Cover image for Destroying the world to save it : Aum Shinrikyō, apocalyptic violence, and the the new global terrorism
Destroying the world to save it : Aum Shinrikyō, apocalyptic violence, and the the new global terrorism
Lifton, Robert Jay, 1926-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Metropolitan Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
374 pages ; 25 cm
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BP605.O88 L54 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Looks at Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese cult that released sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subways, and examines the mind of the man behind the religion.

Author Notes

A distinguished professor of psychology & psychiatry at John Jay College & the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Robert Jay Lifton is the author of many important works, including "The Nazis Doctors," winner of the "Los Angeles Times" Book Prize, & "Death in Life," winner of a National Book Award.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

From psychiatrist and National Book Award^-winner Lifton comes this astonishingly intimate portrait of Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese cult that became world-famous when it released a nerve gas called sarin into the Tokyo subway. Lifton, who has written extensively both on Japan and on terrorism and genocide, interviewed former members of the cult, and his profile of Aum's leader, the charismatic con man Shoko Asahara, is extremely detailed and rather creepy. But the book is much more than a story of a single cult. It's an exploration of the idea of cults: how they grow, who joins them, who leads them. Drawing on his knowledge of Japan--both modern and historical--Lifton places Aum in the broader context of world history, comparing it to Jim Jones' Peoples Temple and the Nazi movement. An intelligent, ambitious exploration of the power of cults and a definite eye-opener. --David Pitt

Publisher's Weekly Review

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 JapaneseÄeven 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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

On March 20, 1995, members of the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo released sarin nerve gas into the Tokyo subway system, killing 11 people and injuring 5000. Lifton (The Nazi Doctors) provides a psychological examination of the motives of the group and its founder, Shoiko Asahara. Lengthy interviews with ten former low-level Aum members give fascinating insight into the appeal of Asahara's combination of Buddhism, New Age thinking, and apoplectic visions; daily life within Aum Shinrikyo; and their own attempts to rationalize or reject the group's actions. Lifton also discusses the characteristics of Aum that caused it to move toward violence. He closes by exploring the same themes among the cults of Charles Manson and Jim Jones, the Heaven's Gate cult, and American white supremist groups. A gripping work supplementing David E. Kaplin and Andrew Marshall's The Cult at the End of the World (Crown, 1996.); essential for all public and academic libraries.ÄStephen L. Hupp, Urbana Univ. Lib., OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Ends and Beginningsp. 3
1. The Guru and His Cultp. 11
2. Imagining the Endp. 44
3. Forcing the Endp. 59
4. Clones of the Gurup. 89
5. The Ecstatic Sciencep. 115
6. Killing to Healp. 136
7. Megalomaniap. 164
8. Ultimate Weapons, Ultimate Attractionp. 179
9. Crossing the Thresholdp. 202
10. Surviving Aump. 214
11. A Japanese Phenomenon?p. 232
12. Forcing the End, American Stylep. 271
13. Inward Aum?p. 303
14. American Apocalypsep. 326
Afterwordp. 341
Notesp. 347
Acknowledgmentsp. 361
Indexp. 362