Top 20 Books That Were Banned



Top 20 Books That Were Banned

VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio
These literary classics were not always regarded as such. For this list, we're looking at books that have been banned for sale and distribution at some point for a wide variety of reasons. Our countdown includes “Fahrenheit 451”, “Of Mice and Men”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “American Psycho”, “Brave New World”, and more!

Top 20 Books That Have Been Banned

Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 20 Books That Have Been Banned.

For this list, we’re looking at books that have been banned for sale and distribution at some point for a wide variety of reasons.

Let us know in the comments which you’ll definitely be reading next.

#20: “Fahrenheit 451” (1953)

Ray Bradbury
It’s ironic that a book expressly about the perils of banning books has found itself on the banned reading list numerous times – or maybe that was exactly what Bradbury was going for. The novel follows Guy Montag, whose job is to burn books en masse; he initially believes in this cause but upon doing some reading himself, starts to grow disillusioned with the relentless censorship of literature’s great works. It’s been banned by numerous schools and counties in the United States since its publication, though there has been plenty of success in getting it unbanned. Still, imagine reading “Fahrenheit 451” and then deciding that the regime is right and books should be destroyed.

#19: “The Diary of a Young Girl” (1947)

Anne Frank
This genuine diary is one of the most important books in existence for studying the Second World War and Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jewish people, which is why it’s abominable that anybody thought to ban it. But it has perhaps one of the most bizarre reasons behind an attempted banning, as a school in Alabama tried to ban it in the 1980s because it was “a real downer” – and yes, that’s a “real” quote. Others have attempted to ban it for alleged “explicit content” as Frank wrote openly about her sexuality. It’s truly heinous to try and stop anybody from learning about this part of history, particularly history as told by those who suffered the most.

#18: “A Farewell to Arms” (1929)

Ernest Hemingway
Though he’s one of the most famous American writers of all time, Hemingway’s been censored across the US. “The Sun Also Rises” has been censored in Boston and California, while Hemingway self-censored profanity in “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. “A Farewell to Arms”, however, while also being banned in Boston, was banned in Italy in the first half of the twentieth century. That’s because it’s a fictionalized account of Hemingway’s experience fighting on the Italian Front during the First World War, and it portrays Italy’s ultimate defeat much too accurately for the likes of the Italian censors at the time. It wasn’t until after World War II that the book officially made its way to Italian shores.

#17: “Of Mice and Men” (1937)

John Steinbeck
Because of its short length, readability, and the fact it tackles the Great Depression – a major chapter of American history – “Of Mice and Men” has long been required reading in high schools around the world. So you may be surprised to learn that it’s one of the most challenged books in history, frequently earning ire because of its subject matter. Steinbeck’s handling of race – including his portrayal of racism – as well as the infamous treatment of Curley’s Wife are often cited. Even in the UK, there’s been some talk of taking “Of Mice and Men” out of the school curriculum. Steinbeck’s much longer Depression-era novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” has also been censored in the US.

#16: “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (1928)

D. H. Lawrence
In the Western world, there was a turning point in the twentieth century where the censorship of literature was concerned, and that turning point was a landmark obscenity trial against Penguin Books. Though “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was banned across the English-speaking world, the trial happened in the UK in 1960 and a jury ultimately ruled in favor of Penguin, leaving the publisher free to publish not only “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” but myriad other “obscene” works. But what was all the fuss about in the first place? Well, Lawrence’s novel chronicles the explicit, extra-marital affair of Lady Chatterley, and let’s just say it doesn’t shy away from the details.

#15: “Lord of the Flies” (1954)

William Golding
You may not know that “Lord of the Flies” was written as a response to popular adventure novels about the endeavors of upper-class young boys who flourish when stranded on a desert island, but it was. Today, it’s often derided as Golding glorifying the British class system instead of being a criticism of it, as the boys quickly descend into violence and brutality. But not only has the violence proven an issue, so has the profane language some of the boys use, not to mention their archaic attitudes towards women and minorities. In the end, these contemporary attitudes are the things Golding is criticizing, but that hasn’t stopped people from repeatedly challenging the novel. Despite how many times it’s been challenged, the book actually hasn’t been banned outright or removed from school curricula as often as you might think, which is why it only lands here on our list.

#14: “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1960)

Harper Lee
Also a hallmark of any high school reading list, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is generally regarded as a cutting portrayal of systemic racism in the Deep South. It follows lawyer Atticus Finch and his attempts to get a Black man, Tom Robinson, cleared of the wrongful charge of assaulting a white woman. But in recent years, it’s gotten some negative attention for Lee’s portrayal of race, getting itself censored in places as far apart as Edinburgh, Scotland, and Mississippi. But people have consistently tried to ban it ever since it was first published, generally for daring to portray racism and assault in any capacity, regardless of what the book actually says about those things.

#13: “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1890)

Oscar Wilde
Sadly, Oscar Wilde’s obscenity trial in the 1890s didn’t end as positively as the one seventy years later against Penguin. “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Wilde’s only novel, follows the decades-long life of its titular character, who gains eternal youth and beauty by cursing his portrait to take the toll of his sinful life. The thing the censors of Victorian society didn’t like was Dorian’s gay proclivities, as he’s sexually involved with numerous men. The novel was used as key evidence in the trial against Wilde, and he was sent to prison for two years in 1895. It wasn’t until 2011 that the full uncensored text was published as Wilde intended.

#12: “The Color Purple” (1982)

Alice Walker
This period novel was published in the 1980s, and right away got on the wrong side of many school boards. Though “The Color Purple” counts race among its main themes, the biggest problem seen by the people trying to ban it was its sexual content. It’s definitely a dark novel largely about trauma, but it also focuses on the relationship between two women, Celie and Shug Avery. In short, “The Color Purple” has just about everything you can think of to upset the kind of people who spend their time trying to ban books, but it remains a brilliant – if bleak – masterpiece.

#11: “Ulysses” (1922)

James Joyce
Arguably the most important Irish novel ever written, “Ulysses” faced so many legal challenges and trials for its obscene content that the entire saga has been dubbed the “Joyce Wars” – yes, really. One of the most notable incidents was an obscenity trial in the US in 1921, which ruled against Joyce and resulted in years of American authorities burning every copy that made its way across the Atlantic. This is one case where even today, “Ulysses” certainly is obscene – but it’s Joyce’s refusal to flinch away from all the gross parts of ordinary, human life that help make “Ulysses” a classic. But maybe don’t do “that” on a public beach.

#10: “A Clockwork Orange” (1962)

Anthony Burgess
This novel is certainly more famous for its movie adaptation, directed by Stanley Kubrick, which somehow managed to be significantly more controversial than the book it’s based on. But that’s not to say the book didn’t upset people, too. Though its graphic violence is somewhat masked by Burgess’s obtuse, fictional slang language, it’s still a horrific book. Interestingly though, the final chapter, in which Alex sees the error of his ways, was refused publication in America because they thought Americans would prefer all the violence. It was censored for basically the opposite reason every other book is, bizarrely.

#9: “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (1884)

Mark Twain
This classic American novel has become another part of the ongoing culture wars in recent years as it’s continually censored – but in actuality, it’s been consistently banned and unbanned ever since its publication in the 1880s. And it’s also been banned for the exact same reasons every time, namely its profanity and use of racial slurs. “Huck Finn” is, like similar works, a criticism of racist attitudes, but that hasn’t stopped people from thinking it uses offensive language too liberally. Though, Twain himself mocked the censors for worrying too much about how easy it is to corrupt America’s youth, and it doesn’t look like much has changed.

#8: “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (1949)

George Orwell
First published in 1949, “Nineteen Eighty-Four” might be the most famous work of dystopian fiction ever written. In it, Orwell explores a future version of Britain, part of the vast Eurasian continent, where everybody is spied on by an entity called “Big Brother” and anybody suspected of subversion is detained and “re-educated” by the Thought Police. “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and “Animal Farm” are both commentaries on Stalinism and the Soviet Union, which is what got them banned in the Soviet Bloc. But weirdly enough, “Nineteen Eighty-Four” came under fire in Florida in the very decade of its setting for being “pro-communist.” So, it was banned for being against communism and in favor of communism all at once.

#7: “And Tango Makes Three” (2005)

Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell
A controversy so ridiculous it was even lampooned in “Parks & Recreation,” in 1999 Central Park Zoo hit the headlines for daring to support the attempts of two gay penguins to build a family. The penguins, Roy and Silo, formed a pair-bond and were given an egg by the zookeepers from a penguin pair who weren’t fit to be parents. This heart-warming tale was made into a children’s picture book, prompting no small number of pearl-clutching Americans to ban it up and down the US for pushing the “gay agenda” and featuring themes they didn’t think children should be faced with. Regardless, the book remains popular and beloved by many.

#6: “American Psycho” (1991)

Bret Easton Ellis
Like “A Clockwork Orange,” the movie adaptation is more well-known than the book – but unlike “A Clockwork Orange,” the novel gained backlash for being too violent rather than not quite violent enough. The story follows Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street executive turned serial killer who spends all the downtime from his murders making reservations and taking drugs. It’s easy to see why the novel is contentious, and it’s been viewed by many as a dangerous book that could convince people to commit crimes. The moral panic was so significant around it that it was even dropped from publication by Simon & Schuster in the 90s.

#5: “The Satanic Verses” (1988)

Salman Rushdie
Potentially the most contentious book ever written at the time of its publication, “The Satanic Verses” caused outrage among millions of people. This was because Rushdie interrogates and critiques many important beliefs in Islam, which led to large protests particularly in Britain in the late 80s. Shockingly, the leader of Iran at the time called for Rushdie’s execution, which forced him into hiding for the better part of a decade. And then the novel’s Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, was murdered, while the Norwegian publisher was severely wounded. There are still many out there who haven’t forgiven Rushdie and it’s been banned by many countries, including India and Pakistan to varying degrees.

#4: “Mein Kampf” (1925)

Adolf Hitler
We surely don’t need to explain why this has been widely banned and relentlessly censored since the end of the Second World War, in an effort to stop Hitler’s ideology from spreading any further. It’s been banned most prominently in Germany, and is much easier to find translated into English in other countries. It’s a rare case of a book being banned for a very good reason, and is important to note that it’s still available to read for scholars, historians, and philosophers studying Hitler and his beliefs. Nobody is trying to expunge Hitler’s atrocities from public knowledge, but the unchallenged circulation of this text throughout the 20s and 30s invariably helped the Nazis rise to power.

#3: “Lolita” (1955)

Vladimir Nabokov
Unlike many other frequently banned novels, “Lolita” has remained one of the most controversial works of art ever created, even today. The book examines the extremely inappropriate “relationship” between Humbert Humbert and twelve-year-old Dolores Haze, whom Humbert nicknames “Lolita.” The issue is that Humbert, as a foremost example of an unreliable narrator, attempts to portray himself in a sympathetic light – something he’s so convincing at that many have claimed Nabokov is glorifying and legitimizing this type of treatment; though they, too, have fallen for Humbert’s tricks. There’s no denying that “Lolita” is difficult to stomach, but it’s still a masterpiece that remains extremely relevant.

#2: “Brave New World” (1932)

Aldous Huxley
Another of the big dystopian novels, “Brave New World” predates both “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and “Fahrenheit 451,” and looks at a dark future where the populace is kept subservient not on the threat of pain and death, but by the sheer allure of pleasure. This society, which reveres Henry Ford as a god, has essentially worked out how to mass-produce humans, separating them into a hierarchical caste system. They’re sexually free and take a lot of drugs, and the book follows the protagonist Bernard Marx as he becomes disillusioned with his society. And it was exactly this unfettered pursuit of pleasure that caused offense.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few Honorable Mentions:

“Fifty Shades of Grey” (2011), E. L. James
Bondage for Wine Moms was Banned in India for Its Risqué Content

“The Anarchist Cookbook” (1971), William Powell
Even Powell Himself Tried to Stop this Bomb-Making Guide from Circulating

“The Great Gatsby” (1925), F. Scott Fitzgerald
It was Taken Off an Alaskan Curriculum for “Sexual” Themes

“Captain Underpants” series (1997-), David Pilkey
It’s Been Contentious for Decades Because of So-Called “Violent Imagery”
David Pilkey

#1: “The Catcher in the Rye” (1951)

J. D. Salinger
Holden Caulfield is one of American literature’s defining characters, a rebellious teenage boy who, deep down, is still struggling to come to terms with the profound loss of one of his closest relatives. Holden doesn’t ever really know what he wants and derides mostly everyone he meets, famously, as a “phony.” Holden’s constant use of bad language is one of the big issues taken with the book initially, though it’s always been critically acclaimed. However, in 1980, the book became associated with something altogether darker: the murder of John Lennon, as Lennon’s killer Mark Chapman claimed he took inspiration from Holden’s hatred of “phonies.”