The Most Dangerous Novels of All Time

The decades-old controversy over Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses has been in the news again recently following the author’s cancelled appearance at the Jaipur Literature Festival in the wake of reported death threats. This intended violence is not the first that Rushdie’s novel has inspired, and his is definitely not the first real-life danger to come from literature. In fact, several books are reputed to have inspired or informed violence over the years, to varying degrees. The debate over whether the impulse to violence can originate from media — whether film, video games, or books — is a complex one, and we’re not seeking to answer it here, though we tend to think that no piece of media can incite a healthy mind to violent deeds (and the violence in Rushdie’s case is definitely directly caused by dissent over the book). However, several real-life crimes have been linked to works of literature, and therefore we must consider them at least a little more dangerous than say, Pride and Prejudice. Nota bene: this is a list of dangerous novels, so any potentially harmful propaganda, religious texts and nonfiction are all ineligible. Click through to check out our list, and get ready to scan your friends’ bookshelves for signs of insanity.

The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie

You may think this novel was only dangerous to Rushdie, but in fact more than 50 people died as a result of its publication — or at least as a result of the extreme reaction of the Muslim community. First published in the United Kingdom in 1988, this novel, a magical realist work that includes a dream sequence about Muhammad, caused outrage among many Muslims who accused Rushdie of blasphemy. In 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa against the writer, ordering Muslims to kill him, a ruling that stayed in effect until 1998. Rushdie was bombarded with hate mail and death threats, and was forced to enter the British government’s protection program. Meanwhile, despite Rushdie’s apologies and written reaffirmations of his faith, several people were killed and injured in anti-Rushdie riots, including the book’s Japanese translator, who was stabbed to death, and the Italian translator, who was gravely wounded but survived. In 1993, Turkish scholars attending the Pir Sultan Abdal Literary Festival refused to hand over Aziz Nesin, the book’s Turkish translator, to a group of Islamic extremists. In response, the group burned down the hotel, killing 37 people (though Nesin escaped). Only recently, Rushdie cancelled his plans to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival after reports of planned assassination attempts.