Here’s a shocker: Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people and injured 51 in two attacks in his native Norway last summer, has been declared criminally insane by two court-appointed forensic psychiatrists in Oslo. He’ll have a lot of time to read where he’s going, and thanks to his Facebook page, we’ve got a pretty good sense of his literary interests: A few days before his rampage, he listed “1984” by George Orwell and the works of Franz Kafka among his favorite books. And then, just as he embarked on his killing spree, Breivik released a 1518-page manifesto that borrowed large sections from “Industrial Society and Its Future” by Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber. Kaczynski himself drew inspiration from a range of classic novels (see below) in crafting his ideology. But he and Breivik aren’t the only ones — here’s a rogue’s gallery of well-read murderers you wouldn’t want to run into at the library.
Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb
In an ill-fated attempt to commit the perfect crime, University of Chicago students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb murdered 14-year-old Robert Franks in 1924. The two believed they were Nietzschean supermen who were above the law. According to Hal Higdon’s “Leopold & Loeb: The Crime of the Century,” both men discovered Nietzsche by reading Jack London. (Nietzsche is mentioned on the first page of “The Sea-Wolf”). They also identified with London’s villain Wolf Larsen and strove to emulate his brutal nature.
Notorious for his 20-year mail-bombing spree of universities and airlines, Ted Kaczynski was a Harvard graduate and former UC Berkeley professor of mathematics. He was arrested in 1996 after killing three people and injuring more than 20 with his attacks. In “A Mind for Murder,” Alston Chase reports that Kaczynski “saw himself as a character in a story.” When the FBI raided his home, they found hundreds of books, including a wide range of literary classics. His favorite book was “The Secret Agent” by Joseph Conrad — a story of espionage and anarchism that Kaczynski had adopted as “a virtual Unabomber manual.”
Mark David Chapman
When Mark David Chapman was arrested for murdering John Lennon, he was clutching a copy of “The Catcher in the Rye.” He had written “this is my statement” inside the book and had previously tried to change his name to Holden Caulfield. While in jail, he wrote in a letter to the New York Times stating that Salinger’s novel “holds many answers” and that all of his efforts “will be devoted toward” getting people to read the novel. At his trial, he read an excerpt from the book in his own defense.