Tag: dangerous books

william morris wallpaper

Researchers Accidentally Discover That Rare Books Are Poisonous

Rare manuscripts can be fascinating to study, but when it turns out that the material of said manuscripts can be poisonous, well things can get a bit awkward. [Warning: Graphic photo below]


A Research Librarian and Professor of Physics at the University of Southern Denmark accidentally discovered that three rare books they were studying were in fact poisonous. In an article published by The Conversation, the duo described their surprising findings. While using X-ray technology to try to decipher the the text on the bindings of the 16th and 17th century manuscripts (older manuscripts used recycled parchment), the researchers found high levels of green arsenic on the covers. 


The findings came as a shock, especially regarding the volatile effects of arsenic. As the duo notes, exposure to the extremely toxic chemical can lead to, “various symptoms of poisoning, the development of cancer and even death.” 



arsenic effects

Image included by research team shows effects of green arsenic | Image Via Wellcome collection



Though it now widely known that arsenic poses significant harm to those exposed to it, centuries ago it was used quite regularly in paints, clothes, book covers, and even applied to wallpaper as a protective layer. 


While the use of green arsenic in wallpapers and materials seems to be left in the past, the horrifying stories of its effects are still being discussed today. As for the arsenic-laced books at the University of Southern Denmark, they are now being kept separate from the other books in the library and stored in operate cardboard boxes with “safety labels in a ventilated cabinet.”


Though readers may assume that manuscript pages are safe to handle, it isn’t always a guarantee, the team notes.


“One wouldn’t expect a book to contain a poisonous substance. But it might.”




Featured image shows wallpaper design by William Morris

Church of Scientology

The Author Who Holds the World Record for Most Publications Is Not Who You Think It Is

The most published author of all time has officially been declared by The Guinness Book of World Records (and, surprisingly, it’s not the king of fiction himself, Stephen King) as none other than the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard.


Take a second to breathe that in; it’s shocking, alarming, and even a little unsettling, I know. 


Over the past few years a plethora of Scientology documentaries have been released on HBONetflix, Amazonhulu, and more, making L. Ron Hubbard a bit of a household name. 


But, if you happen to be unfamiliar with Hubbard, or Scientology in general, here are some of the basic things you should know:


L. Ron Hubbard was born on March 13, 1911 in Tilden, Nebraska. He spent much of the first part of his life working as a fiction writer, gaining notoriety for his science fiction and fantasy short story contributions to pulp fiction magazines in the 1930’s. He also had works published under romance, adventure, western, mystery, aviation, and mystery, and even wrote the screenplay for the Columbia Pictures feature film, The Secret of Treasure Island.


In 1950, Hubbard went on to publish a series of “psychological self-help” books entitled Dianetics. Dianetics is a system of levels to work your way through that are stated to help remove psychosomatic disorders by eliminating dangerous or harmful images from your mind— the process involves sitting in a room with an “auditor” who interrogates you, forcing you to reveal your innermost thoughts, past traumas, and any secrets you may have so that you may erase that part of your mind and reach contentment, awareness, and sanity. Dianetics would become the foundation of the creation of Scientology.


In May of 1952, Hubbard finally launched his, now infamous, cult-like religious system, Scientology. Scientology is stated to be a system of graded courses and levels to work through with the goal of self-awareness, spiritual fulfillment, and super powers beyond that of any normal, everyday human. The entire process of working through the levels typically takes decades and costs around $500,000 (graduation from the program alone is $100,000, and additional $100,000 fees are given to anyone who speaks publicly about the practices). Once you’ve reached the final level, you are said to gain magical abilities such as telekinesis, immunity from all illnesses, superior senses, and mind control. (No scientologists to date have reported ever witnessing someone reach this final, mystical level and gain said powers.)


By the time Hubbard opened The Church of Scientology on February 19th, 1954, he already had a steady following of loyal and believing scientologists ready and willing to join.


And, by the time the 1960s rolled around, Hubbard had found himself the leader of a worldwide movement containing thousands upon thousands of members (some celebrity members have included and continue to include Tom Cruise, Elisabeth Moss, Kirstie Alley, Laura Prepon, and John Travolta).


As the years went on and more was revealed about Scientology and what was really going on within The Church, investigations were launched against Hubbard, forcing him to spend his remaining decades living in hiding.


L. Ron Hubbard suffered a stroke and passed away on February 24th, 1986, leaving behind a powerful, sinister legacy of systems still in place today (The Church of Scientology is stated as currently having around 25,000 members, with numbers in a steady decline).


Even in death Hubbard is still managing to make headlines; since his passing he has been awarded three separate records through The Guinness Book of World Records, and still holds the titles today:


1. Most Published Works by an Author1,084 publications

2. Most Languages Translated to by an Author: 71 languages

3. Most Audiobooks Recorded by an Author: 184 audiobooks



The strangest thing about all of this is that Hubbard feels like some sort of evil super-villain we can’t defeat; Scientology has caused a lot of pain for a lot of people and, though it’s numbers are decreasing, there are still many people following it today. The Church has a scary amount of power, making it extremely dangerous and nearly impossible for members to ever leave; and it’s all thanks to L. Ron Hubbard, the man who turned simple science fiction stories into an infectious, disease-like-religion that seemingly can’t be stopped.


But, if we can’t tear Scientology down in it’s entirety, the least we should be able to do is beat Hubbard’s World Records and get him off the list.


So, get to writing, we’ve got publications to stack!




Featured Image Via The Los Angeles Times

Walls of Death

This Book of Wallpaper Samples Could Literally Kill You

When I heard about a book titled Shadows from the Walls of Death, by Dr. Robert M. Kedzie, I was immediately intrigued. And then I started reading about it, and couldn’t help but cackle. The opening paragraph from 99% Invisible is so unintentionally hilarious that I can’t help but not share it with you:


In an era when two thirds of American residences were home to poisonous wallpapers, an awareness-raising book was published.  But the ominously titled Shadows from the Walls of Death did more than warn consumers of health risks — it collected and bound together actual samples of deadly arsenic-laden, wall-covering paper.


There’s something so poetic about a book aimed to educate the public that in fact, would poison them. If you can’t see the delicious irony here, you should probably just stop reading, because I’m going to continue to revel in it.


The Civil War-era book was created by Dr. Robert M. Kedzie, a surgeon and chemist concerned with the public’s safety re: arsenic. At the time, it was well known that the chemical was poisonous to those who ate it, but its widespread use in wallpaper was not so well known. It was commonplace to mix arsenic with copper to dye wallpaper that would then be used in homes across the nation. 


Rather than educate the public with a cautionary tale or scathingly satirical expose, Dr. Kedzie instead compiled a book filled with pages and pages of samples of toxic wallpaper. 


Yup, he literally put together a book that could passively kill you from flipping through its pages.


“As part of his campaign to raise awareness about poison papers, Kedzie produced 100 copies of Shadowsand sent them out to public libraries across Michigan. Each one is a slim volume, containing few words — just a title page, a short preface, and a note from the Board of Health explaining the purpose of the book and advising librarians not to let children handle it,” said Andrew Zawaki in an article explaining how libraries handled such a dangerous book. 


Shadows from the Walls of Death

Image via 99% Invisible


Most of the copies of this book have been destroyed: there are only four copies left in the world. Two are held in the University of Michigan’s library in their Special Collections, with each page of the pair individually wrapped in plastic, while the other two can be found at the Harvard University Medical School and the National Library of Medicine.


Wanna see the book for yourself? You can check out a scanned version online. Scholars who have handled the book themselves argue “there is no substitute for seeing it in person”, to which I can only say duh.


Featured Image via 99% Invisible.