Thursday, 6 November 2014

120 Banned Books

As the title suggests, 120 Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature by Nicholas J. Karolides, Margaret Bald and Dawn B. Sova (second edition, 2011) is a comprehensive analysis of 120 books that have been "banned, suppressed, or censored for political, religious, sexual, or social reasons across 20 centuries and in many nations" along with a detailed censorship history of each entry followed by a list of further readings.

The 120 books in the four categories of suppressed literature have been banned over 2,000 years and include contemporary fiction like Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

Most of the banned books are well-known titles and are read to this day.


In India, books have been periodically banned, pulled off the shelves, and pulped—at times by the publishers themselves—to suit political and religious interests. There have been protest marches, acts of book burning, and vandalism. 

The more you ban something, the more people are likely to go looking for it. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of literary censorship. Banning a book is the best way to ensure that more people read it. It draws your attention to the "offending" book which otherwise you might have never heard of or never intended to read. The ban is soon forgotten, but not the book.

Fortunately, the internet has proved to be a sensible counterweight to the uninformed debate on banning of books. You can download and read the victimised books even as those who force censorship on the reading public are arguing about the merits of the ban. Modern writers whose books are banned in some quarters or regions of the world have found a way to get back—they make their books available online and often free of cost—proving the old adage that the pen continues to be mightier than the sword.

16 comments:

  1. I can't think of any book I've read that deserved to be banned. The closest I think would me Mein Kampf (not that I read it).

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    1. Patti, same here. The list of banned books included several classics that most of us studied in school. People who demand a ban on art and culture in any form are very insure about themselves.

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  2. I too wouldn't want to see any book banned, although some reasonable age guidelines might be appropriate for some books, those with graphic sex for example. I read Mein Kampf and found it horrifying. However, if the allies had read it before WWII started they would have had a perfect picture of Hitler's ideas and plans and might have been able to take steps to stop it.

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    1. Charles, in recent years a few nonfiction books about India written by western authors have been banned or pulped because they reportedly distorted and denigrated Indian history and Hindu mythology. Conspiracy theorists are convinced that western writers are asked to write and publish such "objectionable" books by the catholic church, ostensibly to undermine Hinduism, one of the oldest religions in the world. There is much debate about this online.

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  3. Not in favour of banning books myself. Only one I can remember of any note in the UK was Spycatcher - the memoirs of a retired British intelligence officer. The British govt. tried to ban their publication in Australia in the mid-80's and failed, which then gave the book notoriety and an obvious boost in sales!

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    1. Col, I remember Peter Wright's SPYCATCHER with the familiar dark cover though I haven't read it. I see it often in secondhand bookshops and I'll pick it up the next time I see it. After your comment I read about the Wright scandal on Wiki which should make reading of the book interesting.

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    2. I read it back around the time of the controversy. My future brother-in-law was working abroad and picked up a copy at an airport on his way home. I can't recall too much about it to tell you the truth.

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    3. Col, you have revived my interest in the book, especially since I used to keenly follow news reports of espionage cases in real life.

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  4. Prashant: I have been on the local library board for a long time. Over the years there have been a couple of issues over whether a sexually graphic book should be on the shelves because of its content and the chance young readers might find it. Now the idea seems redundant with the internet. Library staff now struggle to adequately monitor what is accessed on the net from library computers.

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    1. Bill, I can understand some form of censorship in the context you mention but not in the manner the political and religious right in countries like India is using it to impose their ideology or way of life on others.

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  5. The internet has made a huge difference Prashant, I completely agree with you - that of course can be banned too and I wouldn't want to have to rely on corporate monsters like Amazon for access to literature that ends up on a politician's hitlist! Glad to say I have read a good many of the books on this list.

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    1. Sergio, thank you. I have read a few of them myself and I'm glad many others are available in the public domain. While banning books hurts both authors and readers alike, it's all the more reason to seek out those books and read them and spread them around.

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  6. That sounds like an interesting book, Prashant. I am always interested in why people want to ban specific books. They always seem such unlikely choices to me.

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    1. Tracy, it certainly sounds like one. I'm surprised at the kind of books that have been banned over the centuries, especially in the 20th century. It defies logic.

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  7. So many of us feel the same way - some protection of young people is justified, but otherwise censorship and banning is wrong - that you wonder why we don't prevail! (I know, life doesn't work like that)

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    1. Moira, I recall reading about the censorship of comic books in America which snowballed into a major issue between those for and against it, leading to the Comics Code Authority. The code doesn't make sense today due to the proliferation of all kinds of explicit graphic literature online.

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