50 books that were banned

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Anna Brech

It's a truth universally acknowledged that books are good for the soul. But for some, too much knowledge is a dangerous thing. What one person reads as vivid, poignant and moving, another sees as violent, perverse or politically dubious. Thus, book banning has existed from the beginning of time and a quick flick through any well-stocked bookshelf will reveal titles that, at one point or another, have been subject to censorship.

From tomes with obvious reason for censorship (American Psycho, for example) to unlikely banned texts (Black Beauty? Controversial? Apparently so), we present 50 books that were banned in the gallery below.

  • A Farewell To Arms, Ernest Hemingway

    This semi-autobiographical novel set during World War I in Italy was published in 1929 and courted immediate controversy: it was banned from Boston newsstands for its sexual, "vulgar" content and in Italy for its depiction of the army’s retreat in the battle of Caporetto.

    Key quote:

    "When a man stays with a girl when does she say how much it costs?"

  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

    An unusual candidate for banning perhaps, but Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was barred in China in 1931 as the governor of Hunan province ruled that animals should never use the human language and that it was disastrous to put animals and humans on the same level.

    Key quote:

    "'But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked. 'Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: 'We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.'"

  • All Quiet On The Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque

    A gripping and unforgiving portrayal of life on the German front in World War I, All Quiet On The Western Front is seen by many critics as a key anti-war film. It was banned and burned under the Nazi regime in Germany from 1933 - 1945.

    Key quote:

    "The war has ruined us for everything."

  • American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis

    With extreme scenes of graphic violence throughout, American Psycho is a clear target for censorship. It is theoretically banned in the Australian state of Queensland. It is shrink-wrapped and classified "R18" in the rest of Australia and New Zealand, and sales of it were severely restricted in Germany in the 1990s as well.

    Key quote:

    "I'm coming back from Central Park where, near the children's zoo, close to the spot I murdered the McCaffrey boy, I fed portions of Ursula's brain to passing dogs."

  • And Tango Makes Three, Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson

    Based on the true life story of gay penguins in a New York zoo, this innocent-looking children's book has attracted the wrath of multiple organisations, libraries and individuals across the US. It often features on most banned lists, with reasons for its censorship varying from it being "anti-ethnic" and "anti-family" to "unsuited to age group."

    Key quote:

    "Tango was the very first penguin in the zoo to have two daddies."

  • Animal Farm, George Orwell

    George Orwell's allegorical tale of the corruption in Soviet Russia - as told through the eyes of farmyard animals - was banned in the USSR until the 1980s. It was also banned from schools in the United Arab Emirates in 2002 for its depiction of a talking pig, which was felt to oppose Islamic values.

    Key quote:

    "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

  • Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

    Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, is the real-life diary of Anne Frank, a Jewish teenager who, along with her family, hid from the Nazis during World War II. She died in a concentration camp and her diary was publised posthumously. It has been challenged by various organisations in the US, including members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee who contended it was a"real downer."

    Key quote:

    "I've reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die. The world will keep on turning without me, I can't do anything to change events anyway."

  • A Study In Scarlet, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    A Study In Scarlet Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's first book, has been banned from reading lists by at least one school board in Virginia because of its perceived negative portrayal of Mormons.

    Key quote:

    "The invisibility and the mystery which was attached to it (Mormon religion), made this organization doubly terrible."

  • Beloved, Toni Morrison

    A Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Beloved is a heart-breaking story of slavery and racism in nineteenth century America. It has been challenged by numerous school boards and parents groups in the US, because of graphic violence and sexual references.

    Key quote:

    "All the time, I'm afraid the thing that happened that made it all right for my mother to kill my sister could happen again. I don't know what it is, I don't know who it is, but maybe there is something else terrible enough to make her do it again."

  • Black Beauty, Anna Sewell

    This touching story of a horse's adventures in 19th century England was banned by South Africa's apartheid regime at one point simply because it had the words "black" and "beauty" in the title.

    Key quote:

    "My troubles are all over, and I am at home; and often before I am quite awake, I fancy I am still in the orchard at Birtwick, standing with my friends under the apple trees."

  • Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak

    This epic wartime love story, set during the Russian revolution, was banned in the Soviet Union until 1988 for its implicit criticism of the Bolshevik party. When Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 the outrage from his fellow countrymen was so huge, he refused the honour.

    Key quote:

    "Man is born to live, not to prepare for life."

  • Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

    Ironically, this 1953 novel about book-banning in a futuristic and consumer-led society has itself been banned on several occasions: it was refused from a school district in the US for using the word "goddamn" in the 1990s and has also been challenged on the basis of "questionable themes" (censorship, repression and religion, to name a few) in the past.

    Key quote:

    "We know all the damn silly things we've done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, someday we'll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them."

  • Fanny Hill, John Cleland

    One of the most contested and oft-banned books in the history of literature, Fanny Hill details the sexual liaisons of a teenage girl living in London. Since its publication in 1748, it has triggered numerous prosecutions in both the UK and the US, on the grounds of obscenity and so-called "pornagraphic" content.

    Key quote:

    "... and now, disengag’d from the shirt, I saw, with wonder and surprise, what? not the play-thing of a boy, not the weapon of a man, but a maypole of so enormous a standard, that had proportions been observ’d, it must have belong’d to a young giant."

  • Forever, Judy Blume

    Since its publication in 1975, Forever - the candid tale of a sexual relationship between two teenagers - has become one of the most frequently challenged books ever, drawing opposition from religious and sexual abstinence groups in the US for its frank prose and the fact that one of the main characters goes on the pill.

    Key quote:

    "That's not a bad word, hate and war are bad words, f**k isn't."

  • For Whom The Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway

    A war novel set during the Spanish civil conflict in the 1930s, For Whom The Bell Tolls tells the compelling story of a young American volunteer attached to an antifascist guerilla unit. It was banned under Franco rule in Spain and in a number of other countries for being pro-Communist and pro-Republican.

    Key quote:

    "I believe firmly in the Republic and I have faith. I believe in it with fervor as those who have religious faith believe in mysteries."

  • Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling

    Harry Potter and the fantasy world of Hogworts may seem fairly innocuous, but this hugely popular series has faced opposition from parents and school boards on both sides of the Atlantic. Portrayal of death, evil and hatred - as well as promotion of belief in witchcraft - are among reasons cited for objections.

    Key quote:

    "It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more." - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

  • In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

    Truman Capote's chilling 1966 account of the true life murder of a farm family in Kansas was banned at a high school in Georgia, on the grounds of sex, violence, and profanity. It was later reinstated.

    Key quote:

    "I didn’t want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat."

  • Lady Chatterley's Lover, D. H. Lawrence

    Based around an erotic affair between an upper class married woman and her game keeper, Lady Chatterley's Lover was banned in the UK on the grounds of obscenity for over thirty years. It was finally granted publication rights in 1968 after Penguin won a landmark court case, and immediately sold out.

    Key quote:

    "He laid his hand on her shoulder, and softly, gently, it began to travel down the curve of her back, blindly, with a blind stroking motion, to the curve of her crouching loins."

  • Letters From Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi

    A collection of short chapters depicting daily life in Burma - with all the baggage of political and human rights abuses - this vignette is penned by Burmese opposition leader and Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. It is banned in her native Burma, despite being freely available and widely read elsewhere around the globe.

    Key quote:

    "To view the opposition as dangerous is to misunderstand the basic concepts of democracy. To oppress the opposition is to assault the very foundation of democracy."

  • Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

    Nabokov's controversial tale of a middle-aged scholar's obsession with a 12-year-old "nymphet" was a cause of both celebration and alarm when it was first published in 1955: it was banned outright in the UK until 1959, along with a number of other countries - including France, Belgium, and Argentina.

    Key quote:

    "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul."

  • Lord Of The Flies, William Golding

    A 1954 novel about the rapid decline of civilization among a group of schoolboys stranded on a desert island, Lord Of The Flies has been challenged on numerous occasions in the US for its use of profanity, extreme violence and even statements defamatory to women.

    Key quote:

    "'Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in!'"

  • Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

    Long established as one of the greatest novels ever written, Madame Bovary nevertheless created moral outrage upon publication in 1857. Flaubert and his publishers were put on trial for obscenity but later acquitted for the story, which is based around the affairs of a bored married woman.

    Key quote:

    "She repeated to herself, 'I have a lover! I have a lover!' and the thought gave her a delicious thrill, as though she were beginning a second puberty."

  • Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler

    Hitler's notorious autobiography/ manifesto Mein Kampf ("My Struggle") sold millions of copies under the Nazi regime but has since been banned in Germany "out of a responsibility and respect for the victims of the Holocaust." Its resale is closely regulated, but some commentators argue that it should be de-banned - so as to absolve it of any symbol of power it might hold.

    Key quote:

    "Due to his own original special nature, the Jew cannot possess a religious institution, if for no other reason because he lacks idealism in any form, and hence belief in a hereafter is absolutely foreign to him."

  • Not Without My Daughter, Betty Mahmoody

    An autobiographical account of Mahmoody's attempt to escape her husband after he keeps her and her daughter captivity in Iran, this book is banned in the country for its depiction of a harsh, patriarchal society where men rule without question.

    Key quote:

    "I remember the ordeal of labour and the intense pain that accompanies the onset of life. Perhaps it is a warning of what may come in the years."

  • Operation Dark Heart, Lt. Col Anthony Shaffer

    In 2010, Pentagon staffers brought and destroyed thousands of copies of this 2010 memoir by US Lt. Col Anthony Shaffer, detailing his stint as an officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Afghanistan. However, their attempts to stop the leak of sensitive information was thwarted by social media sites such as Twitter and Reddit.

    Key quote:

    "At DIA, in 1999 and 2000, I was director of Task Force Stratus Ivy. One of my elements was the first undercover cyber unit, where we put officers undercover posing as hackers on the Internet."

  • Rabbit, Run, John Updike

    This 1960 novel about a former high school basketball player deals with themes of prostitution, alcoholism and abortion, to name but a few. As such, it had a mixed reaction - it was banned in Ireland until 1967 because of "indecency" and was censored in several US high schools for sexual references and profanity.

    Key quote:

    "When it was over he was hurt to learn, from the creases of completion at the sides of her and the hard way she wouldn’t keep lying beside him but got up and sat on the edge of the metal-frame bed"

  • Spycatcher, Peter Wright

    Peter Wright, a former assistant director of MI5, first attempted to publish his autobiography, outlining high-profile assassination attempts and MI5 eavesdropping operations, in 1985. The British government's aggressive campaign to ban it ensured the book's lasting popularity. It continued to be published in Australia and Scotland even as it remained barred in England, rendering gagging attempts useless.

    Key quote:

    "For five years we bugged and burgled our way across London at the State's behest, while pompous bowler-hatted civil servants in Whitehall pretended to look the other way."

  • Steal This Book, Abbie Hoffman

    Abbie Hoffman's iconic alternative guide to life was published in 1971 and includes details of how to shoplift, grow marijuana and start up a guerilla radio station. It was banned in Canada for "advocating criminal offences" and also barred from many stores in the US, over fears it encouraged shoplifting.

    Key quote:

    "Avoid all needle drugs—the only dope worth shooting is Richard Nixon."

  • Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, William Steig

    Starring a donkey named Sylvester who likes to collect stones, this children's book was banned in some parts of the US after publication in 1969, because of its anthropomorphic portrayal of police as pigs (alongside some other animal embodiments).

  • The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

    Widely acknowledged as one of the best American novels ever written, this 1884 novel nevertheless provokes ongoing debate over whether it reinforces racial stereotypes. The N-word is used 242 times in the entire novel, leading one administrator to brand it the "most grotesque example of racism I’ve ever seen in my life." It is frequently banned and challenged.

    Key quote:

    "It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a n*****; but I done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterwards, neither."

  • The Blue Lotus, Herge

    Herge's 1936 comic strip features its hero Tintin fighting a drugs gang in Shanghai. It was initially greeted with enthusiasm in China but following the Communist takeover there, was banned for being pro-Kuomintang (the political party defeated by the Communists). The ban remained in place until 1984.

    Key quote:

    "Farewell, noble Tintin. May other friendships lighten your days in your country in the West and accompany you along the way!"

  • The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer

    Despite being authored at the end of the 14th Century The Canterbury Tales - a series of tales from journeying pilgrims - was still considered risque in terms of its obscene langauge and rich sexual innuendos into the late 20th Century. Under the Comstock Law (1873), it was prohibited for sale in the US and even now abridged versions are commonplace.

    Key quote:

    "For certeyn, olde dotard, by your leave/You shall have queynte right enough at eve ... What aileth you to grouche thus and groan?/Is it for ye would have my queynte alone?"

  • The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger

    Famed for being one of the most banned, censored and challenged books ever following its publication in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye tells the story of teenage anti-hero Holden Caulfield as he embarks on a journey of self-discovery in the US. It attracted criticism in the 60s and 70s for "excess of vulgar language, sexual scenes, and things concerning moral issues."

    Key quote:

    "In my mind, I'm probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw."

  • The Color Purple, Alice Walker

    This 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel focuses on the grim realities of life for black women living in America's Deep South in the 1930s. It has been banned by school boards on numerous occasions for graphic scenes of violence, descriptions of sexual assault, plus "troubling ideas about race relations, man's relationship to God, African history and human sexuality."

    Key quote:

    "I see Sofia and I don’t know why she still alive. They crack her skull, they crack her ribs. They tear her nose loose on one side. They blind her in one eye. She swole from head to foot."

  • The Complete Fairy Tales Of The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

    Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel - these were just a few tales to come out of the The Complete Fairy Tales Of The Brothers Grimm in 1812. Over the years, the tales have raised objections over sexism, violence and the gruesome nature of punishments metered out to villians. The Allies banned the tales in Germany after the fall of the Nazis, who glorified Little Red Riding Hood into a symbol of the German people saved from the Jewish wolf.

    Key quote:

    "The wolf said, 'You know, my dear, it isn't safe for a little girl to walk through these woods alone.'"

  • The DaVinci Code, Dan Brown

    Dan Brown's 2003 best-seller was banned in Lebanon over its "insulting" - though fictional - suggestion that Christ had sexual relations with Mary Magdalene resulting in a child. Shop owners in the country were ordered to take copies off the shelves after complaints it was offensive to Christianity. The book, which has sold millions of copies worldwide, also portrays Catholic Church leaders as demonising women.

    Key quote:

    "Almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false."

  • The Famous Five, Enid Blyton

    It's hard to believe the jolly japes of Dick and the gang might be in any way sinister, but Enid Blyton's books were banned for 30 years by the BBC for being produced by a "second rater" and lacking "literary value." The Noddy series has also come under fire for its "racist" portroyal of Golliwogs, while Blyton's adventure books have been criticised as sexist, with the boys routinely protecting the girls from danger.

    Key quote:

    "You may look like a boy and behave like a boy, but you’re a girl all the same. And like it or not, girls have got to be taken care of." (Five Go On A Hike Together)

  • The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

    Detailing the devastating effects of the Great Depression in the 1930s, The Grapes of Wrath faced opposition in the US for depicting "communist sympathies" and "exaggerating" poor conditions in migrant labour camps. It was banned in Kern County, California, where part of the novel was set, for two years - despite selling thousands of copies daily elsewhere.

    Key quote:

    "There ain't room enough for you an' me, for your kind an' my kind, for rich and poor together all in one country, for thieves and honest men. For hunger and fat."

  • The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood

    Kate, a handmaid who lives a life of sexual servitude, stars in this dystopian novel set in a futuristic and facist American state. A school board in Texas banned the book after complaints it was sexually explicit and offensive to Christians. Other complaints levied towards the story include that it is "rife with brutality towards and mistreatment of women."

    Key quote:

    "Give me children, or else I die."

  • The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini

    Khaled Hosseini's best-selling debut novel charting the friendship of two young boys in Afghanistan has been banned in parts of the US for sexual content (the book features a rape scene) and offensive language. The film adaptation of it was also banned in Afghanistan for depicting the country's ethnic groups "in a bad light."

    Key quote:

    "He knew I'd seen everything in that alley, that I'd stood there and done nothing. He knew that I'd betrayed him"

  • The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie

    Salman Rushdie was infamously issued with a fatwa - or death sentence - by Iran for "blasphemous references" in 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, which is inspired in part by the life of the Prophet Muhammad. The book sparked riots across the world upon publication and is banned in many Muslim majority countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

    Key quote:

    "O my vanity I am an arrogant man, is this weakness, is it just a dream of power? Must I betray myself for a seat on the council? Is this sensible and wise or is it hollow and self-loving?"

  • The Well Of Loneliness, Radclyffe Hall

    This landmark lesbian novel by Radclyffe Hall prompted obscenity trials in both the UK and US after its publication in 1928. It was greeted with outrage in the UK, with one newspaper editor noting, “I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel." The book was eventually sold without objection in Britain in 1949, triggering widespread debates on homosexuality.

    Key quote:

    "You're neither unnatural, nor abominable, nor mad; you're as much a part of what people call nature as anyone else; only you're unexplained as yet"

  • The Witches, Roald Dahl

    Roald Dahl's chilling tale of witches abounding has been frequently challenged in US libraries and schools due to its focus on witchcraft and the way in which it "devalues the lives of children." It has also been criticised by feminist groups for its negative portrayal of women.

    Key quote:

    "I am not, of course, telling you for one second that your teacher actually is a witch. All I am saying is that she might be one."

  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum

    L. Frank Baum's legendary tale comprising the scarecrow, the Wicked Witch of the East and many other fantastical characters has come under fire since 1900. Reasons for banning it in classrooms and libraries include its promotion of "benevolent" witchcraft, support of "negativism," and portrayal of human skills as "individually developed rather than God given."

    Key quote:

    "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

    Set in Alabama in the 1930s, Harper Lee's classic novel tells the story of a white lawyer defending a black man accused of rape. It has been subject to many challenges and temporary bans in US, on charges of racism and the accusation that it "represents institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature."

    Key quotes:

    ""She was white, and she tempted a Negro. She did something that in our society is unspeakable: she kissed a black man. Not an old Uncle, but a strong young Negro man."

  • Twilight, Stephenie Meyer

    Stephenie Meyer's racy novels about the romance between a teenager and a vampire are as controversial as they are popular. Last year, her hugely year Twilight series joined the ranks of those most frequently requested to be banned in US libraries and schools, with complaints over their sexual explicitness and "contradiction" of religious beliefs.

    Key quote:

    "Blood boiled under my skin, burned in my lips. My breath came in a wild gasp. My fingers knotted in his hair, clutching him to me. My lips parted as I breathed in his heady scent."

  • Ulysses, James Joyce

    Published in Paris in 1922, this account of a day in the life of protagonist Leopold Bloom has been lauded and criticised in equal measure. It was banned in the UK until the 1930s and in the US for eleven years after being branded radical and obscene.

    Key quote:

    "Mr. Bloom with careful hand recomposed his wet shirt. O Lord that little limping devil. Begins to feel cold and clammy. Aftereffect not pleasant. Still you have to get rid of it someway."

  • Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe

    Long regarded as one of the greatest anti-slavery novels ever written, Harriet Beecher Stowe's tale of slavery in the Deep South was greeted with outrage by many in 1852. A southern novelist declared it "utterly false" and Stowe received threatening letters, including one containing the severed ear of a slave. Even after the US Civil War and abolishment of slavery, the book continued to be challenged for its apparent racist portrayal of African Americans.

    Key quote:

    "We don't own your laws; we don't own your country; we stand here as free, under God's sky, as you are; and, by the great God that made us, we'll fight for our liberty till we die."

  • Wild Swans, Jung Chang

    Jung Chang's epic autobiography documenting three generations of women growing up in China amid political turmoil is banned in her native country due to its negative portrayal of the Mao regime. Chang said the move to bar it made her "frustrated and very unhappy."

    Key quote:

    "But I did not resent Mao. On the contrary, I hated myself for feeling miserable. By then I'd grown into the habit of 'self-criticism' and automatically blamed myself for any instincts that went against Mao's instructions."

  • Where's Waldo?, Martin Handford

    This fun spot Waldo/Wally game ushered in a huge amount of objections in America when it was first published in the 90s. The reason? One of the "spotting" scenes includes a crowd of sunbathers, of whom one appears to be topless. This made it one of the American Library Association's most banned books of 1990-2000.


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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