The Writing Life

5 Writers Who Were (Probably) Killed Because of Their Books

For the most part, writing seems like a pretty safe job—sitting behind a keyboard and tapping away certainly doesn’t seem too dangerous. Of course, sometimes journalists find themselves in combat zones, but by and large, novelists and other purveyors of fiction don’t need to worry too much about whether their life insurance is up to date.
Unless they do. Writing has power, after all—once written down and disseminated, ideas can achieve a permanence that no political or military power can completely destroy. Throughout history, plenty of writers have lost their lives because they dared to write. Even in the modern age, there is at least one writer still under direct threat of execution. Here are 5 authors who might have lived longer lives if they’d chosen not to write their books.

Die Stadt ohne Juden: Ein Roman von übermorgen

Die Stadt ohne Juden: Ein Roman von übermorgen

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Die Stadt ohne Juden: Ein Roman von übermorgen

Hugo Bettauer

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Anna Politkovskaya (Putin’s Russia)
It’s easy to see Russian President Vladimir Putin as a fun Internet meme, riding things without a shirt on. But when you consider that he very likely had Anna Politkovskaya murdered because of her outspoken opposition to his administration and the Second Chechen War, he seems decidedly less than a laughingstock. Politkovskaya was found shot to death in an elevator (on Putin’s birthday, no less) after having survived at least nine other documented attempts on her life, including one foiled poisoning. Although five men were ultimately convicted of the murder, they maintained they did so only under orders, and the identity of the person who ultimately contracted for Politkovskaya’s murder remains unknown. Except everyone more or less assumes we certainly do know.

Anna Politkovskaya (Putin’s Russia)
It’s easy to see Russian President Vladimir Putin as a fun Internet meme, riding things without a shirt on. But when you consider that he very likely had Anna Politkovskaya murdered because of her outspoken opposition to his administration and the Second Chechen War, he seems decidedly less than a laughingstock. Politkovskaya was found shot to death in an elevator (on Putin’s birthday, no less) after having survived at least nine other documented attempts on her life, including one foiled poisoning. Although five men were ultimately convicted of the murder, they maintained they did so only under orders, and the identity of the person who ultimately contracted for Politkovskaya’s murder remains unknown. Except everyone more or less assumes we certainly do know.

Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy

Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy

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Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy

Anna Politkovskaya

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Hugo Bettauer (The City Without Jews)
When you’re living in 1920s Austria as the Nazi Party is gaining traction and, to steal a line from Schindler’s List, “good old-fashioned Jew hating” is back in vogue, writing a novel about Vienna expelling all its Jews and falling into chaos and economic ruin as result—leading to the end of the Nazis and a tearful invitation for the Jews to return and save everyone—is probably not the brightest idea. Bettauer was one of Austria’s most successful and famous writers, but his work made him a noted enemy of the Nazis, who accused him of being a Communist and a “corruptor of youth.” Bettauer was shot to death by Otto Rothstock, a young member of the Nazi Party who argued he committed the murder to save German culture. He was declared not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to an asylum, but was released less than two years later.

Hugo Bettauer (The City Without Jews)
When you’re living in 1920s Austria as the Nazi Party is gaining traction and, to steal a line from Schindler’s List, “good old-fashioned Jew hating” is back in vogue, writing a novel about Vienna expelling all its Jews and falling into chaos and economic ruin as result—leading to the end of the Nazis and a tearful invitation for the Jews to return and save everyone—is probably not the brightest idea. Bettauer was one of Austria’s most successful and famous writers, but his work made him a noted enemy of the Nazis, who accused him of being a Communist and a “corruptor of youth.” Bettauer was shot to death by Otto Rothstock, a young member of the Nazi Party who argued he committed the murder to save German culture. He was declared not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to an asylum, but was released less than two years later.

Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition

Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition

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Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition

Frances A. Yates

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Giordano Bruno (various works)
During a time in history when the word “inquisition” was frequently bandied about, wise men toed the Church’s line when it came to heresies. While a genius, Bruno refused to tread carefully, writing freely about his pantheistic beliefs and other ideas the Church found heretical. He was imprisoned, and, after a lengthy trial, burned at the stake—burned at the stake—for the crime of writing things the Church didn’t like very much. A notable astronomer who was, among other things, the first to theorize that the stars were just distant suns, his influence in the field of philosophy is what keeps him in print today. Just goes to show, you can set a man on fire for denying your religion, but that doesn’t erase what he’s written.

Giordano Bruno (various works)
During a time in history when the word “inquisition” was frequently bandied about, wise men toed the Church’s line when it came to heresies. While a genius, Bruno refused to tread carefully, writing freely about his pantheistic beliefs and other ideas the Church found heretical. He was imprisoned, and, after a lengthy trial, burned at the stake—burned at the stake—for the crime of writing things the Church didn’t like very much. A notable astronomer who was, among other things, the first to theorize that the stars were just distant suns, his influence in the field of philosophy is what keeps him in print today. Just goes to show, you can set a man on fire for denying your religion, but that doesn’t erase what he’s written.

The Complete Works of Isaac Babel

The Complete Works of Isaac Babel

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The Complete Works of Isaac Babel

Isaac Babel , Nathalie Babel , Peter Constantine , Cynthia Ozick

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Isaac Babel (Maria)
On the one hand, you can understand why people didn’t always take Joseph Stalin seriously. With a thick Georgian accent cosmopolitan Russians found hilarious, Stalin was short and had a withered left arm, not to mention serious scars on his face from a childhood bout of Smallpox—not exactly the fearsome look of someone who would become possibly the greatest mass-murderer of all time. Still, it was pretty dumb to get on Stalin’s bad side when he was in one of his purge-y moods. Isaac Babel more or less stopped writing when Stalin tried to force all Russian writers to adhere to his concepts of “Socialist Realism,” but was convinced that the authorities would change their minds soon enough. He sealed his fate when he wrote and tried to launch his play Maria, which not only went counter to Stalin’s artistic preferences, but was loaded with depictions of official corruption. The NKVD (the predecessor of the KGB) shut the play down during rehearsals, and a few years later, Babel was arrested, declared a nonperson, and shot, his body tossed into a communal grave.

Isaac Babel (Maria)
On the one hand, you can understand why people didn’t always take Joseph Stalin seriously. With a thick Georgian accent cosmopolitan Russians found hilarious, Stalin was short and had a withered left arm, not to mention serious scars on his face from a childhood bout of Smallpox—not exactly the fearsome look of someone who would become possibly the greatest mass-murderer of all time. Still, it was pretty dumb to get on Stalin’s bad side when he was in one of his purge-y moods. Isaac Babel more or less stopped writing when Stalin tried to force all Russian writers to adhere to his concepts of “Socialist Realism,” but was convinced that the authorities would change their minds soon enough. He sealed his fate when he wrote and tried to launch his play Maria, which not only went counter to Stalin’s artistic preferences, but was loaded with depictions of official corruption. The NKVD (the predecessor of the KGB) shut the play down during rehearsals, and a few years later, Babel was arrested, declared a nonperson, and shot, his body tossed into a communal grave.

The Satanic Verses

The Satanic Verses

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The Satanic Verses

Salman Rushdie

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Hitoshi Igarashi (The Satanic Verses)
Everyone knows that Salman Rushdie fell under a fatwa after the publication of The Satanic Verses, with the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini demanding the death of the author and “all those involved in its publication.” Not everyone knows that the fatwa has claimed at least one victim: Hotoshi Igarashi, whose sole crime was to translate the novel. He was stabbed to death in 1991, and no one had ever been arrested or officially accused of the crime; it’s unknown whether or not the translator officially died as a result of Khomeini’s order, although most theories about the murder center on that assumption.
 

Hitoshi Igarashi (The Satanic Verses)
Everyone knows that Salman Rushdie fell under a fatwa after the publication of The Satanic Verses, with the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini demanding the death of the author and “all those involved in its publication.” Not everyone knows that the fatwa has claimed at least one victim: Hotoshi Igarashi, whose sole crime was to translate the novel. He was stabbed to death in 1991, and no one had ever been arrested or officially accused of the crime; it’s unknown whether or not the translator officially died as a result of Khomeini’s order, although most theories about the murder center on that assumption.