- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Metropolitan Books; 1 edition (October 21, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805052909
- ISBN-13: 978-0805052909
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,130,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism Hardcover – October 21, 1999
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The premise of Destroying the World to Save It is terrifying: after studying the history of the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo (instigators of a 1995 nerve gas attack on a Tokyo subway), the author believes them to be only one group in a "loosely connected, still-developing global subculture of apocalyptic violence." We ignore this subculture, says National Book Award winner Robert Jay Lifton, at our future peril. In interviews with former Aum members once led by the guru figure Shoko Asahara, it is their "familiar ordinariness" that most disturbs Lifton. Drawing parallels to his studies of Nazi psychology, he notes that--just as in Germany--practicing doctors and trained scientists were persuaded to join Aum and offer their specialized knowledge in the service of the cult's plans. The story of Aum, says Lifton, has for the first time shown the world that not only other states but more elusive groups less open to diplomacy may be able to gain control of weapons of mass destruction.
While Destroying the World to Save It is a deeply researched and intelligent psychological analysis, Lifton's conclusion is nevertheless unsatisfying. While surmising that those who next attempt to carry out an apocalyptic plan may be more powerful and competent than Aum, he does not really present a good suggestion for how to prevent their success, offering only a psychologist's "plea for awareness." One hopes his study will encourage activism against global terrorism as well. --Maria Dolan
From Publishers Weekly
Lifton's book about Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult is less an exploration of terrorism than a look at the psychological traits of the mostly educated followers of Aum's guru, Asahara. As a psychiatrist, Lifton (Death in Life; The Nazi Doctors; etc.) is well equipped to explain the siren call of apocalyptic gurus and the psychology of disaffected groups seeking to cleanse and reinvent the world. He shows how Aum Shinrikyo appropriated Eastern wisdom, American New Age elements and modern technology in order to spiritualize violence into a form of altruistic murder. In 1995, members of the group released deadly sarin gas in a Tokyo subway, killing 11 people, injuring thousands and terrifying the world. Lifton describes the "psychohistorical" past of Japan (the move from feudalism to modernism, the emperor system, Hiroshima) to show why 23,000 religious groups in Japan have a total membership of 200 million JapaneseAeven though the population of Japan is only 130 million. Though he focuses on Aum, Lifton believes that the conditions that made Aum possible exist throughout the developed world. Today's postmodern, "posthistoric" times have left many in "a kind of nothingness, in a more or less permanent postmortem" and therefore susceptible to the lure of end-of-the-world extremism. The book ends with shorter analyses of American cults such as Heaven's Gate, as well as an exploration of the "fringe apocalypticism of the radical right" (e.g., that of Timothy McVeigh). In his effort to address so many manifestations of apocalyptic intoxication, Lifton's reach slightly exceeds his grasp. The book is not as coherent as it might have been, though it does offer localized, if not systematic, insight into the apocalyptic mindset. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
I used to go to church a lot because it provided an opportunity to think. I have also gone to hear the author of this book speak for the same reason, but with much deeper results, because Robert Jay Lifton, at the time of the 50th anniversary of the atomic attack on Hiroshima, was in a perfect position to accuse the American President who tried to explain the attack, Harry Truman, of confabulating when he combined the elements of the situation in a way which was not quite factual. My impression of Lifton at that time was that he was quite old, and not open to the perverse glee that a personal encounter with me might provide, so we didn't quite meet. Given the differences between us, it should be obvious that he has written a much better book on the topic of Apocalyptic Violence than I ever could, embracing a wealth of detail with relentless fascination. Early in the book, on page 16, typical psychological judgments are considered insignificant, as Freud's association with the resolution of the Oedipus complex is compared to the possibility of a guru who can face a real "call to greatness, and a series of ordeals and trials culminating in heroic achievement." Religious greatness can surpass the usual psychological norm when it is possible to demonstrate "the hero's achievement of special knowledge of, or mastery over, death, which can in turn enhance the life of his people." Most of this book reports on terrible events, including the creation of weapons. The guru who is the subject of this book was born in 1955, and the events are quite recent. I see no reason to dispute that the people involved were thinking in the manner that is reported in this book. Some readers might consider this excessively factual, but people with books ought to be able to get real like this once in a while, too.