Destroying the World to Save It Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism

Robert Jay Lifton




Trade Paperback

384 Pages



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Since earliest history, prophets and gurus have foretold the world's end, but only the nuclear age has enabled a megalomaniac guru with an apocalyptic vision to bring his prophecy to pass. Robert Jay Lifton offers a case in point in this chilling exploration of Aum Shinrikyo, the cult that released sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subways.

With unprecedented access to former Aum members, Lifton has produced a pathbreaking study of the inner life of a millennial cult. He shows how Aum's guru created a religion from a global stew of new age thinking, ancient rituals, and science fiction, then recruited scientists to produce weapons of mass destruction. Also discussing Charles Manson, Heaven's Gate, and the Oklahoma City bombers, Lifton confronts the frightening possibility of a twenty-first century in which cults and terrorists are able to bring about their own holocausts.


Praise for Destroying the World to Save It

"A mesmerizing story told with consummate skill. Robert Jay Lifton's stunning analysis provides a cautionary tale of our times—nothing less than a window on the fragile and imperiled world we face in the twenty-first century."—John Dower, author of Embracing Defeat, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

"A fascinating (if frightening) investigation . . . A valuable aid to understanding the old problem of fanaticism in a new, particularly sinister form . . . Ingenious."—Daniel Berger, The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Robert Jay Lifton sounds a chilling alarm about an invisible new Grendel stalking the human race."—Charles Burress, San Francisco Chronicle

"An unflinching confrontation, infused with hope."—Kenzaburo Oe, winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature

"Lifton is at his best in explaining the mixed-up feeling of Asahara's disciples, the confusion that led them to obey the guru or rationalize what he did."—Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times Book Review

"As with all of Lifton's reflections on politics and psychology, this one has many powerful and compelling insights . . . Truly hair raising."—Richard Bernstein, The New York Times

"Disturbing . . . Sounds somber warning bells."—Anthony Day, Los Angeles Times

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Robert Jay Lifton

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