Breaking Glass

Too Dangerous to Read

I offer a moral dilemma.  Are there books or fictional works so dangerous that they should not be taught in school or college, and that should as far as possible be kept from a general audience?  Some observers would apply this label to political tracts like Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, but however loathsome its content, that book really offers little by way of practical advice which a regular person or party could readily imitate.  Other texts are dangerous precisely because they give strategies and tactics for violence and destruction that can indeed be reproduced, and which could have far-reaching consequences.  Do we try to suppress them?  Should we even talk about them, with however much condemnation, or does talking simply draw attention to their existence?

As you may have guessed, I will indeed be violating that seal of secrecy.  The work I have in mind is The Sheep Look Up, a 1972 novel by British science-fiction writer John Brunner (1934-95).  It offers a detailed and practicable blueprint for the destruction of the United States by means well within the reach of contemporary terrorists.  But despite its alarming quality, it also demands attention as one of the greatest modern examples of apocalyptic literature.

The Sheep Look Up is the centerpiece of a sequence of impressive Brunner novels that appeared in the decade after 1966.  Yet this...

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