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Artículo The most dangerous book in the world: touch it and die Culture

Culture

The most dangerous book in the world: touch it and die

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Playground Traduccion

27 Abril 2017 09:46

Who's got the guts to read it?

The most dangerous book in the world is not The Catcher in the Rye, nor The Anarchist Cookbook, nor even The Satanic Verses. It's Shadows from the Walls of Death and it's kept on the second floor of the Buhr Library in the University of Michigan.

This treacherous tome doesn't contain any radical ideas or instructions for committing suicide; it doesn't even tell a juicy tale to get the pulse racing. What makes this book so dangerous is that if you touch it, you'll die. It's as simple – and deadly – as that.

The author of Shadows from the Walls of Death is a man who could well have been the inspiration behind J.K. Rowling's character Snape: chemist Robert Kedzie chaired the committee on 'Poisons, Special Sources of Danger to Life and Health.'

In the 19th century, arsenic was used extensively. Concert tickets, pamphlets, posters, insecticides and children's toys all contained arsenic. It was even found in medicines: there is one theory that Jane Austen died of arsenic poisoning.

However, what worried Kedzie most was the widespread use of wallpaper that had been coloured with arsenical pigment. This poisonous pigment could flake or be brushed off the wallpaper and float in the air as inhalable dust or settle on furniture.

Between 1879 and 1883, 54–65% of all wallpaper sold in the United States contained arsenic, often at dangerous levels. The substance produced attractive green hues ranging from deep emerald to pale sea-green. Arsenic could also be mixed into other colours, giving them a soft, appealing pastel appearance.

Fed up of having his writings and talks on the dangers of arsenic ignored, Kedzie collected numerous wallpaper samples, cut them into pages, and had them bound into 100 books which he named Shadows of the Walls of Death. He then distributed his baneful book to libraries around Michigan.

Kedzie’s public health campaign was reported to have poisoned one lady who examined the book, but it otherwise effectively publicised the dangers of living in a house papered in arsenic.

Authorities quickly did what Montag does to books in Farenheit 451. Only two of the 100 copies remain. Both of these remain toxic and can be handled only with gloves (unless you have a death wish, of course). 

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