Book censorship

Chilean soldiers burn books considered politically subversive in 1973, under Augusto Pinochet‘s dictatorship.

Book censorship is the act of some authority, government or otherwise, taking measures to prevent access to a book or to part of its contents. It can be enacted at the national or subnational level, and can carry legal penalties. Books may also be challenged at a local community level, although successful bans do not extend outside that area. Similarly, religions may issue lists of banned books—a historical example being the Roman Catholic Church‘s Index Librorum Prohibitorum—which do not always carry legal force.


“Almost every country places some restrictions on what may be published, although the emphasis and the degree of control differ from country to country and at different periods.”[1] There are a variety of reasons for which books may be banned. Materials are often suppressed due to the perceived notion of obscenity. This obscenity can apply to materials that are about sexuality, race, drugs, or social standing.[2] The censorship of literature on the charge of obscenity appears to have begun in the early 19th century.[3] The rise of the middle class, who had evangelical backgrounds, brought about this concern with obscenity.[3]

Governments have also sought to ban certain books which they perceive to contain material that could threaten, embarrass, or criticize them.[4]

Throughout history, societies practiced various forms of censorship in the belief that the community, as represented by the government, was responsible for molding the individual.[5]

Other leaders outside the government have banned books, including religious authorities.[6] Church leaders who prohibit members of their faith from reading the banned books may want to shelter them from perceived obscene, immoral, or profane ideas or situations or from ideas that may challenge the teaching of that religion.[7]

But even religious materials have been subject to censorship. For example, various scriptures have been banned (and sometimes burned at several points in history). The Bible, and other religious scriptures have all been subjected to censorship and have been banned by various governments. Similarly, books based on the scriptures have also been banned, such as Leo Tolstoy‘s The Kingdom of God Is Within You, which was banned in the Russian Empire for being anti-establishment.[8]

Banning of a book often has the effect of making people seek the book.[9] The action of banning the book creates an interest in the book which has the opposite effect of making the work more popular.[9]

Book burning[edit]

Nazi Germany burned works of Jewish authors, and other works considered “un-German”.

Book burning is the practice of destroying, often ceremonially, books or other written material. It is usually carried out in public, and is generally motivated by moral, religious, or political objections to the material, with a desire to censor it. Book burning is one of the original types of censorship dating all the way back to 213 BCE.[10] Book burning is another right that is protected by the first amendment as a freedom of expression. [10]

In religion[edit]

In schools[edit]

School boards can decide which books to allow in their schools but cannot censor books.[5] “The special characteristics of the school library make that environment especially appropriate for the recognition of First Amendment rights of students.”, wrote Justice William Brennan.[11] The case of Board of Education v. Pico is and example of how the school boards can decide which books to not allow in the libraries because of obscenity or otherwise. [11]

Banned books[edit]

Challenged books[edit]

This graph shows the number of book challenges from 2000-2005 and the most popular reasons for the challenges

By country[edit]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Haight, Anne (1970). Banned books informal notes on some books banned for various reasons at various times and in various places (3d ed.). New York: R.R. Bowker. ISBN 978-0-8352-0204-6.
  • Robert Darnton Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature W. W. Norton & Company, 2014 ISBN 0393242293
  • Edwards, M. J. (2017). Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity. The Journal Of Ecclesiastical History, 68(4), 825-827.
  • Neilson, W. A. (1930). Is Official Censorship of Books Desirable? CON. Congressional Digest, 9(2), 56-57.

External links[edit]