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The Cult at the End of the World: The Terrifying Story of the Aum Doomsday Cult, from the Subways of Tokyo to the Nuclear Arsenals of Russia Hardcover – May 21, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

By the time Japan's bizarre Aum Shinrikyo cult launched its 1995 nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, killing 12 and injuring thousands, the wealthy religious sect, which received generous tax breaks, had a global network of at least 37 companies, according to this exhaustively researched page-turner. Aum had acquired powerful lasers and was planning a military assault on Japan's parliament so that its bearded, near-blind leader, Shoko Asahara, a fanatical admirer of Hitler, could install himself as head of a new religious state. Asahara, now on trial for mass murder, recruited physicists, engineers and doctors into a crackpot New Age cult whose members popped LSD and wired shock-inducing electrodes to their heads while chanting mantras. Aum's hit squads allegedly abducted and murdered opponents and former members. Forging ties with yakuza (Japan's mafia) and KGB veterans, Aum attempted to get Russian nuclear weapons and prospected for uranium in Australia's outback. A superb job of reporting, this account unfolds like a scary cyberpunk thriller presaging a new era of high-tech terrorism, and it brings the cult into sharper focus than D.W. Brackett's Holy Terror (Forecasts, May 6). Tokyo-based reporter Kaplan wrote Yakuza and Fires of the Dragon (on the murder of Chinese-American journalist Henry Liu). Marshall is Asia correspondent for British Esquire. First serial to Wired; condensation rights to Reader's Digest.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Scientific American

(A) fascinating horror story... so outlandish and violent that it sounds like a Hollywood adventure movie. But it's a lot scarier than that: It really happened.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 310 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First U.S. Edition edition (May 21, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0517705435
  • ISBN-13: 978-0517705438
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,402 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By m_noland on October 21, 2001
Format: Hardcover
As several other reviewers have noted, this story is so strange that it would be impossible to believe if it were not true. It is the story of Shoko Asahara, nee Chizuo Matsumoto: a fat, possibly blind, hardscrabble con artist who somehow transforms his scam of the moment, the Aum Association of Mountain Wizards, to Aum Supreme Truth, a cult of tens of thousands of adherents worldwide who gave away their life's savings, and apparently all capacity of independent thought or moral judgment to this unlikeliest of messiahs.
Murder, kidnapping, Nazi-like medical experimentation, drug taking, and sexual abuse follow. In a moment verging on parody Asahara declares that the world is threatened by a conspiracy that includes the Jews, Bill Clinton, the Queen of England and Madonna. Mr. Asahara, please meet Mr. LaRouche and Mr. Bin Laden.
This alone would be awful enough, but Asahara had truly global ambitions: first to stage a coup d'etat in his native Japan, and then initiate an Armageddon that would destroy the world. For these purposes he penetrated nearly every Japanese public institution including the army and the police and set about obtaining by hook or crook weapons of mass destruction: chemicals, biological agents, nuclear weapons, and - I kid you not -- death rays.
Asahara's scheme would culminate in Aum's poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 14 and injured thousands more. Asahara was eventually apprehended and as of October 2001 his trial continues to drag on. Aum continues to exist in Japan, though with a much smaller membership, much smaller coffers, and one hopes a much smaller capacity for inflicting mayhem.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Peter Andersson (j.p.andersson@swipnet.se) on October 7, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I lived in Japan when the subway attack happened and I will never forget the reaction from the Japanese people: they were terrified! When this book came out, I bought it immediately, expecting the usual quality level of non-fiction books that hit the stands soon after an event. Boy, was I surprised: This is an excellent, excellent read. No exagerations, so sensationalism, but still both fast-paced and revealing. As a reader of Japanese newspapers I had a fairly good picture of what had happened before, but this book gave me so much more background. As another reader commented, the scary thing is that the authorities did nothing, not wanting to "rock the boat".
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Becky on June 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
If this story was to be written as a novel, the only suitable genre would be science fiction, for that is how amazing, otherworldly and fantastical this tale is. The authors leave no stone unturned in this extensively researched missive about a group of inhumane terrorists masquerading as harmless members of a Buddhist cult. After devouring this book (since that is what I did) one will probably realise that as dangerous as Jim Jones and David Koresh were, compared to Asahara and his league of demented adherents, they were Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny combined into one entity! Kaplan and Marshall inform us that we can no longer afford to exist in a Philistine society - we must do everything in our power to rid the world of impious religious cults where man is worshipped instead of God, and they draw much needed attention to a very frightening, yet little known fact - that with the advent of highly sophisticated firearms and biological weapons, which are inexplicably becoming more and more accessible to lay people, if World War Three does occur, it is most likely to be started by a group of terrorists similar to the fanatical Aum Supreme truth religious cult - people who say they worship all life and this planet, then spend millions of dollars in an attempt to destroy it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Thomas W. Spoehr on October 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book is a wake-up call that cults can be both kooky and exceptionally dangerous at the same time. We dismiss their rants at our own peril. The book culminates with the sarin attacks of 1995, most of the book describes how Aum and its bizarre leader acquired scientific talent, money and facilities. Surprising to most will be the ties that Aum had to Russia. Useful for professionals engaged in CBRN protection, this book gives the reader a feel for how easy it was for the cult to synthesize Sarin, VX and some biological strains.

Was this a one-time unfortunate confluence of money, crazy ideology, and lax governmental oversight that will never be repeated? Or is it a blue-print for future terrorism, cults and extremists? The reader can form his or her own opinion, the author refrains from injecting personal opinion which is refreshing.

Because the impact of this attack still echoes across the world and has resulted in application of billions of dollars of US Government funding towards homeland security, a thorough understanding of the event is necessary for homeland defense and CBRN professionals. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ramon Epstein on June 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Kaplan's book about the Yakuza was very well written, but this book was an eye-opener. It was among the scariest tales I've ever read, and it featured lurid stories about Master Asahara's cult apparatus. This is a story every public security official should read, one about a ruthless group of religious fanatics who went the whole nine yards in their attempt to murder 90% of the Japanese peole so as to launch a holy war between Japan and the United States, and to bring about the end of the world. The accounts of the physical and mental abuse to recruits may stun even the most seasoned reader. It reminded me of the Holocaust. But most important is Kaplan and Marshall's exposure of Japanese society, which many of us view as a utopia. In this book and in "Yakuza", we see Japan as it really is, enslaved by corruption, hiding abject poverty, and losing many of its children to fanatics like Chizuo Matsumoto.
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