistic."
> Unverified Citation: The Atlantic, page 106, Volume 182, Atlantic
> Monthly Co., 1948.
> http://books.google.com/books?id=mT8RAAAAIAAJ&q=%22a+statistic%22#search_anchor
> Thanks for any help you can provide. Also, if this is an inappropriate
> request for the list please let me know.
> Garson O'Toole

Yes, Garson, your citation is as stated, in issue no. 4 (October,
1948). It's in
a book review (pp. 106-7) of Corrado Alvaro, Man is Strong (Knopf; tr. from
Italian by Frances Frenaye). The reviewer, Charles J. Rolo, says "The book was
published in Italy in 1939, after Alvaro has added a foreword stating that the
police state described was Russia." No clue about the Frenchman's identity
jumps out on first glance (i.e., the reviewer is not evidently quoting
from the

"Scourges as immense as fascism and war present the novelist with a knotty
problem of ways and means. A Frenchman has aptly remarked that 'a single man
killed is a misfortune, a million is a statistic.' How to encompass the
emotional reality of that aggregate of horrors which so easily becomes a
'statistic' or a remote abstraction--'war dead,' 'purge,' 'pogrom'? Camus's

Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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