If the pen is mightier than the sword, some authors may have wielded their swords a little too close to home. While we often think of books as having the unparalleled ability to connect people, inspire empathy, and encourage discourse, sometimes books can cause real-life rifts. Time and again, history has seen friendships ended, insults hurled, and cold silences stretch out for years over a few published pages.
We’ve rounded up 6 books, from tell-alls to passionate ideological tracts, that have destroyed real life friendships. Admittedly, many of these friendships didn’t end solely because of a book—dueling egos certainly contributed a fair bit to the drama—but, it’s enough to convince us that sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can most definitely hurt you.
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
Though very different in character, Harper Lee and Truman Capote were close friends from their childhood in Alabama. Lee, the Pulitzer prize-winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird, contributed heavily to the research, interviews, and extensive background work that went into Capote’s nonfiction novel about the murder of a family in Holcomb, Kansas. When In Cold Blood was published, Capote failed to give Lee any credit. The snub hurt Lee terribly and caused a great deal of damage to their friendship.
Torrents of Spring, by Ernest Hemingway
As a budding writer, Hemingway received quite the helping hand from his mentor and friend, Sherwood Anderson. It was Anderson who helped Hemingway get his first book published by Anderson’s own publisher, Boni & Liverwright, Inc. Hemingway, however, did not want to stay with Liverwright and wanted to sign with Scribner instead. To break his contract with Liverwright, Hemingway wrote Torrents of Spring, a mean-spirited parody of Sherwood Anderson’s best-selling novel, Dark Laughter. When Liverwright rejected the book for publication (as Hemingway knew they would), Hemingway got out of his contract and moved to Scribner. The book had achieved what he wanted, but it irreparably harmed his friendship with Anderson, it upset his wife Hadley, and it angered fellow writer Gertrude Stein. Hadley thought that Hemingway’s mocking characterization of Anderson was “nasty.” Stein was furious Hemingway had mocked her in the book as well, and she thought him ungrateful in light of all that Anderson and Stein had done for his career.
Eugene Onegin, by Aleksandr Pushkin
While the original book itself didn’t destroy a friendship, the translation of it did. Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund Wilson became friends while Nabokov started his career in the U.S. In 1944, Nabokov invited Wilson to assist him in translating Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, but Wilson soon grew tired of the task. When Nabokov finally published his translation in 1964, Wilson wrote a harsh and inflammatory review. Nabokov wrote a biting response, of course. In the next few years, pens flew, barbs were traded, and the two friends didn’t speak again until 1971.
Smoke, by Ivan Turgenev
Ivan Turgenev and Fyodor Dostoevsky were friends until they quarreled over Turgenev’s publication of Smoke in 1867. The rift in their friendship was caused by their ideological and political differences regarding Russia’s relationship with Western cultures. Apparently, Dostoevsky and Turgenev were both in Baden-Baden at the same time. Dostoevsky owed Turgenev money, and he felt obligated to call on him even though he didn’t have sufficient funds for repayment. While visiting Turgenev, both writers got into an argument over Turgenev’s pro-Western views in Smoke and his criticisms of Russia. They remained on bad terms, with Dostoevsky ridiculing Turgenev as a fictional character in his later novel, The Possessed.
The New Russia, by Dorothy Thompson
Theodore Dreiser and Sinclair Lewis had a falling out that culminated in a widely-publicized slap. When Dreiser’s book Dreiser on Russia was first published in 1927, Dreiser was accused of plagiarizing sections of it from The New Russia, a book penned by Sinclair Lewis’ wife, Dorothy Thompson. Thompson filed suit against Dreiser, but subsequently dropped it. The grudge, however, remained. Years later, Lewis and Dreiser were both in attendance at a dinner honoring Russian writer Boris Pilnyak. When asked to make an after-dinner speech, Lewis declined and retorted, “I feel disinclined to say anything in the presence of a man who stole 3,000 words from my wife’s book.” Later, during the reception, Dreiser went up to Lewis and vigorously slapped him twice across the face while the literati looked on.
Life, by Keith Richards
This list wouldn’t be complete without a rock n’ roll tell-all. The friendship between Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and vocalist Mick Jagger hasn’t always been easy, but it was Richards’ 2010 memoir that seemingly broke the camel’s back. Richards’ book casts Jagger in deeply unflattering light, recounts Richards’ conquest of Jagger’s girlfriend, and pokes fun at Jagger’s alleged anatomical shortcomings. The book drove a wedge between the rock stars, though they say they’ve patched things up now that Richards has apologized.
What books have sparked arguments between you and your friends?