Banned Books: A complete list of 144 books and the reasons why they were outlawed

In this list of banned books, we present a reading list of 144 books which were banned and blacklisted at some point, along with the reasons why.

Simpsons Book Burning Mobile Banned Books

Ulysses. James Joyce (Irish, 1882-1941)

Instalments of Ulysses appeared in the US magazine The Little Review in 1918 and a trial of the book based on one chapter from the magazine took place in 1921.The book was published in Paris in 1922. US Customs refused to handle it on the grounds of obscenity and the work was burned in the USA, Canada, England and Ireland. Ulysses was eventually published in the USA in 1933 and in the UK in 1936.

The Arabian Nights or The Thousand and One Nights.

These stories have been frequently banned in Arab countries, most recently Egypt in 1989 who declared they posed a threat to the nation’s moral fabric. The Arabian Nights was having problems in the USA back in the 1920s. It could not be handled by the US mail because of the Comstock Law of 1873, which prohibited the distribution of publications considered obscene.

Tropic of Cancer. Henry Miller (American, 1891-1980)

Tropic of Cancer was first published in Paris in 1934 and was banned in both the USA and the UK because of its explicit sexual nature. When the US ban was eventually lifted in 1961 an obscenity trial followed publication and only in 1964 did the US Supreme Court find in the book’s favour. It is now considered a classic.

The Dark. John McGahern (Irish, 1934-2008)

The Dark, McGahern’s second novel, concerns clerical child abuse and was banned by the Irish board of censorship for its alleged pornographic content and implications of sexual abuse. He was told to resign his teaching post and, when he defied the instruction, was dismissed on the instruction of the Archbishop of Dublin.

The Satanic Verses. Salman Rushdie (Indian, 1947- )

The Satanic Verses has been banned in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Qatar, Indonesia, South Africa and India for blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed and insulting Islam. In 1989 Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa calling on all good Muslim’s to kill the author; as a result Rushdie had to go into hiding.

Madame Bovary. Gustave Flaubert (French, 1821-1880)

The publication of Madame Bovary resulted, in 1857, in Flaubert being taken to court in Paris for offending public morality. Even though he was acquitted, the book remained controversial. In 1864 it was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum by the Vatican, the English publisher, Vizitelly, was imprisoned in 1889 for publishing ‘obscene libels’ and as late as 1954 it was blacklisted in the USA by the National Organisation of Decent Literature.

Heart of Darkness. Joseph Conrad (Polish, 1867-1924)

In the past Conrad’s novella, Heart of Darkness, was proscribed in Poland, Germany and the USSR for reasons of political censorship. More recently it has been banned in parts of the USA for its use of the word ‘nigger’. Interestingly, in 1975 Chinua Achebe, whose own book is banned, branded Conrad ‘a bloody racist’ for this book.

Things Fall Apart. Chinua Achebe (Nigerian, 1830- )

Achebe’s work was banned in Western Nigeria when, in 1988, the author suggested that the veteran politician Obafeni Awolowo didn’t deserve a state funeral. Although Things Fall Apart has been translated into more than 50 languages, has sold over 10 million copies worldwide and is included on Time magazine’s 2005 list of 100 best novels, its sale has recently been ‘restricted’ in Malaysia.

The Origin of Species. Charles Darwin (English, 1809-1882)

The publication of The Origin of Species in 1859 unleashed one of the most dramatic controversies of the Victorian era. Darwin was accused of ‘dethroning God’ and clergy railed against him from pulpits all over Britain. The work was promptly banned from the library of Trinity College, Cambridge even though he was a graduate. In 1925 the State of Tennessee banned the teaching of evolutionary theory, the law remaining in force till 1967. The book was also banned in Yugoslavia in 1935 and Greece in 1937.

Peyton Place. Grace Metalious (American, 1924-1964)

Peyton Place was publishing’s first ‘blockbuster’, and though it was denounced by the Church and dismissed by most critics as ‘trash, it sold 3 million copies in 1957 and more than 10 million by 1967. Peyton Place was banned in Ireland in 1958 for being ‘obscene’ and ‘indecent’; it was also banned in several US cities; declared ‘indecent’ in Canada and a ‘complete debasement of taste’ in New Hampshire, where it is set.

Go Tell it on the Mountain. James Baldwin (American, 1924-1987)

Go Tell it on the Mountain is a semi-autobiographical novel which is included on Time magazine’s 2005 list of 100 best novels. However it has frequently been condemned for ‘social obscenity’ in the USA: in 1988 it was challenged as required reading in Prince William County, Virginia, for being ‘rife with profanity and explicit sex’ and in 1994 in Hudson Falls, New York, for its recurring themes of ‘rape, masturbation, violence and degrading treatment of women.’

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll (English, 1832-1898)

The enduring classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, originally published in 1865 and which has never subsequently been out of print, was banned in 1931 by the governor of Hunan Province, China on the grounds that ‘animals should not use human language and that it was ‘disastrous to put animals and human beings on the same level’.

Steal this book. Abbie Hoffman (American, 1936-1989)

An underworld survival guide sometimes described as a combination of Boy Scout manual and anarchists’ bible, this book was rejected 30 times before finally being published. It was immediately banned in Canada and many bookshops in the USA refused to stock it, fearing that the title would be taken literally. The book rapidly leapt onto the best-seller lists.

Lolita. Vladimir Nabokov (Russian, 1899-1977)

Lolita initially failed to find a US publisher and appeared instead in France, but was banned as obscene in 1955. British Customs also banned the book in 1955, Argentina in 1959 claiming it reflected moral disintegration, New Zealand banned its import in 1960 and South Africa instituted a ban in 1974 because of the ‘perversion theme’. It is now on Time magazine’s 2005 list of best 100 novels.

Stick Out Your Tongue. Ma Jian (Chinese, 1953- )

Stick Out Your Tongue is a collection of five short stories set in Tibet prior to the Chinese invasion. It was banned in China as ‘vulgar and obscene’, defaming ‘the image of our Tibetan compatriots’. In 1986 Ma Jian left China moving first to Hong Kong and then to England. All his works are now banned in China.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Harriet Beecher Stowe (American, 1811-1896)

Banned on publication in the Southern states as anti-slavery propaganda and for its negative depiction of slave-owners, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was then banned in Illinois in 1984 for the use of the word ‘nigger’. It was banned in tsarist Russia in 1852, and in Italy and all papal states in 1855 for ‘spreading the Protestant poison’.

The Communist Manifesto. Karl Marx (German, 1818-1883) & Frederick Engels (German, 1820-1895)

Since it was published in1848, The Manifesto has been translated into more languages than any other modern text. An obvious target for any government ideologically opposed to Communism it has been banned, censored, burned and declared dead. It was banned in Germany in 1878 following attempts on Kaiser Wilhelm’s life, the Nationalists in China attempted to stop its circulation in 1929, the Nazis burned it in 1930 and Senator McCarthy encouraged a ban in the USA in 1950-53.

Spycatcher. Peter Wright (English, 1916-1995)

After 20 years’ service with MI5, Peter Wright moved to Australia where he wrote Spycatcher. It was published in 1987 being part memoir and part expose of what he considered the institutional failings of Britain’s security services. The book, an international best-seller, was banned in Britain. The British government, under Margaret Thatcher waged a lengthy, expensive and ultimately unsuccessful legal battle to prevent its publication.

The Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown (American, 1964- )

The Da Vinci Code, which has sold over 80 million copies and been translated into 44 languages, is based on the premise that the Catholic Church actively conspires to conceal the true history of Jesus. Rather than being banned by the Church, however, its sale has been prohibited in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, and various Indian states, on the grounds that the book is offensive to Christianity.

Les Fleurs du Mal. Charles Baudelaire (French, 1821-1867)

Les Fleurs du Mal (often translated as The Flowers of Evil) is a volume of poetry first published in 1857 causing both the author and the publisher to be prosecuted for offending public decency. Six of the poems suppressed as too radical for publication were published in Brussels in a small volume as Les Epaves in Belgium in 1866. The ban in France was not lifted until 1949.

We. Yevgeny Zamyatin (Russian, 1884-1937)

Written in 1921 and seen as a critique of the totalitarianism that was starting to take shape after the Russian Revolution, We was the first book suppressed by the Soviet Glavit censorship administration. Having been smuggled abroad its publication in the West caused all Zamyatin’s writings to be banned in Russia and life became very difficult for the author. Only in 1931 was he allowed to leave the USSR when he settled in Paris. We was not published in the USSR until 1988.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Russian, 1918-2008)

With his first novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, based on Solzhenitsyn’s own experiences in a Siberian labour camp, Solzhenitsyn emerged as an eloquent opponent of government repression. Initially banned, the book was published when Khruschev intervened. In 1976 complaints about ‘objectionable language’ meant the book was removed from a school library in New Hampshire, USA.

July’s People. Nadine Gordimer (South African, 1923- )

July’s People was banned in South Africa soon after its publication in 1981 because of the poor light in which it showed the apartheid regime. The ban was later lifted, but ironically, in 2001, the new regime attempted to ban it from schools on the grounds that it was ‘racist, sexist, patronising and outdated’. The proposal was rejected.

American Psycho. Bret Eastern Ellis (American, 1964- )

American Psycho caused a furore before it even appeared the graphic depictions of sexual violence causing the original publisher to withdraw. The New York Times review was titled ‘Don’t Buy This Book’ and the National Organisation for Women urged a boycott. Germany censored it as harmful to minors restricting sales and marketing; in Australia and New Zealand it was sold shrink-wrapped only to over-18s.

Wild Swans. Jung Chang (Chinese, 1952- )

Chang’s family memoir spanning three generations has sold 10 million copies and been translated into 30 languages. Yet Wild Swans has never been allowed in mainland China. A Chinese translation that Chang herself worked on is published in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and many copies have been smuggled into China, but the ban there still holds.

The Master and Margarita. Mikhail Bulgakov (Russian, 1891-1940)

Bulgakov published a number of works in the 1920s but, after being criticised as anti-Soviet, his career was effectively ruined by 1929. He continued to write The Master and Margarita, which was completed just before his death. The hidden manuscript finally appeared, heavily censored, in the magazine Moskva in 1966 and 1967. It was finally published worldwide in its unexpurgated form in 1973 and remains a bestseller to this day.

Brave New World. Aldous Huxley (English, 1894-1963)

Brave New World has been charged with being sordid, immoral and obscene. It has been condemned for vilifying the family, for giving too much attention to sex and for encouraging illegal drug use. Many cite the sexual promiscuity of the Utopians, as did the Board of Censors in Ireland when it banned the novel in 1932. It is also considered to be ‘depressing, fatalistic and negative’ and has been frequently challenged in schools throughout the USA.

Germinal. Emile Zola (French, 1840-1902)

Germinal, the first major work on a strike, was based on Zola’s painstaking, first-hand research into conditions in the coal mines. Published in 1885 it was attacked by governments and right-wing political groups as a call to revolution. Between 1894 and 1898 all Zola’s work was added to the Vatican’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the list of books Catholics were forbidden to read.

The Poet in New York and other poems. Federico Garcia Lorca (Spanish, 1899-1936)

On 19 August 1936 Falangist soldiers dragged the eminent poet and playwright into a field, where they murdered him. The soldiers accused him of having ‘done more damage with his pen than others had with their guns’. Having accused Lorca of ‘subversive activity’, Franco’s government then tried to obliterate his memory. His entire body of work remained banned until Franco’s death in 1975.

Black Beauty. Anna Sewell (English, 1820-1878)

With a view to upholding the apartheid regime in South Africa, the government implemented an elaborate system of banning literature considered objectionable. Consequently, in 1955, this children’s book about a horse, and set wholly in England, was banned because of the word ‘black’ in the title.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover. D.H.Lawrence (English, 1885-1930)

Lady Chatterley’s Lover was originally privately printed in Florence in 1928 to avoid the censors – a move that lost the author substantial income. Considered obscene, it was banned in the UK, Ireland, Australia, the USA, Canada, Japan and China. Penguin Books successfully challenged the UK ban in 1960, on the grounds of ‘redeeming social merit’. The book sold over 2 million copies in its first year of publication.

Blowing up Russia. Alexander Litvinenko (Russian, 1962-2006) and Yuri Felshtinsky (Russian, 1956-)

In Blowing up Russia, former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko (who died in London, poisoned by a lethal dose of polonium-210) and historian Yuri Felshtinsky alleged that fellow agents coordinated the Moscow apartment bombings blamed on Chechen separatists and used to justify the second Chechen war. The book is subtitled The Secret Plot to Bring Back KGB Terror. On 29 December 2003 the Russian authorities confiscated over 5,000 copies of the book on their way to Moscow from the publishers in Latvia.

Doctor Zhivago. Boris Pasternak (Russian, 1890-1960)

Dr Zhivago, Pasternak’s first novel, was written at a time of seeming political thaw but was promptly banned in the USSR for alleged criticism of the Bolshevik abuse of power after the Russian Revolution. Pasternak was expelled from the Soviet Writers’ Union and forced to refuse the 1958 Nobel Prize for Literature. Dr Zhivago was finally published in Russia in 1988.

Candide. Voltaire (French, 1694-1778)

First published in 1759 this critically acclaimed satire was declared obscene in 1929 by US customs who, in 1930, seized copies bound for Harvard, where the book was a set text. Since Voltaire was a nihilist who disliked organised religion, his book had already been placed on the Catholic Church’s list of banned books, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.

The Rights of Man. Thomas Paine (English, 1737-1809)

Paine was indicted for treason in England in 1792 for the seditious content of The Rights of Man, which condoned the French Revolution and advocated the overthrow of the British monarchy. It became illegal to own a copy of the book and Paine was forced to flee to France, where he became a French citizen. He finally settled in America. The Rights of Man is identified on the list of works ‘most often’ censored in the Encyclopaedia of Censorship.

The Call of the Wild. Jack London (American, 1876-1916)

London’s works were censored in several European dictatorships during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1929 all his books were banned in Yugoslavia for being ’too radical’ while Italy was banning all cheap editions of The Call of the Wild’. His works were also burned by the Nazis, presumably because they disliked his socialist attitudes.

Animal Farm. George Orwell (Eric Blair, English, 1903-1950)

Animal Farm was banned in the USSR until perestroika for being anti-communist. It was also banned in the USA for Communist material in its introduction. In 1963 the John Birch Society in Wisconson challenged the use of the phrase ‘masses will revolt’. The novel was banned in 2002 from schools in the United Arab Emirates. The book is on Time magazine’s 2005 list of best 100 novels.

Amores. Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso, Roman, 43 BC-AD 17)

Two thousand years ago Emperor Augustus banned Ovid’s work from public libraries and Ovid was banished to Tomis, an obscure and barbarous outpost of the empire. All Ovid’s works were banned by Savonarola in Florence in 1487. The Amores (love poems) were translated by Christopher Marlowe and printed abroad c1600, but the edition was banned, called in, and copies burned. Ovid prophesied that, in spite of the ban on it, his work would live on.

All Quiet on the Western Front. Erich Maria Remarque (German, 1898-1970)

All Quiet on the Western Front is a powerful account of World War I. Written by Erich Maria Remarque, a veteran of the first World War, the book was banned in Nazi Germany for being defeatist and demoralizing and insulting the Wehrmacht (German military forces). By 1933 the book was being publicly burned in Berlin.

As I Lay Dying. William Faulkner (American, 1897-1962)

In 1986, Graves County, Kentucky, the school board banned As I Lay Dying, a book about a poor white family in the midst of crisis, from its high school English reading list because of seven passages which made reference to God or abortion and used curse words such as “bastard,” “goddam,” and “son of a bitch.” None of the board members had actually read the book.

The Diary of a Young Girl. Anne Frank (German, 1929-1945)

The Diary of a Young Girl (Diary of Anne Frank) is banned in Lebanon for ‘portraying Jews, Israel or Zionism’ favourably. In 1983 members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee called for the rejection of The Diary of Anne Frank because it was ‘a real downer’. It was also challenged for offensive sexual references.

Fanny Hill. John Cleland (English, 1709-1789)

Now considered to be the first erotic novel, the publication of Fanny Hill resulted in the arrest of the author and publisher for ‘corrupting the King’s subjects’. The book was banned for obscenity. It was banned in the USA in 1821 and remained so until 1966. Fanny Hill, the story of a country girl who makes a fortune selling sex in the brothels that abounded in London in the 18th century was pornography-literally so, because ‘pornography’ was a word made up at exactly that time, from Greek roots, meaning ‘writing about prostitutes’.

Fight Club. Chuck Palahniuk (American, 1962- )

Fight Club was published in 1996. It follows the experiences of an anonymous protagonist struggling with his way of life and changes in American pop-culture masculinity. To overcome this he forms a bond with a mysterious anarchist and establishes an underground fighting club. The book was banned in China in 1999 for giving instructions on how to make various explosive devices.

Frankenstein. Mary W. Shelley (British, 1792-1851)

Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus, to give it its full title, was published, anonymously, in London in 1818. The novel is generally considered to be a landmark work of Romantic and Gothic literature as well as the first fully realised Science Fiction. It was banned in South Africa in 1955 for being indecent and obscene.

Gulliver’s Travels. Jonathon Swift (Anglo-Irish, 1667-1745)

Gulliver’s Travels was published anonymously to avoid persecution. It was censored in England and banned in Ireland-for being wicked and obscene-but has never been out of print. William Makepiece Thackeray branded parts of the work as ‘gibbering shrieks, and gnashing imprecations against mankind-tearing down all shreds of modesty, past all sense of manliness and shame; filthy in word, filthy in thought, furious, raging, obscene’.

Not Without My Daughter. Betty Mahmoody (American, 1945- )

Banned in Iran Not Without My Daughter is the real life story of an American citizen’s escape, along with her daughter, from the clutches of her husband in Iran. It created a furore in Iran for showing the general conditions there in a bad light as well as for being critical of Islamic customs.

Catcher in the Rye. J. D. Salinger (American, 1919- )

This is a perennial favourite of censors and has been banned in the USA and Australia. In 1960, a teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma was fired for putting the book on the 11th grade reading list. The teacher was later reinstated, but the book was permanently removed from teaching programmes. A Minnesota high school administration was attacked for allowing the book in the school library.

Putin’s Russia. Anna Politkovskaya (Russian, 1958-2006)

Anna Politkovskaya was a Russian investigative journalist, an author and a human rights activist. Her last book before her death, Putin’s Russia, could not be published in her home country and became the first book to be honoured with an English PEN Writers in Translation award. Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated in an elevator in her Moscow apartment building on Saturday 7th October 2006.

Maurice. E. M. Forster (English, 1879-1970)

More self-censored by the author than banned; Forster finished Maurice in 1914 but refused to allow publication until after his death. To bring out a frankly homosexual novel that did not, as he put it, end ‘with a lad dangling from a noose or with a suicide pact’ would have made him vulnerable. The book has been banned in a regional high school in USA, copies being seized from students as they read them in class. Personal attacks on the teacher, Penny Culliton, who introduced the book, have been so vehement that her job has been put in jeopardy.

Fahrenheit 451. Ray Bradbury (American, 1920-)

First published in 1953 Fahrenheit 451 describes a world where reading is outlawed and critical thought destroyed through hedonistic living. In 1998 the book was removed from the reading list of the West Marion High School, Foxworth, Missippi following a complaint of the use of the words ‘God Damn’. Bradbury discovered that editors at Ballantyne Books had, bit by bit, censored some 75 separate sections from the novel. An exquisite irony for a book dealing with censorship and book-burning..

To Kill a Mocking Bird. Harper Lee (American, 1926-)

To Kill a Mocking Bird, a Pulitzer Prize winning novel published in 1960, was instantly successful and became a classic of modern American literature. The novel is renowned for its warmth and humour despite dealing with serious issues of rape and racial equality. It has also been a source of significant controversy across America and Canada since being the subject of a classroom study in 1963. The American Library Association reported that To Kill a Mocking Bird was 23rd of the 100 most challenged books of 2000-2007.

Lord of the Flies. William Golding (British, 1911-1993)

Lord of the Flies remains as provocative today as when it was first published in 1954, igniting passionate debate with its startling, brutal portrait of human nature. It has become one of the most frequently challenged books in the USA and considered ‘demoralising inasmuch as it implies that man is little more than an animal’. The Toronto School Board banned this classic from all schools, claiming it was racist for use of the word ‘niggers’. Even Golding’s Nobel Prize in literature did not protect the book.

Age of Reason. Thomas Paine (English, 1737-1809)

One of America’s Founding Fathers, Paine wrote Age of Reason whilst imprisoned in revolutionary France in 1793. The book critiques Christianity and the Bible from Paine’s view as a Deist detailing numerous inconsistencies in both the Old and New Testaments. The book was banned in France because it was considered too religious and in England as too atheistic.

The Grapes of Wrath. John Steinbeck (American, 1902-1968)

The Grapes of Wrath has been one of the most vilified works since its publication in 1939. Burned at the St. Louis (Missouri) Public Library immediately after publication, it also was banned from the Buffalo (New York) Public Library because of “vulgar words.” It was challenged in the Greenville (South Carolina) schools because it used the names of God and Jesus “in a vain and profane manner” and was banned in Kern County (California) where the story was set. It continues to be one of the most challenged books in schools and libraries in the USA.

Slaughterhouse 5. Kurt Vonnegut (American, 1922-2007)

Slaughterhouse 5 is an anti-war science fiction novel written 20 years after Vonnegut’s experience at Dresden in the 1940s. It can boast dozens of cases when students, parents, teachers, administrators, librarians and members of the clergy have called for its removal or destruction for one or many of the following reasons: obscenity, vulgar language, violence, inappropriateness, ‘bathroom language’, ungodliness, immoral subject matter, cruelty, language that is ‘too modern’ and an ‘unpatriotic’ portrayal of war.

The Prince. Nicolo Machiavelli (Italian, 1469-1527)

The Prince was never published in Machiavelli’s lifetime. When printed copies became widely available after 1532, the Catholic Church banned it as an evil work. Others criticised it as a ‘handbook for tyrants’. By the early 1600s Shakespeare was using ‘Machiavel’ to refer to an unscrupulous and scheming person and today Machiavellian means acting in an evil, underhand way. Others, however, have applauded Machiavelli. Rousseau thought The Prince was a service to the people, putting them on guard against the secrets and methods of tyrants.

Adam Bede. George Eliot (English, 1819-1880)

Adam Bede was published in 1859 whereupon it was attacked in the United Kingdom as the “vile outpourings of a lewd woman’s mind” and withdrawn from British libraries. However by the end of her life George Eliot was recognised as the greatest living English novelist, particularly admired by Turgenev, Henry James and Queen Victoria.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter (English, 1866-1943)

During its examination of school learning materials in the 1980s, the London County Council banned the use of Beatrix Potter’s children’s classics The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny from all London schools. The reason: the stories portrayed only ‘middle class rabbits’.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Dee Brown (American 1908-2002)

This Native American history of how The West was really won was first published in 1970 and has since been translated into 17 languages. It was removed from Wild Rose School, Wisconsin in 1974 by a district administrator for being ‘slanted’ and ‘un-American’. He explained: ‘If there’s a possibility that something might be controversial then why not eliminate it?’.

The Gulf Between Us. Geraldine Bedell (British, 1956-)

The first International Festival of Literature held in February 2009 in Dubai, claiming to celebrate the ‘world of books in all its infinite variety’, banned The Gulf Between Us and told the author not to attend the festival because one of the (minor) characters is gay. The book has since been banned in Dubai and the rest of the United Arab Emirates.

Gulag Archipelago. Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Russian, 1918-2008)

Completed in 1968, but hidden, publication was necessary in 1973 when the Leningrad woman hiding the manuscript revealed its hiding place after five days of KGB interrogation (on release, she hanged herself). In 1974 Solzhenitsyn was arrested, charged with treason, lost his Soviet citizenship and was deported. Gorbachev authorised the publication of extracts in 1989.

Portnoy’s Complaint. Philip Roth (American, 1933-)

Portnoy’s Complaint, Roth’s most popular novel, was published in 1969 when it was also declared a ‘prohibited import’ in Australia. The Australian publisher, Penguin Books, resisted the ban, had copies printed in secret and stored in fleets of moving trucks. Attempts to prosecute Penguin and booksellers carrying the book failed and the ban was lifted in 1974. Several libraries and librarians in the USA have been harassed and threatened for carrying this book

Mein Kampf. Adolf Hitler (German, 1889-1945)

Mein Kampf had many challenges from the time of its publication to the height of World War II and beyond. Today it is banned or restricted in many countries including Austria, China, Mexico, Germany, Russia and The Netherlands. Some historians have speculated that a wider readership prior to Hitler’s rise to power, or at least to the outbreak of World War II, might have alerted the world to the dangers Hitler would pose to peace in Europe and to The Holocaust he would pursue.

The Country Girls. Edna O’Brien (Irish, 1932-)

O’Brien was living in England when she published her first novel, The Country Girls. It was a huge hit and critically well received around the world, but because of the sexual content of the story she was denounced in Ireland and the book, plus six of her subsequent works, was banned there.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens, American, 1835-1910)

Banned from the children’s section of the Brooklyn Public Library in 1876 because of the ‘questionable character’ of Tom Sawyer, the book has been challenged more recently for its ‘racial language’. It was not allowed entry into the USSR in 1930 but in 1937 was banned by the Brazilian government in a crackdown on works considered Communist and subversive.

The Sorrows of Young Werther. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (German, 1749-1832)

Published in 1774 and greeted with enthusiasm this classic story about suicide attained cult status in Europe. However when a number of copycat suicides occurred the book was condemned by the Lutheran Church and banned in Denmark, Germany and Italy. In 1939, 163 years after publication, Franco ordered libraries in Spain be purged of works by ‘such disgraceful writers as Goethe’.

Justine. Marqués de Sade (French, 1740-1814)

Napoleon described Justine as ‘the most abominable book ever engendered by the most depraved imagination’, an opinion widely shared. The Marques’s works have been banned in many countries, including France, the UK and the USA, for their depictions of graphic sex and violence. The term ‘sadism’ is derived from his name. All his works were on the Vatican’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum.

The Kingdom of God is Within You. Leo Tolstoy (Russian, 1828-1910)

The Kingdom of God is Within You was first published in Germany in 1894, after being banned in Russia. The title is taken from the Bible, Luke 17:21. In the book Tolstoy espouses the principle of non-resistance in the face of violence, as taught by Jesus. The work influenced Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Freedom from Fear. Aung San Suu Kyi (Burmese, 1945-)

The leader of her country’s opposition party, the National League for Democracy, and Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest in Yangon, Myanmar (Rangoon, Burma), when this book was published in 1991 in London and New York. None of her works is published or distributed in Myanmar, where she still lives and is still under house arrest.

Last Exit to Brooklyn. Hubert Selby Jr (American, 1928-2004)

Banned in Italy, Last Exit to Brooklyn was tried under the Obscene Publications Act in the UK in 1966. The judge felt that women ‘might be embarrassed at having to read a book which dealt with homosexuality, prostitution, drug-taking and sexual perversion’ and it was ruled obscene. An appeal issued in 1968 by the lawyer and writer, John Mortimer, reversed the decision. The case marked a turning point in UK censorship laws.

Naked Lunch. William Burroughs (American, 1914-1997)

Naked Lunch caused controversy as soon as it appeared in 1959 for its subject matter and its language. It was one of the last books to be tried in the USA for obscenity and was banned in 1965 in Boston as a result. The finding was reversed by the State Supreme Court the following year the judgement finding the book did not violate obscenity statutes as it was found to have some social value. On Time magazine’s 2005 list of best 100 novels.

Mein Kampf. Adolf Hitler (German, 1889-1945)

Mein Kampf had many challenges from the time of its publication to the height of World War II and beyond. Today it is banned or restricted in many countries including Austria, China, Mexico, Germany, Russia and the Netherlands. Some historians have speculated that a wider readership prior to Hitler’s rise to power, or at least to the outbreak of World War II, might have alerted the world to the dangers Hitler would pose to peace in Europe and to The Holocaust he would pursue.

Cain’s Book. Alexander Trocchi (Scottish, 1925-1984)

Cain’s Book, a roman-à-clef that detailed the author’s adventures as a heroin addict living on a boat on the Hudson River, came out to considerable acclaim in the USA. However the book’s frank depiction of drug addiction and sex was the source of an obscenity trial, brought by Sheffield City Council, in 1963 and the book was banned in the UK.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Milan Kundera (Czech, 1929- )

Kundera published his first novel, The Joke, a satirical account of life under Communism, in 1967. A year later, when the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, he was blacklisted: his books were banned from libraries and then, in 1970, from publication altogether. He moved to France in 1975, from where he wrote An Unbearable Lightness of Being, but his books remained banned in Czechoslovakia until 1989.