Books changed the world in so many aspects and in so many wonderful ways, that it would take us days and an infinite number of posts to describe how the written word and the concept of “book” made this world a better, more enlightened place. But the power of words is immense and, despite the old “stick and stones can break my bones / but words can never hurt me”, truth is words can heal, build, move people, trigger new ideas and new developments, construct ways of life. And also… destruction, violence, murder or immense suffering. To talk about the books that influenced greatness is easy. But let’s see some of those books which are associated with negative events. Nobody says that they actually determined a blood shed but as history proves, some books are surrounded by a bad omen, a sad reputation and a set of outcomes that became records of violence and death. Some crimes were committed and some novels are believed to be not so innocent, but downright murder triggers. We hear a lot about the violence induced by movies, TV shows, music and games. The subject is thoroughly debated. Today we will see ten of the books that are accused to have triggered violent impulses in our fellow men.
1. Salman Rushdie – Satanic Verses
In the Muslim community, this book is said to have been the cause for 50 deaths. An Italian translator was killed, a Japanese translator was stabbed, a Turkish hotel was set on fire and Rushdie himself received tons of threat letters and is bound to walk together with bodyguards no matter where he goes. Why? The Satanic Verses not only that raised a lot of religious controversy for the entire world, but enraged every religious zealot out there.
2. Goethe – The Sorrows of Young Werther
Napoleon Bonaparte considered this book as a masterpiece of European Literature. The community thought otherwise, as the book, describing a young man with a completely different line of thinking and behavior as compared to the contemporary times the book was released, led to what history knows as “The Werther Fiever”. Almost a dozen suicides were reported, although the chronicles of the era exaggerated a bit about the numbers, leading further to what science described later as “copycat suicides.”
3. Isaac Asimov – The Foundation
This brilliant science – fiction writer left us not only with great books and spectacular ideas, but also with a sad story. A Japanese cult predicting the Apocalypse admitted of founding their religious cult on the futuristic – religious premises of The Foundation series. When the predicted event didn’t happen when they were expecting it, they took matters in their own hands and released a gas in a Tokio metro station that killed 12 people and injured almost 5000.
4. Stephen King – Rage
This novel isn’t something we hear very often of, even if it was written by one of the most successful speculative fiction writers of all times. The story of a young high school boy who murders his teachers and take his mates as hostages was put in practice (and unfortunately not only once) in some high schools in the US. Michael Carneal, a pupil who brought a gun to his school and shot dead some of his high school mates was found to have this book in his locker. In 1999, after the incident, Stephen King asked his publisher to take the book out of the market.
5. John Fowles – The Collector
We’ve read books and we’ve seen movies that focus on a character kidnapping and psychologically or physically abusing its prey. Misery, as we already mentioned Stephen King or even The Silence of the Lambs, just as a reminder. But some people took things to another level and even though Fowles meant his novel to be a social satyr and metaphor, Leonard Lake, obsessed with this book, kidnapped, tortured a raped a number of victims, calling his acts under the name of “The Miranda Opperation”, Miranda being the victim from the novel.
6. J. D. Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye
There are two associated murders to this book, but one is still in our lives, and conscience and still makes us suffer every time we are reminded of it: Mark David Chapman, the man who ended John Lennon’s life, had not only a copy of this book when he shot the artist, but also an obsession. He signed his confession with the name “Holden Caulfield” – the main character’s name. One of the most outrageous murders in contemporary history is associated with a novel that is still appraised for its metaphors and esthetics even nowadays.
7. Friedrich Nietzsche – Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Hitler forced his troupes to read this book, followed its messages almost religiously and venerated Nietzsche with incredible fervor. Responsible for genocide and the deaths of millions of people, Hitler found inspiration and motivation in a work of philosophy said to have been associated with many other criminal minds and acts.
8. Joseph Conrad – The Secret Agent
Type in a Google search bar the words “serial killer” and read any of the lists provided. The Unabomber will not miss anyone. Going by the real name of Ted Kaczynski, he terrorized America between 1978 and 1995, by sending bombs by mail and thus killing 3 people and injuring 23. After the task forces together with the FBI finally managed to capture him, no little was their surprise to find out that Kaczynski lived and breathed Conrad’s novel, got his Unabomber inspired by the book’s character “The Professor” to whom he felt alike, but also used the alias “Conrad” in various occasions.
9. Harriet Beecher Stowe – Uncle’s Tom Cabin
A book that changed a world and supposedly started a war. The social, political and historical impact of this novel is undeniable. Still, while meeting the author at the beginning of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln apparently described her as “the little lady that caused the war.”
10. Anthony Burgess – A Clockwork Orange
Not only a controversial book, but also a book that incited to controversy in the literary and cinematography worlds. The wave of violence associated with the title is said to have been influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s movie, a wrong interpretation and adaptation of the novel, as it insisted on violence and the justification for extreme acts, while the book critics defend the book’s message as being quite the opposite. The literary world still thinks that Kubrik did a huge injustice to Burgess, by transposing the manuscript’s ideas and subtleties into a film that often is perceived as the most evident example of violence display, but the fact is that in the years after the movie release, a series of indigo murders shocked and appalled the UK population and authorities.