10 Notable People Who Were the Product of Incest

It was with great pride — and only mild nausea — that we shared with our readers 10 examples of historically significant people who committed incest through marriage. It left us curious, though: What about the offspring? Which people who were prominent in the course of human events had that blemish on their origins? Did it have significant impact on who they became? How did they feel about it if they ever expressed an opinion? It is indeed highly dangerous for offspring, as Psychology Today reported that fewer than 46% of children of incest within the immediate family do not have severe genetic defects.

We won’t be focusing solely on European aristocrats. We’ll be trying to reach every corner of the globe and every social strata — although this is probably an area where diverse representation won’t be particularly appreciated…

10. Ben-Ammi

Many children were taught in Sunday School the story of how Lot, descendant of Abraham, fled the city of Sodom with his family and how his wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt. After they grew up a bit, many of those Sunday School students learned the unsavory part of the story where Lot had children by his two daughters after they got him drunk — one of those inbred children being Ben-Ammi, by his youngest daughter. As noted in the intro, no product of incest wants to be defined by that aspect of their life, but Ben-Ammi literally means “Son of My Kin,” so he wasn’t really able to escape it.

Ben-Ammi is mostly remembered for founding a tribe called the Ammonites. That tribe was, for a long time, a thorn in the side of the Israelis. They would often raid Israeli travelers. By the 6th century BC they reached a much greater threat level when they joined an alliance with Syrians and invaded Judah. Curiously, after King David waged a grueling war against them (during the time that he was having his notorious affair with Bathsheba) and conquered their capital, he was persuaded to worship their god for a time. They wouldn’t be defeated once and for all by the Judeans until the 2nd century BC, under the command of Judas Maccabeus.

9. Saint Gregory

Also known as either Gregory I or Gregory the Great, he was Pope of the Catholic Church from 590 to 604. According to the 14th century document the Gesta Romanorum, he was conceived by two of the children of Emperor Marcus around 540 AD, and was abandoned by his naturally ashamed parents near the sea. He was found by fishermen and delivered to the local monastery. It was after he grew up that he found tablets that informed him about the truth about his origins.

Gregory’s legend might seem like it was some sort of slander, or maybe anti-church propaganda. But in the story, as soon as he learned about it, he traveled to the Holy Land as an attempt to cleanse the sin of his disgraceful origins, including living in poverty on a coastal rock for 17 years. It would be his extreme piety that would lead to his assent to the role of pope. Fittingly, he was able to provide absolution to his mother.  

8. Darwin’s Children

Charles Darwin was one of the most esteemed members of our previous list about historical figures with incestuous marriages, and it’s time to revisit that family and get to know them better. Many of his seven children that survived into adulthood would lead distinguished lives, such as George Darwin — who became a professor of astronomy and experimental philosophy at Cambridge University — or Leonard Darwin, who became president of the Royal Geological Society. But their most notable contribution to science was less something they did, than something that was done to them.  

Beginning with his first son, William Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin began to take extensive notes on the development of his children. He certainly didn’t go to the extremes of seeing how they reacted to deliberate abuse or neglect, but the tone of his notes would become so detached that he at least called one of them “it.” He published his observations in 1872 as part of the book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. The experiments performed on William, Anne, and other Darwin children would be cited heavily by such giants in the burgeoning field of psychology as Sigmund Freud.

7. Charles II

It’s not an obscure fact that there was a lot of inbreeding the Hapsburg Dynasty, especially considering that it contained people like Philip II, who engaged in it with so many wives. The unseemly practice culminated in the final Hapsburg King of the Spanish Empire, who reigned from 1665 to 1700, beginning at age four. His parents, Philip IV of Spain and Mariana of Austria, were first cousins. They had as many as 11 incestuous marriages in their family history.

Charles II suffered from hydrocephalus, was constantly ill, had a congenital heart defect, and went bald by age 30. He was supposedly extremely easily manipulated by other heads of state, as he could barely even read or write. His own subjects referred to him with pity as “El Hechizado”(“The Hexed”). He passed away at the age of just 39 without producing an heir, and so his death was followed in short order by the War of Spanish Succession. It was a fittingly uninspiring note on which to end the reign of a deeply unhealthy dynasty.

6. Mahidol Adulyadej

It may seem that this 20th century monarch was the inverted answer from Thailand (then Siam) to Charles II. He was born in 1892 to King Rama V and the scion of one of his four half-sisters that the king kept as concubines. As he was the Rama V’s 69th son, he did not seem likely to be in the line of succession. However in 1925, his eldest brother King Vajiravudh died, and all others in the line of succession had either died of natural causes or lacked children, so he reluctantly took the throne. He had health problems that were attributed to his incestuous origin, but his mind did not seem afflicted by his birth, to say the least.

While the prince spent much of his time during his developing years in Europe, his most significant education began in Harvard University in 1917. After graduating with a medical degree in 1927, he returned home with the training in the field where he would make his greatest mark. His health and sanitation reforms, financed in large part through the Rockefeller Foundation, would led to him being dubbed the “Father of Modern Medicine and Public Health in Thailand.” This achievement was so celebrated that today there is a Prince Mahidol Award given internationally for outstanding work in medicine and public health.  

5. Theodore Stravinsky



The composer Igor Stravinsky and his cousin Catherine Nossenko had been childhood friends and mutual artistic supporters before they were married in 1905. In 1907, she gave birth to their son Theodore, who was named after his grandfather. The elder Stravinsky went on to worldwide fame for such compositions as The Rite of Spring and The Firebird and completely overshadowed his son in the eyes of the world. However, the younger Stravinsky went on to a career of his own that’s worth getting to know better.

In 1927, Theodore Stravinsky had his first solo exhibition in Paris, securing him in the painting career that would make him an international success. By 1940, he would be exhibited in New York as well, just before being arrested by the Vichy government. By 1948, he secured commissions doing high-profile clerical stained glass windows. By 1977, these commissions would earn him the insignia Commander of the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great, a title bestowed on him by Pope Paul VI. Little wonder there is a foundation dedicated to his memory today.

4. John Byrne

For years, he was one of the the biggest names in the field of British television writing and theater. His credits include the scripts for the plays The Slab Boys and Colquhoun and MacBryde, which premiered in the Royal Court Theater in London. He also wrote the teleplays Tutti Frutti and Your Cheatin Heart. Many also know him for being the ex-husband of A-List actress Tilda Swinton after 14 years together.

The incestuous union that made him was between his mother and his grandfather. He learned about it in 2002 from his cousin Aileen Kane, and he claimed that it explained why his mother went to visit his parents in their home of Cardonald so often. He didn’t explain how he learned of the affair, but he did claim that the affair unsurprisingly left his mother with a mental illness that claimed her life in the 1980s. Byrne has expressed a somewhat morbid sense of humor about it, saying “that’s what they do in Ireland. I presume it’s what they do in unlettered places and lettered places. It’s traditional, and nobody speaks about it.”

3. Pleistarchus

It reasonably didn’t come up in any version of Frank Miller’s 300 or most tellings of the Battle of Thermopylae, but Queen Gorgo was actually King Leonidas’s niece. There is speculation among historians that the reason for the marriage was to heal a rift between Leonidas and Gorgo’s father Cleomenes, as Cleomenes had no male heirs to Sparta’s throne and needed a line of succession. What’s not disputed is that when Leonidas died at the famous battle, Pleistarchus was too young to rule, and so for a time the regent was Pausanias, who defeated the Persians in the Battle of Platea after the war had turned decisively against the Persians at the Battle of Salamis.

The most recorded venture of the reign of Pleistarchus was when he put down a huge Helot (i.e “slave”) revolt in the wake of a massive earthquake in 463 BC. It was a considerable achievement, as most of the population of Sparta at the time was slaves (a source from the same century claims that slaves outnumbered Spartan citizens seven to one). This success would still prove disastrous for Sparta down the line, because it kept the Spartans too occupied to aid Athens in stopping a revolt on Thasos, or to aid Thasos by conquering Athens when it was vulnerable. In either case, it helped set the stage for the Peloponnesian War shortly after Pleistarchus’s death, a decades long civil war which would leave Greece itself too weakened to resist conquest by Macedonian King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great.

2. Moab

We return to the subject of Lot and the children he had with his daughters. With his older daughter, he had Moab, and it turned out that Ben-Ammi had gotten away relatively light when it came to names. Moab translates to “from my father.” Despite such a setback, he also became the creator of a tribe of his own, and he followed the tradition of his brother and called his clan the Moabites in the 14th century.

Like the Ammonites, the Moabites would become bitter enemies of Israel. It began as early as the 13th Century. King Saul and King David would both go to war against them in the 11th Century BC, and King Solomon would attempt to put an end to the wars by erecting an idol to their god Chemosh. For a time, “moabite” just became a generic slang term for any group that the Judeans considered enemies of God. According to the historian Josephus, they were killed off by the Babylonians. Later historians estimated that this happened in 582 BC. We have to say, roughly eight centuries is a pretty good run for any community that was the result of incest.

1. Amenhotep I

He’s certainly not as famous as Egyptian pharaohs such as Ramses and King Tut, but if you like warmongers, he was much more successful as a pharaoh than either of them. By the time his sibling parents Ahmose I and Ahmose-Nefertiti had him around 1540 BC, incest was a centuries-old tradition among Egyptian royalty. Amenhotep I would continue the tradition by marrying his sister Merytamun. It would continue after him for more than a millenia and a half.

His military accomplishments include defeating an invasion from Libya that threatened the Nile Delta. He would spread the empire far to the south into modern day Sudan, or Nubia as it was known then. To the east, there is archaeological evidence that he spread his empire all the way to Syria. On the domestic front he had accomplishments such as reopening mines in the Sinai Peninsula and having temples built in Northern Egypt, though he was not so generous with the newly conquered Southern territory. By the standards of his time, it was certainly a reign to take pride in.


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Five science experiments for the kitchen

EXPERIMENT 1: MAKE YOUR OWN BLUE CHEESE!

What you need: non-blue cheese (e.g. mozzarella, elemental, cheddar), blue cheese (rochefort, danblue, gorgonzola etc.), and a container.

Take a piece of the blue cheese and scrape it on the cheese you want to “personalise”. Place the piece in a sealed container and leave it at room temperature for 2-3 days. You can also keep it in the fridge, but it will take longer to turn your cheese blue.

Explanation: Blue cheese is blue because of the coloured fungus Penicillium roqueforti growing in and eating the cheese. Introducing the fungus to another cheese is essentially letting it feed on a new ‘dish’. You could call it fungal contamination. I prefer to call it new flavour.

EXPERIMENT 2: TENDERIZE THAT STIFF MEAT WITH SOME PINEAPPLE

What you need: canned pineapple, meat, and two containers.

Place two meat pieces into two different containers. In one of them add the juice from the canned pineapple, but don’t add anything to the other one (that’s the control of your experiment). Cover the containers in order to avoid smell! Within one day you will see that the pineapple-soaked meat is slightly changed in colour and getting softer than the non-treated meat.

Explanation: The pineapple juice contains two different enzymes commonly known as “bromelain”. These cut the collagen proteins that ‘stiffen’ meat into smaller pieces, which softens it. However, if you want to go all Breaking Bad and dissolve meat from a dead body, we do not recommend using pineapple juice! It’ll just tenderise your victim – hydrofluoric acid is a stronger and a better option to get rid of the evidence.

EXPERIMENT 3: USE A BANANA TO RIPEN THAT GREEN TOMATO!

What you need: green tomatoes and one ripe banana.

If you’re stuck with green tomatoes and aren’t armed with the patience to wait for them to turn red here’s the solution: Place a mature banana or a banana peel next to those unworthy tomatoes and wait (less time) for it!

Explanation: For a fruit to mature a volatile (flying) hormone known as ethylene is needed. This hormone is released by ripe tomatoes, apples, pears and bananas. By placing a ripe banana next to a green tomato, the ethylene from the banana activates the maturation process in the tomato! Cool right? That’s why a lot of the vegetables and fruits are harvested while green and once they get to the store are treated with ethylene, so they can start maturing at the exact time of selling. Don’t panic, it’s not harmful!

EXPERIMENT 4: CAN I CONVERT A RAISIN BACK INTO A GRAPE?

What you need: water, raisin, and a container.

Well, according to the laws of thermodynamics: not really. You can, however, try to rehydrate your raisin. Have you ever wondered what happens if you place a raisin into a container with water? Try! It will swell, but unfortunately never return to its grape-glory days again. But who doesn’t like swollen raisins?

Explanation: The grape basically swells with water. There is more salt inside the grape that in the water. The process by which water travels from low salt conditions to high content ones across a barrier is known as “osmosis”. The water moves in order to dilute the salt concentration in the grape achieving the same salt conditions on both sides (equilibrium stage). This process happens all the time! If you spend too long in the bath, the water moves into your cells and your fingers wrinkle up. Yes, you are saltier than the water you’re bathing. This of course raises the following question: if you stay too long in salt water, and this is saltier than you, will you lose water? Think about it!

EXPERIMENT 5: MAKE YOUR OWN NATURAL PIGMENTS

What you need: green leaves, carrot, red cabbage, 90-96% alcohol, and lastly (you guessed it!) containers.

Cut the leaves, carrots and cabbage into small pieces. Place them into different containers with enough alcohol to cover them up. Wait for some hours and soon you will see that the alcohol is dyed green, orange or purple. However, we do not recommend you to use them as organic food “colourants” for your cake topping!

Explanation: The pigments chlorophyll, carotene and anthocyanin are the pigments responsible for the colour of leaves, carrots and red cabbage respectively. They are normally stored in “cell deposits” known as plastids. These get disrupted by alcohol, releasing the pigments contained by the plastids. What you might not know is that normally all these pigments are present in all leaves, but the green pigment is present in higher amounts. When it is not actively produced by plants in the autumn, the rest of the pigments present in the leaf become visible – that’s why leaves change colour in the autumn.

Five do-it-yourself chemistry experiments

You want to impress your friends by turning bones into rubber? Determine how acidic or basic different items around the house may be? You can be a chemist too with these five chemistry experiments to try at home.

Don’t worry. All the experiments are safe for do-it-yourself chemistry.

EXPERIMENT 1. TEST FOR STARCH IN A LEAF

Starch is the food of plants. Here is how to test for its presence.

You can get the following ingredients at a drug store like the ‘Matas’ chain.
Ingredients: Two separate plants a glass jar, ethyl alcohol, iodine solution (Danish ‘jod’), tweezers, and a pan on the stove

Prepare the two plants by placing one in a dark spot for 24 hours, and the other in a sunny spot such as a windowsill. After 24 hours, fill a saucepan with water, then add some ethyl alcohol onto the pan.

Once the ethyl alcohol in the beaker starts to boil, turn off the heat. Take a leaf from each of the plants, and place them in the hot water for 60 seconds. Then using tweezers dip each leaf into the ethyl alcohol for two minutes. They should begin to turn white. Finally, take out the two leaves and place them into a small dish filled with iodine solution, so that the iodine solution just covers the leaves.

Explanation: Photosynthesis is the process through which a plant converts light and CO2 into energy, which is stored inside the plant.

The chemical formula is the following: 6CO2 + 6H2O ——> C6H12O6 + 6O2,
(Where: CO2 = carbon dioxide, H2O = water, Light energy is required, C6H12O6 = glucose, and O2 = oxygen.)

The hot water is responsible for killing the leaf, while the ethyl alcohol breaks down the chlorophyll so that the green colour is gone. Iodine is a chemical which acts as an indicator for starch, turning blue-black in the presence of starch reddish-brown when there is no starch. The leaf which turned blue-black is the leaf left in the sunny location, which has been performing photosynthesis and producing starch.

EXPERIMENT 2. RUBBER BONES

It is important to have enough calcium in our diets, it keeps our bones strong. This experiment will prove it.

Ingredients: jar large enough to fit a chicken bone, a chicken bone (a leg or drumstick would be best), and vinegar.

Thoroughly wash the bone with hot water, and dry it. Place the bone into the jar and cover it with vinegar, then cover with a lid and let it sit for 3-5 days. Finally, remove the bone, rinse it off, and try bending it.

Explanation: Vinegar is an acid which is strong enough to dissolve away the calcium in the bone. The calcium is what keeps the bone hard, and so once it is dissolved all that is left is the soft bone tissue.

EXPERIMENT 3. PERFORM CHROMATOGRAPHY USING CANDY

Compare the compounds in the dies used for colouring an M&M.

Ingredients: M&Ms candy (one of each colour), coffee filter paper, a tall glass, water, table salt, a pencil, scissors, a ruler, 6 toothpicks, aluminum foil, an empty 2 liter bottle with cap.

Cut the coffee filter paper into an 8 x 8 cm square and draw a line 0.5 cm from one edge of the paper. Make a dot for each of the candy colours equally spaced along the line, with about 0.5 cm from the edge of the paper for the first and last dot. Label each dot with the name of the colour. Take a piece of aluminum foil and place six drops of water evenly spaced out, and one candy of a different colour on top of each water drop. See what it looks like here. Wait for the colour to dissolve into the water, then dispose of the rest of the candy. Dampen the tip of one of the toothpicks in one of the colored solutions and touch it to the labeled dot on the coffee filter paper, making a small dot of colour (2mm approximately).

Then using a different toothpick each time, place dot of each colour onto the coffee filter paper. After all the spots have dried, repeat once again to get more colour on each spot. Do this three times more times. Next add ⅛ teaspoon of salt and three cups of water to the empty 2 L bottle. Screw the cap on and shake the contents until all of the salt is dissolved in the water, which makes a 1% salt solution. Pour the salt solution into the tall glass to a height of 0.5 cm. Place the filter paper in, making sure that the dots are above the water level and wait.

Explanation: The salt solution will began to move up the paper through a process called capillary action. The colour spots will also climb up the paper along with the salt solution, but the colours will end up at different heights on the paper. This is because some dyes stick more to the paper while other dyes are more soluble in the salt solution. This process is called chromatography, where the salt solution is called the mobile phase, and the paper the stationary phase. The dyes that travel the furthest have more affinity for the salt solution (the mobile phase); the dyes that travel the least have more affinity for the paper (the stationary phase).

EXPERIMENT 4. TEST THE PH OF HOUSEHOLD ITEMS USING CABBAGE JUICE

Find out how acidic or basic a household item is.

Ingredients: 1/2 head red cabbage, metal grater, water, pot, strainer, vinegar, detergent, and a glass.

Fill the pot with water, then grate the cabbage into small pieces and place them in so that the water just covers the cabbage pieces. Boil the mixture for 20-30 minutes, then take the dark purple liquid and strain it into a glass. Create the test solutions by diluting the vinegar with water, and mixing the detergent with water. Add a few drops of the cabbage juice to each of the solutions, and note the color changes.

Explanation: The cabbage juice should turn pink in acidic solutions, and green in basic solutions. You can also test the pH of any household items, for example soda water, lemon juice, baking soda mixed with water, or anything you choose. Red cabbage contains anthocyanin, which is a pigment belonging to group of chemical compounds called flavonoids. Anthocyanins gain an -OH at basic pH, but loose it at acidic pH, and this alteration changes the wavelengths of light reflected by the compound. In this way a colour change occurs and it is possible to tell if the substance was acidic or basic.

EXPERIMENT 5. USE VINEGAR TO DE-SCALE YOUR KETTLE

Ingredients: calcified kettle, vinegar, water, and a cloth.

Dilute store bought white vinegar with water using a 1:1 ratio (equal parts water and white vinegar). Leave this in the kettle for 60-120 minutes, and do not boil. Then, dump out the water. If there is any lime- scale left, you can use a damp cloth to wipe this away. Finally, rinse off the kettle thoroughly with water. Next time you use it to boil water you will have improved the efficiency of the kettle, as well as the taste of the water.

Explanation In many areas household water contains a high mineral content, including calcium and carbonate, which can stay behind in a kettle when water is boiled and reform as calcium carbonate. The equilibrium inside the kettle prior to boiling can be seen as: 2HCO3- + Ca2+ ⇋ Ca2+ + CO32- + CO2 + H2O. After boiling, some of the CO2 boils off, and thus calcium carbonate is precipitated as calcium carbonate: CO32- + Ca2+ -> CaCO3. Calcium carbonate is soluble in mildly acidic solutions such as vinegar (CH3COOH), according to the reaction: CaCO3 + 2CH3COOH -> Ca(CH3COO)2 + H2O + CO2

And so when vinegar is allowed to react with the calcium carbonate at the bottom of the kettle, it is dissolved and can be easily removed, allowing the kettle to restore energy efficiency and improve the time it takes to boil water.

Five biological experiments you can do at home

1. HOMEMADE EXTRACTION OF YOUR OWN DNA

Ingredients: transparent glass, salt, liquid soap, grapefruit juice, and alcohol (e.g. disinfectant, rum, vodka, etc.).

The first step consists of spitting on the glass and adding a pinch of salt to it. Then, add some liquid soap (like the one you use for washing the dishes), juice from a grapefruit, and some drops of alcohol. Once you have everything on the glass, stir the mixture, et voilà.

The white mucous filaments you observe on top of the mixture is your DNA.

Explanation
The saliva contains cells from your mouth that have DNA inside them. The detergent is used to break down the membranes that protect the DNA, and releases it into the recipient. The salt makes the DNA denature* and precipitate, while the grapefruit juice neutralizes the proteins that could damage the DNA.

2. CULTIVATE THE BACTERIA THAT GROW ON YOUR HAND

Ingredients: small airtight container, gelatin dessert

If you buy gelatin from a package, follow the instructions to make it. If you do not find gelatin to make, it should be even easier and just touch the gelatin from the glass jar and wait to see what happens.

Heat water on the stove and add the package contents to it, stirring the mixture vigorously until the gelatin grains dissolve. While the solution is still hot, pour into container where you want to cultivate your bacteria, and put the lid on in order to avoid contamination. Store the container in the fridge overnight so the gelatin can solidify. Remove from fridge once solid, touch the gelatin, put the lid on again and leave the container at room temp or near the radiator for a few days.

After some days you will see some white spots on the gelatin. These are your hands’ skin bacteria. Even if you try to wash your hands and repeat the experiment again, we will always have bacteria on our hands.

Explanation
Microorganisms are everywhere but we do not normally see them since they are so tiny and dispersed. In this case, they use the gelatin as food, and since there are so many nutrients in it they can divide (reproduce) many times and accumulate in the container until we are actually able to see them.

3. CHANGE THE COLOR OF YOUR FLOWERS

Ingredients: flowers (preferably with white petals), ink, a glass, and water

One of the easiest experiments you can do. Place the flower in a glass with water and colored ink (red, black, blue, etc.). After a while you will see the petals have colored petal ribs or veins, of the same color of the ink you added to the water.

Explanation
Normally we give water to plants in order to keep them alive. Plants have a tube system (called xylem) that distributes water and some nutrients to all parts of the plant. Using the colored water we are actually able to see this tube system.

4. EGG BALL

Ingredients: eggs, vinegar, and a pot with lid (really important, as this keeps the smell inside!)

Place the egg (including shell) into the pot with vinegar and cover it with the lid. Let it sit for some days. After this, you will have a flexible smelly egg that you can use as a ball.

Explanation
The single cell present in one egg, due to its importance in reproduction, is protected by an eggshell. This shell is made of calcium carbonate that reacts with the acetic acid present in the vinegar, causing its decomposition, and leading to a ‘naked’ egg that has increased flexibility.

5. COOK AN EGG WITH NO HEAT

ingredients: eggs, bowl, alcohol

Want to innovate your cooking skills? Next time you want to cook an egg , place it into a bowl and add some alcohol to it. After some minutes you can see how it slowly ‘cooks’. Unfortunately, I cannot guarantee that you will find it extremely delicious.

Explanation
Cooking an egg, consists simply on denaturing* the proteins that are present in the cell contained by the eggshell. This protein denaturation is normally obtained by heat exposure (boiling or frying), but another way consists of adding compounds such as alcohol that denature the proteins by interacting with them and altering their 3D structure.

denaturation*= process by which a biomolecule (e.g. DNA, protein), losses its 3D structure.

Any ideas for new experiments? Write them below, and we will try them out for you!


Top 10 evil narrators

Lolita, A Clockwork Orange, American Psycho … many of these books were originally condemned as immoral for humanising the evil at their hear

 Carnival of rape and violence … Malcolm McDowell as Alex in 1971’s A Clockwork Orange. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/Warner Bros

All novelists are villains. Like despots, we fantasise that thousands of people will pay attention to our lengthy speeches, and often hold the delusion that it will do them good. Having no army, we grip our audience with a trick called literature, though we’re usually fairly confident that people want to listen to us anyway.

The narrator of my book Consent calls himself a practitioner of “people studies”, which means he is a serial stalker, and eventually much worse. He expects to be hated, and dreams of no more than a fair hearing. “I have only tried to live by simple principles with doggedness and honesty,” he says, “and with an open mind.”S

The villains on this list are murderers, torturers and rapists (sometimes all three), but when they say they do not feel remorse, we often admire their frankness. Many of these books were condemned as immoral when they first appeared, because they seemed to humanise the evil they explain. We don’t want villains to be human. We want to make them suffer, and compassion gets in the way. Maybe their victims weren’t human either, in their eyes.

1. Alex in A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Burgess was the first novelist to obsess me, and like most readers I met him first through Alex and his droogs. The slang is a stylistic miracle, but I can’t say that Alex is a developed character. His high-spirited carnival of rape and violence, then his cruel rehabilitation with aversion therapy, read more like a diagram than a story. (You may notice that the book shares a plot with Mr Nosey.) But why complicate a simple point? Evil people are also just people.

2. Odilo Unverdorben in Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis
Like A Clockwork Orange, the high concept of Time’s Arrow takes a little getting used to. The conscience of a Nazi doctor relives his life backwards, watching as corpses are revived by murderers, grow younger and shrink until they are small enough to climb into their mothers’ wombs. We don’t see the evil Odilo, but have to deduce him as his soul approaches the horrors he committed, consequences first, playing out a fantasy of the Holocaust regretted by its perpetrators, and magically undone.

 Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar in The Collector (1965). Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

3. Frederick Clegg in The Collector by John Fowles
This book terrified me before I read it, when a friend suggested that the stalking story of my own nearly finished novel had already be done, very famously, by Fowles. Thankfully, I was reassured when I read The Collector, then terrified for different reasons. Like Miranda, Clegg’s victim, I naively warmed to him at first. Her kidnapping feels more like an excess of earnestness than proper evil. Later, I understood that the two are often the same thing.

4. Meursault in The Outsider by Albert Camus
Camus said that Meursault was an outsider because “he refuses to lie”. He refuses to pretend to care about other people more than he does, perhaps in part because he does not believe they care about him. He kills a man on the beach without thinking about it much. That’s a challenge to us all: human life is only as sacred as it feels, and how sacred do most people feel to you?

5. Humbert Humbert in Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Many people may feel instinctively that Humbert does something worse than killing, which is child sexual abuse, regular and premeditated. Perhaps worse still is the way he talks about it. Humbert implores our sympathy not for Lolita, whom he abuses, but for himself having to live with the desire. That erotic and romantic ache, in Nabokov’s beautiful style, is what I still remember. It takes you to the point where you empathise with this man even when he drugs and rapes a 12-year-old girl.

 Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in the 2000 adaptation of American Psycho. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

6. Patrick Bateman in American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Bateman represents a hated stereotype: the late-80s plutocrat, greedy and indifferent to others. And he does embody those things, but what gets forgotten is the unhappiness. Being Bateman is an endless, looping anxiety nightmare of missed reservations and unreturned videotapes, of the effort to feel superior, just to feel OK. It’s the best book on this list, in my opinion.

7. The twins in The Notebook by Ágota Kristóf
Narrated in the first-person plural, this Hungarian novel tells the story of twin boys surviving the last years of the second world war and the start of communism. They are self-possessed and intensely sinister, receiving abuse of all kinds as calmly as they visit it on others. By the end, even the unjust world we have seems preferable to the just one they create around them.

8. Unnamed narrator of The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
This fictional confession of an unnamed communist agent begins with a breathtaking account of the fall of Saigon, and ends with him being forced to tell his story of spying on Vietnamese émigrés in the US. It’s striking how fervently the narrator tries to be loyal and consistent, and how this leaves the human consequences as an afterthought. Being too certain that you’re the good guys – that’s where this evil comes from.

9. Harry Flashman in Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser
I suspect that evil in the real world most often takes this form: a person with power, and all the ordinary desires, sacrificing others to serve, or save, themselves. As such, Harry Flashman is the perfect narrator for a revisionist history of the British Empire. This first instalment tells of his adventures in Afghanistan – adventures which, as Flashman merrily admits, show him to be “a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward – and, oh yes, a toady”.

10. Satan in Paradise Lost by John Milton
The daddy of the genre, and evil by definition. I’m pushing it to call Satan a narrator, but he is certainly the hero of the poem, who makes a series of beautiful and reasonable speeches in favour of resistance against the tyranny of God. If Milton really meant to justify the ways of God to men, he might have given himself an easier opponent.

• Leo Benedictus’ Consent (Read Me in the US) is out now in paperback in the UK (Faber).

GRÍMSEY ISLAND

Grímsey is a green, grassy and particularly agreeable island, probably best known for its proximity to the Arctic Circle, which cuts across the island. Many visitors go there solely to step across that line, south to north.

The island is 5.3 km2 in area, its highest point is 105 metres and the distance from “Iceland” is 41 km.

Life on Grímsey is bright and energetic, and the inhabitants are of a happy disposition, working and playing with equal wholeheartedness. A good swimming pool was opened there in 1989. The inhabitants of the island do their shopping in the village store, Búðin, which is privately owned, and sells a wide variety of goods. There are two guesthouses on the island, one of which is open all year round.

The ferry, Sæfari, sails from Dalvík to Grímsey 3 days a week all year round. There are also regular flights by Air Iceland, 3 times a week during winter and 7 days a week during summer.

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HÓLAR IN HJALTADALUR

Hólar is one of the most famous historical sites in Iceland and was, for many centuries, an Episcopal See. It was also the capital of North Iceland for over 700 years. There has been a church on the site from the 11thcentury, and the present Hólar Cathedral was consecrated in 1763. It is the oldest stone built church in Iceland.

Hólaskóli School, founded in 1882, was an agricultural school, but there is evidence that some form of school has been present at Hólar right from the time of the first bishopric. Archaeological research has been carried out at Hólar over the past years and more than 40 thousand items found, some of which are now on display in the old schoolhouse.

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STÓRI- KARL

Langanes is a veritable outdoor paradise teeming with birdlife, great for nature study and hiking as well as some tangible history. A trip to the outlying peninsula is an unforgettable adventure, passing remnants of ancient farms and more recently deserted buildings like Skoruvík. Below Skoruvík cliffs is Stóri Karl rock column, one of Iceland’s largest gannet colonies.

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KJARNASKÓGUR WOODS

South of Akureyri is Iceland´s most visited “forest” Kjarnaskogur woods. The area has 2km long athletic course, walking tracks, picnic tables and children´s playground. Campsite at nearby Hamrar.

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BORGARVIRKI

Borgarvirki is a 10-15 metre high ridge of columnar rock. This phenomenon is a volcanic plug, and there is speculation as to whether it was, in ancient times, a district fortress and even, perhaps, a battleground.
From Borgarvirki there is a wide panoramic view over a large part of the region and a viewfinder is in place to help locate some of the important landmarks.
This is truly a unique natural phenomenon, but one which has also seen some improvements by the hand of man in bygone days.

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