Sven Lindqvist

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Sven Lindqvist
Sven Lindqvist in 2018.jpg
In 2018
Born(1932-03-28)28 March 1932
Died14 May 2019 (2019-05-15) (aged 87)
Stockholm, Sweden
Known forExterminate All the Brutes
(m. 1956; div. 1986)

(m. 1986)
Awardssee text

Sven Oskar Lindqvist (28 March 1932 – 14 May 2019) was a Swedish author of mostly non-fiction, whose works include Exterminate All the Brutes and A History of Bombing.[1][2]

Svenska Dagbladet described him as one of the most important authors in modern Swedish literature.[3]


Sven Lindqvist was born in Stockholm in 1932.[4] He held a PhD in History of literature from Stockholm University (his thesis, in 1966, was on the Swedish poet Vilhelm Ekelund) and a 1979 honorary doctorate from Uppsala University.[4] In 1960–1961, he worked as cultural attaché at the Swedish embassy in Beijing, China. From 1956 he was married to the sinologist Cecilia Lindqvist (nee Norman), with whom he had two children.[4] In 1986 he married the economist Agneta Stark.[4] He published some 35 books, mainly documentary essays and books along with travel writing.[5] He lived in the Södermalm area of central Stockholm.[5]

Lindqvist wrote more than thirty books of essays, aphorisms, autobiography, documentary prose, travel and reportage.[4][5] He occasionally published articles in the Swedish press, writing for the cultural supplement of the largest Swedish daily, Dagens Nyheter, since 1950.[6] He was the recipient of several of Sweden's most prestigious literary and journalistic awards.[7][8][9][10] His works have been translated into English, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish among other languages.[11] The books Exterminate all the Brutes and A Lover's Diary are included in Jan Gradvall's 2009 Tusen svenska klassiker ("A Thousand Swedish Classics").[12] He died on 14 May 2019 at the age of 87.[13][14]

Genres and themes[edit]

Lindqvist's work was mostly non-fiction, including (and often transcending) several genres: essay, documentary prose, travel writing and reportage.[5] He was known for his works on developing nations in Africa and the Saharan countries, China, India, Latin America and Australia. In the 1960s, partly inspired by the works of Hermann Hesse, Lindqvist spent two years in China. He became fascinated by the legend of the Tang dynasty painter, Wu Tao Tzu, who, when standing looking at a mural of a temple he had just completed, "suddenly clapped his hands and the temple gate opened. He went into his work and the gates closed behind him."[15] In the 1970s he established the Dig Where You Stand Movement in Sweden, which was influential in Germany and elsewhere in promoting public history from the workers' perspective.[16][17]

His later works, from the late 1980s, tended to focus on the subjects of European imperialism, colonialism, racism, genocide, degradation of the natural environment, and war, analysing the place of these phenomena in Western thought, social history and ideology.[5]

Major works[edit]

Terra Nullius[edit]

Among Lindqvist's best-known works is his 2007 book Terra Nullius (Latin for "Empty Land"), about the impact of white settlers on the Australian landscape and its aboriginal population, combined with "often glorious" travel writing. Among the shocks to people and landscape are the above-ground nuclear weapon tests conducted in Australia from 1953 to 1963, leaving some 20 kilograms of plutonium dust spread over hundreds of miles of the land near Maralinga. Lindqvist remarks that the land will remain radioactive for at least 280,000 years, and notes that the weapons thus tested could "on a single order" turn the whole world into a Terra Nullius.[18][19]

Exterminate all the Brutes[edit]

Exterminate all the Brutes revisits the colonial genocidal racism personified by Conrad's Mr Kurtz, who travels up the Congo in a riverboat, as Conrad did in the Roi des Belges (pictured).

Lindqvist's favourite among his books was his 1996 Exterminate all the Brutes, first published in Swedish in 1992 as Utrota varenda jävel [sv]. Its title is taken from a phrase uttered by the murderous racist imperialist Mr Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's 1899 novella Heart of Darkness. As a boy, Lindqvist had seen a photograph of the emaciated corpses at Buchenwald concentration camp. He stated that the image of Nazi atrocity and the novella came together in his mind, and in Exterminate all the Brutes he argues that Hitler grew up in a time when the whole of the Western world was "soaked in the conviction" that imperialism was a biological necessity that inevitably destroyed "the lower races". Lindqvist argued controversially[5] that this had already killed millions in genocides before Hitler's application of the principle to white people, and noted that his book had resulted in academic study of the "effect of colonial atrocities on Nazi crimes".[5][20]

A History of Bombing[edit]

The book most admired by critics in English was his 2001 A History of Bombing (first published in Swedish in 1999 under the title Nu dog du, meaning "[Bang bang] you're dead").[5][21] The book has a "fractured structure"[5] with 399 short chapters or sections. Lindqvist described it as "a labyrinth with twenty-two entrances and no exit",[22] an emblem of the disruption that bombing causes. Each section is numbered; many sections end with an arrow pointing to another number, sometimes far ahead in the book, sometimes back, forming a hypertext-like network. The book argues that bombing is driven by "the dream of exterminating from the air with minimal risk"[5] to the bombing nation. Lindqvist provides multiple examples of the Royal Air Force's use of this tactic against colonies which were in revolt from 1919 onwards.[5]

Awards and distinctions[edit]


In English[edit]

  • China in Crisis (Kina inifrån, with Cecilia Lindqvist, 1963)
  • The Myth of Wu Tao-tzu (1967; reprinted, London: Granta, 2012)
  • The shadow: Latin America faces the seventies (Slagskuggan : Latinamerika inför 70-talet, 1969)
  • Land and Power in South America (Jord och makt i Sydamerika, 1973–1974, 2 vol.)
  • Bench Press (Bänkpress, 1988)
  • Desert Divers (Ökendykarna 1990)
  • Exterminate All the Brutes (Utrota varenda jävel [sv], 1992)
  • The Skull Measurer's Mistake: And Other Portraits of Men and Women Who Spoke Out Against Racism (Antirasister: människor och argument i kampen mot rasismen 1750-1900, 1996)
  • A History of Bombing (Nu dog du: bombernas århundrade, 1999)
  • Terra Nullius (2005; Granta, London, 2007)

In Swedish[edit]

  • Ett förslag (A proposal, 1955)
  • Handbok (Handbook, 1957)
  • Reklamen är livsfarlig (Advertising is deadly dangerous, 1957)
  • Hemmaresan (Journey home, 1959)
  • Praktika (1962)
  • Kina inifrån (China from inside, 1963)
  • Asiatisk erfarenhet (Asiatic experience, 1964)
  • Dagbok och diktverk (1966)
  • Myten om Wu Tao-tzu (The myth of Wu Tao-Tzu, 1967)
  • Slagskuggan (1969)
  • Självklara saker (Self-evident things, 1970)
  • Jord och makt i Sydamerika (Land and Power in South America, 1973)
  • Jordens gryning - Jord och makt i Sydamerika del II (1974)
  • Arbetsbyte (1976)
  • Lägenheter på verkstadsgolvet (1977)
  • Gräv där du står (1978)
  • Hamiltons slutsats (1980)
  • Kina nu (1980) (with Cecilia Lindqvist)
  • En älskares dagbok (A lover's diary, 1981)
  • En gift mans dagbok (A married man's diary, 1982)
  • En underjordisk stjärnhimmel (1984)
  • Elefantens fot (The elephant's foot, 1985)
  • Bänkpress (1988)
  • Ökendykarna (Desert Divers, 1990)
  • Av nyfikenhet öppnade jag dörren i muren (1991)
  • Livstidsmänniskan (1992)
  • Utrota varenda jävel [sv] (1992)
  • Arbete & kärlek (Work and Love, 1995)
  • Antirasister (Anti-racists, 1995)
  • Nu dog du: Bombernas århundrade ("A History of Bombing", 1999)
  • Framtidslandet (2000)
  • Terra nullius - en resa genom ingens land (Terra Nullius, 2005)
  • Fadern, sonen och den heliga motorcykeln (Father, Son, and the Holy Motorcycle, 2006)
  • Avsikt att förinta (2008)


  1. ^ Bigert, Mats (Summer 2003). "Bombs Away: An Interview with Sven Lindqvist". Cabinet (11). Retrieved July 12, 2011.
  2. ^ Monbiot, George (16 December 2003). "A weapon with wings". The Guardian. Retrieved July 12, 2011.
  3. ^ "'Sven Lindqvists allvar och patos imponerade'" ['Sven Lindqvist's seriousness and pathos impressed']. Svenska Dagbladet (in Swedish). 14 May 2019. Med böcker som "Utrota varenda jävel" räknas han som en av de viktigaste författarna i modern svensk litteratur.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Sven Lindqvist official website". Archived from the original on June 25, 2014. Retrieved June 21, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Jeffries, Stuart (22 June 2012). "Sven Lindqvist: a life in writing". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 June 2012.
  6. ^ Leonardz, Jenny (February 2, 2008). "Sven Lindqvist har många böcker kvar". SvD (in Swedish). Retrieved June 21, 2012.
  7. ^ "Jan Myrdalbibliotekets litterära priser - Leninpriset och Robespierrepriset". Jan Myrdalsällskapet. Retrieved 12 May 2019. I centrum stod årets pristagare Sven Lindqvist
  8. ^ a b Leckey, Susan (2015-12-22). The Europa Directory of Literary Awards and Prizes. Routledge. p. 150. ISBN 978-1-135-35632-3.
  9. ^ a b "Akademiens essäpris till Sven Lindqvist". Svenska Dagbladet. Retrieved 12 May 2019. Sven Lindqvist har tilldelats Svenska Akademiens essäpris för 2008.
  10. ^ a b "Ivar Lo-priset till Sven Lindqvist". Svenska Dagbladet. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  11. ^ 'Exterminate all the brutes' by Sven Lindqvist. WorldCat. OCLC 1055698486.
  12. ^ Gradvall, Jan (2009). Tusen svenska klassiker : böcker, filmer, skivor, tv-program från 1956 till i dag [A Thousand Swedish Classics] (in Swedish). Norstedt. ISBN 978-91-1-301717-4. OCLC 434567845.
  13. ^ "Författaren Sven Lindqvist är död" [Author Sven Lindqvist is dead]. Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish). 14 May 2019.
  14. ^ Overton, Tom (2019-06-03). "Sven Lindqvist obituary". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-06-06.
  15. ^ Sven Lindqvist, The Myth of Wu Tao-Tzu. (London: Granta, 2012), p. 1
  16. ^ Burchardt, Jorgen; Andresen, Carl Erik (1980). "Oral History, People's History and Social Change in Scandinavia". Oral History. 8 (2): 25–29. ISSN 0143-0955. JSTOR 40178649.
  17. ^ Lindqvist, Sven (1979). "Dig Where You Stand". Oral History. 7 (2): 24–30. ISSN 0143-0955. JSTOR 40178565.
  18. ^ Conrad, Peter (15 April 2007). "I'm having a terrible time here ... it's great!". The Guardian.
  19. ^ Lindqvist, Sven (2008). Terra Nullius : a journey through no one's land. Granta. pp. 157–160, 222. ISBN 978-1-84708-005-9. OCLC 191934599.
  20. ^ "'Exterminate All the Brutes' | One Man's Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide". The New Press. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  21. ^ A History of Bombing | Sven Lindqvist. The New Press. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  22. ^ Lindqvist, Sven (2001). A history of bombing. New Press Distributed by W.W. Norton & Co. p. v. ISBN 1-56584-816-0. OCLC 44794868.
  23. ^ "Sven Lindqvist | Leninpriset". Retrieved 2020-03-03.

External links[edit]