BANNED BOOKS ONLINE
Welcome to this special exhibit of books that have been the objects of censorship or censorship attempts. The books featured here, ranging from Ulysses to Little Red Riding Hood, have been selected from the indexes of The Online Books Page. (See that page for over 20,000 more online books!)
This page is a work in progress, and more works may be added to this page over time. Please inform firstname.lastname@example.org of any new material that can be included here. Note that the listings are meant to be representative rather than exhaustive. Also, many recent books that have been banned or challenged have not been included here, because they have not been made available online. (But see below).
Books Suppressed or Censored by Legal Authorities
Ulysses by James Joyce was selected by the Modern Library as the best novel of the 20th century, and has received wide praise from other literature scholars, including those who have defended online censorship. (Carnegie Mellon English professor and vice-provost Erwin Steinberg, who praised the book in 1994, also defended CMU's declaration that year to delete alt.sex and some 80 other newsgroups, claiming they were legally obligated to do so.) Ulysses was barred from the United States as obscene for 15 years, and was seized by U.S Postal Authorities in 1918 and 1930. The lifting of the ban in 1933 came only after advocates fought for the right to publish the book.
In 1930, U.S. Customs seized Harvard-bound copies of Candide, Voltaire's critically hailed satire, claiming obscenity. Two Harvard professors defended the work, and it was later admitted in a different edition. In 1944, the US Post Office demanded the omission of Candide from a mailed Concord Books catalog.
John Cleland's Fanny Hill (also known as Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure) has been frequently suppressed since its initial publication in 1749. This story of a prostitute is known both for its frank sexual descriptions and its parodies of contemporary literature, such as Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders. The U.S Supreme Court finally cleared it from obscenity charges in 1966. (Copies exist on the English Server and on Wiretap; if one server is inaccessible, try the other, or wait until later.)
Aristophanes' Lysistrata, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Boccaccio's Decameron, Defoe's Moll Flanders, and various editions of The Arabian Nights were all banned for decades from the U.S. mails under the Comstock Law of 1873. Officially known as the Federal Anti-Obscenity Act, this law banned the mailing of "lewd", "indecent", "filthy", or "obscene" materials. The Comstock laws, while now unenforced, remain for the most part on the books today; the Telecommunications Reform Bill of 1996 even specifically applied some of them to computer networks. The anti-war Lysistrata was banned again in 1967 in Greece, which was then controlled by a military junta.
The Comstock law also forbade distribution of birth control information. In 1915, Margaret Sanger's husband was jailed for distributing her Family Limitation, which described and advocated various methods of contraception. Sanger herself had fled the country to avoid prosecution, but would return in 1916 to start the American Birth Control League, which eventually merged with other groups to form Planned Parenthood.
Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman's famous collection of poetry, was withdrawn in Boston in 1881, after the District Attorney threatened criminal prosecution for the use of explicit language in some poems. The work was later published in Philadelphia.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau's autobiography Confessions was banned by U.S. Customs in 1929 as injurious to public morality. His philosophical works were also banned in the USSR in 1935, and some were placed on the Catholic Church's Index of Prohibited Books in the 18th century. (The Index was a primarily a matter of church law, but in some areas before the mid-19th century, it also had the force of secular law. A summary of the contents of the last edition, published in 1949, is available from the Internet Archive. The Index was finally abolished in 1966.)
Thomas Paine, best known for his writings supporting American independence, was indicted for treason in England in 1792 for his work The Rights of Man, defending the French Revolution. More than one English publisher was also prosecuted for printing The Age of Reason, where Paine argues for Deism and against Christianity and Atheism.
Blaise Pascal's The Provincial Letters, a defense of the Jansenist Antoine Arnauld, was ordered shredded and burned by King Louis XIV of France in 1660. France also banned Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered in the 16th century for containing ideas subversive to the authority of kings.
Jack London's writing was censored in several European dictatorships in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1929, Italy banned all cheap editions of his Call of the Wild, and Yugoslavia banned all his works as being "too radical". The Nazis also burned some of his socialist-friendly books like The Iron Heel along with the works of many other authors.
South Africa's apartheid regime banned a number of classic books; in 1955, for instance, the New York Times reported that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was banned there as "indecent, objectionable, or obscene". At one time, the regime also reportedly banned Anna Sewell's Black Beauty, a story about a horse.
In nervous times, politically motivated censorship has occurred in the United States as well. In 1954, the Providence, RI, post office attempted to block delivery of Lenin's State and Revolution to Brown University, citing it as "subversive". In 1918, the US War Department told the American Library Association to remove a number of pacifist and "disturbing" books, including Ambrose Bierce's Can Such Things Be? from camp libraries, a directive which was taken to also apply to the homefront. (Censorship in libraries run by the federal government continued afterwards as well. In the 1950s, according to Walter Harding, Senator Joseph McCarthy had overseas libraries run by the United States Information Service pull an anthology of American literature from the shelves because it included Thoreau's Civil Disobedience.)
During World War I, the US government jailed those who were distributing anti-draft pamphlets like this one. Schenck, the publisher of the pamphlet, was convicted, and his conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1919. (This decision was the source of the well-known "fire in a theatre" quote.)
The Bible and The Quran were both removed from numerous libraries and banned from import in the Soviet Union from 1926 to 1956. Many editions of the Bible have also been banned and burned by civil and religious authorities throughout history. Some recent examples: On July 1, 1996, Singapore convicted a woman for possessing the Jehovah's Witness translation of the Bible. A 2000 US government report reported that Burma (also known as Myanmar) bans all Bible translations into local indigenous languages. (The military dictatorship of that country also required modems to be licensed, so residents of Burma, like NetNanny users, are not likely to see this page.) Distributing Bibles, along with other forms of proselytizing by non-Muslims, is also banned in Saudi Arabia, according to this State Department report. (An email correspondent told me a few years ago that a sign at a Saudi Arabian airport customs stated that arriving travelers should surrender their non-approved religious books to officials before entering the country. A more recent correspondent tells me that the Saudis generally allow western families to bring in their own Bibles, if they do not bring in more copies than expected for personal use.)
Some governments still tightly control religious organizations and their publications. In 1999, the government of China banned the Falun Gong sect and confiscated and destroyed books by their founder and other Falun Gong books. As you can see, the books live on over the Internet-- at least in places that don't censor incoming Net data.
D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover was the object of numerous obscenity trials in both the UK and the United States up into the 1960s.
E for Ecstasy, a book on the drug MDMA, was seized by Australian customs in 1994, and at last check (May 2000), the official ban on the book was still in force in that country. (An Australian goverment site has a PDF document on what kinds of books are banned or restricted in Australia. You can also search the database of banned or restricted materials yourself.) In the 1999-2000 session, the US Congress quietly slipped similar bans for "dangerous" information on drugs and explosives into various bills. The Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act of 1999 (S. 1428) had a section 9 outlawing certain dissemination of information on drug use, patterned after a law outlawing certain dissemination on information on explosives that was signed in 1999. Given that conspiracy or solicitation to commit federal crimes was already illegal, it's hard to see what practical effect is intended by these bills other than to censor the open dissemination of information deemed too dangerous for the public to learn. The anti-drug-information bill has not yet made it to a full vote in Congress, as far as I'm aware, so E For Ecstasy is still legal in the US, for now.
A number of democratic countries, including Austria, France, Germany, and Canada, have criminalized various forms of "hate speech", including books judged to disparage minority groups. In the 1980s, Ernst Zündel was convicted twice under Canada's "false news" laws for publishing Did Six Million Really Die?, a 1974 book denying the Holocaust. On appeal, the Canadian Supreme Court found the "false news" law unconstitutional in 1992, but Zündel is now being prosecuted under Canada's "Human Rights Act" for publishing this book and other material on his Zundelsite. Even so, Deborah Lipstadt and some other prominent critics of Holocaust deniers have gone on record as opposing laws that would censor such speech. On the other hand, Zündel is quite happy to call for bans for works he doesn't like, though, as seen in this leaflet calling for a ban of Schindler's List. And denier David Irving's attempt to stop publication of Lipstadt's book on Holocaust denial failed when a UK court ruled that Lipstadt's statements about Irving were, in fact, justified. With courts upholding both the decision and the bankruptcy of Irving that followed, the fight continues on the Web, with sites from both Irving and Lipstadt providing commentary, transcripts, and exhibits from the trial.
Unfit for Schools and Minors?
The Savannah Morning News reported in November 1999 that a teacher at the Windsor Forest High School required seniors to obtain permission slips before they could read Hamlet, Macbeth, or King Lear. The teacher's school board had pulled the books from class reading lists, citing "adult language" and references to sex and violence. Many students and parents protested the school's board's policy, which also included the outright banning of three other books. Shakespeare is no stranger to censorship: the Associated Press reported in March 1996 that Merrimack, NH schools had pulled Shakespeare's Twelfth Night from the curriculum after the school board passed a "prohibition of alternative lifestyle instruction" act. (Twelfth Night includes a number of romantic entanglements including a young woman who disguises herself as a boy.) Readers from Merrimack informed me in 1999 that school board members who had passed the act had been voted out, after the uproar resulting from the act's passage, and that the play is now used again in Merrimack classrooms. Govind has a page with more information about the censorship of Shakespeare through history.
John T. Scopes was convicted in 1925 of teaching the evolutionary theory of Darwin's Origin of Species in his high school class. (For more about this famous trial, see this site by Doug Linder.) The Tennessee law prohibiting teaching evolution theory was finally repealed in 1967, but further laws intended to stifle the teaching of evolution in science classes have been proposed in the Tennesee legislature as recently as 1996.
An illustrated edition of "Little Red Riding Hood" was banned in two California school districts in 1989. Following the Little Red-Cap story from Grimm's Fairy Tales, the book shows the heroine taking food and wine to her grandmother. The school districts cited concerns about the use of alcohol in the story.
In Mark Twain's lifetime, his books Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were excluded from the juvenile sections of the Brooklyn Public library (among other libraries), and banned from the library in Concord, MA, home of Henry Thoreau. In recent years, some high schools have dropped Huckleberry Finn from their reading lists, or have been sued by parents who want the book dropped. In Tempe, Arizona, a parent's lawsuit that attempted to get the local high school to remove the book from a required reading list went as far as a federal appeals court in 1998. (The court's decision in the case, which affirmed Tempe High's right to teach the book, has some interesting comments about education and racial tensions.) The Tempe suit, and other recent incidents, have often been concerned with the use of the word "nigger", a word that also got Uncle Tom's Cabin challenged in Waukegan, Illinois. For a comprehensive web site describing attempts to ban Huckleberry Finn and other Twain works, see the site Huckleberry Finn Debated, by Jim Zwick.
Many "classics" (and their authors) were regarded as scandalous when they were first published, but after the author was safely dead they were relegated to high school English classes and largely forgotten by most people. However, in 1978 the Anaheim (California) Union High School District woke up to the danger of George Eliot's Silas Marner and banned it. I would be gratified (and not at all surprised) if there was a sudden surge of interest in Eliot among Anaheim students afterwards. Also banned there, according to the Anaheim Secondary Teachers Assocation, and as reported in Dawn Soya's Banned Books: Literature Suppressed on Social Grounds, was Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, for its depiction of the behavior of Scarlett O'Hara and the freed slaves in the novel. (While Mitchell may no longer be living, though, her copyright lives on in the US, so Americans will have to read a print copy instead of the online version.)
John Locke's philosophical Essay Concerning Human Understanding was expressly forbidden to be taught at Oxford University in 1701. The French translation was also placed on the Index.
Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice was banned from classrooms in Midland, Michigan in 1980, due to its portrayal of the Jewish character Shylock. It has been similarly banned in the 1930s in schools in Buffalo and Manchester, NY. Shakespeare's plays have also often been "cleansed" of crude words and phrases. Thomas Bowdler's efforts in his 1818 "Family Shakespeare" gave rise to the word "bowdlerize".
Bowdlerism still exists today, but nowadays cleaning up sexual references is waning in popularity, and cleaning up racial references is growing in popularity. Case in point: This version of The Story of Dr. Dolittle, from the 1960s, was silently "cleaned up" from the 1920 original, in which Polynesia the parrot occasionally used some impolite terms to refer to blacks. In 1988, after the book had fallen from favor enough to have dropped out of print, the publishers issued a new edition that removed nearly all references to race from the book (and cut out a plotline involving Prince Bumpo's desire to become white). In contrast, the Newbery-winning Voyages of Dr. Dolittle has been available in its original form (impolite words and all) for a long time, in part because the Newbery awarders forbade their medal to be displayed on altered texts.
Similar concerns about the handling of race apparently caused The Story of Little Black Sambo to be banned from Toronto public schools in 1956, according to a book by Daniel Braithwaite. (Much of the fuss over Sambo has been over the illustrations rather than the text; some illustrations from various editions can be found here.)
Is The Bible banned in US public schools? Some claim it is, though most of the claims I've received in email have either not contained specifics or referred to cases that weren't bans, but instead cases where a state school had to stop advocacy or special treatment favoring the religious messages of the Bible. (Such preferential treatment by state-run schools conflicts with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.) However, sometimes schools may err in the other direction, restricting student's individual speech or reading preferences because of their religious nature (in conflict with the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment). In a 1996 New Jersey case, a student selected by his teacher to choose a story to read to the class was told that he could not read the story he chose, once he announced that he had chosen the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau. The school's policy was eventually upheld in a split decision of a US Appeals Court that the Supreme Court declined to review.
More recently, in a 2005 case pitting a Pennsylvania family against the Marple Newtown School District, accounts in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Associated Press reported that the family was invited into a kindergartener's class to read from his favorite book, which in this case turned out to be the Bible. (Mark Sereni, who represents the school district, disputes this account, claiming that the choice was not the student's own, and that the invitation was not as broad as reported above. Lawyers from the Rutherford Institute, who represent the family, claim the assertions above are accurate.) After the school said the student's mother could not read from Psalm 118, the child's mother sued. In an opinion article later published in the May 31 Inquirer, ("Doing right by students, law", to be soon made available on this site) Sereni cited the New Jersey decision from the previous paragraph, and claimed that disallowing the reading was required by Pennsylvania law. Section 1515 of Pennsylvania's Public School Code, also cited in the article, does allow the Bible to be taught in secondary grades as part of a literature class. Sereni's article interprets this permission as an implicit prohibition of other uses of the Bible in a class, effectively banning the Bible in Marple Newtown classes prior to the secondary grades, even in a student-initiated presentation.
More Censorship Information
This exhibit only represents books that are available online. The best comprehensive review of censorship through history that I have seen online is The File Room exhibit, begun at the University of Illinois, particularly its literature section. (The exhibit originally dates from 1994, and was offline for a while, but is now back on the Internet.)
The Beacon for Freedom Project, run by the Norwegian Library Association, also has an extensive database on censored publications, as well as publications about censorship and freedom of expression.,
PEN, an international group of writers, keeps track of censorship and oppression of writers worldwide. Their US and Canadian sites are good starting points for current information on censored writers.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a law passed by the US Congress in 1998, has several provisions that attempt to prevent people from circumventing access control schemes used for digital works. Such access controls can impair or prevent fair use, and the law itself now threatens free speech as well. For example:
• In August 2000, a federal judge in New York issued a ruling (available with commentary at OpenLaw and elsewhere) that probibited defendants in a movie-industry lawsuit from even linking to computer code for undoing encryption of DVDs, because of concerns that the code could be used to pirate the discs. Judge Kaplan decided to discount testimony that computer code was protected speech from computer scientist Dave Touretzky of CMU (whose runs a web site with exhibits of various expressions of the source code.) Instead, the judge likening a possessor of the code as being infected with a disease that must be controlled. The judge also discounted concerns that the prohibition on circumventing encryption in the DMCA impairs fair use of materials except in ways that a publisher decides to allow. Fair use, even without consent of a copyright holder, has long been an essential means of preserving free speech in copyright law. An appeal is now underway.
• In September 2000, a recording industry group issued a challenge to break its new "secure" digital music systems. A Princeton-based research group took them up on it, and succeeded. But when the researchers wrote a paper describing how they did it, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sent them a letter threatening them with legal action if they published their results. The letter caused the investigators to withdraw their paper from an academic conference, and engaged the Electronic Frontier Foundation to file suit to confirm their First Amendment right to freely publish their research. (The RIAA now claims they didn't really mean to sue the researchers, and the suit was dismissed.) The group's research was finally published in August 2001, though an early draft of the paper had previously leaked onto the Internet.
• In July 2001, Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov was arrested by the FBI after delivering a lecture describing the weaknesses of "e-book" access control systems. The arrest was made at the request of Adobe, which sells some of the access control systems that were demonstrated to be flawed in Sklyarov's talk. Sklyarov was charged with distributing a program he had written in Russia that a reader could use for disabling some of these access controls for Adobe-formatted "ebooks" after they had bought them. This article from EFF describes some of the free speech and fair use issues at stake. And Dave Touretzky is now building up a Gallery of Adobe Remedies as a companion to his Gallery of DVD decoders. (By December 2002, charges against Sklyarov had been dropped, and his company was acquitted of the charge of willfully violating the DMCA.)
To see a list of books have been the targets of recent school censorship attempts in the United States see this list of Challenged and Banned Books of 2004 from the American Library Association. (Though note that the tabulations include "unsuited to age group" complaints. It's not clear whether some of these were requests to recategorize rather than remove books.) The ALA also has a similar list covering the entire 1990s. This 1998 list published by the Christian Science Monitor also includes reasons cited for recent challenges.
The American Library Association has designated September 24 - October 1 as Banned Books Week 2005. Their web site has information on the observance.
The 1996 telecommunications bill passed by the US Congress included a provision that prohibited making "indecent" material generally available. It was struck down as unconstitutional in federal court on June 12, 1996, a judgment affirmed by the Supreme Court on June 26, 1997. Congress later passed a variation on the law, targeting commercial sites, which is still being fought in the courts. Find out about the latest news, and what you can do to help free speech online, at the Electronic Frontier Foundation Blue Ribbon Campaign page. Some of the projects being done in response to such censorship attempts include 24 Hours of Democracy.
US government officials are also now imposing censorship at the reader's end, instead of the writer's. A few years back, Loudoun County, Virginia at one point required all library patrons (whether child to use their filter program to access the Internet, a program that one time blocked Banned Books Online and many other sites. The editor of this page, and other parties, participated in a lawsuit that struck down this policy. An ACLU press release has more details. Despite this decision, in 2000 the US Congress imposed libraries across the country to filter all of their Internet connections (not just those used by children) or lose assistance for Internet access. In 2003, the US Supreme Court upheld Congress' requirements, so libraries are now faced with choice of censorship or loss of funds.
This exhibit began at Carnegie Mellon, where the administration decided in 1994 to remove over 80 newsgroups on sexual matters, claiming that it was required to by law. Resolutions by the official student, faculty, and staff representative groups requested that the groups be restored. After nearly 2 years in limbo, all newsgroups have been restored to CMU computer science servers, but 11 remain banned on the undergraduate Andrew system.
The Church of Scientology is frequently involved in censorship cases. In the 1970s, they attempted to remove books critical of the Church from libraries in Canada by suing libraries in Hamilton and Etobicoke. (See the Free expression in Canada page for more details.) Church officials also took direct action against some authors of critical books. (See this page from Ron Newman). Their latest targets have been people on the Net; see The Church of Scientology vs. the Net page for some of the early developments. (Recent news: as of May 1999, Amazon had pulled at least one critical book of Scientology under "legal pressure", though after reaction from the Net. After Amazon announced it would offer it again, book sales shot up to Amazon's top 200. See this story from Wired News for more information.)
Scientology also figures in recent attempts to legally force anonymous speakers to be identified. See this CNET story, where the Digital Millenium Copyright Act was eventually used to divulge a speaker's identity even though no wrongdoing had yet been proved. Anonymous speech has been held to be "an honorable tradition of advocacy and dissent" by the US Supreme Court, and has been an important part of US political discourse since the Revolution. (See, for example, The Federalist Papers, which were originally published anonymously.) While anonymous speakers can still be sued for libel and infringement, and made to pay if they lose, their anonymity can protect them against harassment and arbitrary dismissal. More recent court decisions (such as one described in this ACLU press release) upheld the rights of anonymous speakers to criticize public officials online.
See also the comprehensive set of resources available at the Index on Censorship web site.
Offline, see Banned Books: 387 B.C. to 1978 A.D by Anne Haight, updated by Chandler Grannis, for a long list of classic books that have been banned or challenged through history. Accounts on books challenged in U.S. schools and libraries through the 1990s can be found in Banned in the U.S.A. by Herbert Foerstel. First published in 1994, this book documents attempts to ban numerous books, including critically acclaimed works by Twain, Steinbeck, L'Engle, Blume, Dahl, and Vonnegut. Information on expurgating and altering books can be found in Noel Perrin's Dr. Bowdler's Legacy: A History of Expurgated Books in England and America.
For more information on censorship in the classroom, see the National Council of Teachers of English Anti-Censorship Center. This site gives advice on selecting materials for classroom instruction, dealing responsibly with challenges to literary works in schools, and upholding students' right to read.
A classic work that helped establish a free press is John Milton's Areopagitica. It was written to fight the licensing of publications then required in Britain (and was published without a license, in defiance of the law of the time). Many of its points are still revelant today as governments decide whether they should restrict the press on the Internet.
Information for this page was gathered from many sources, including The File Room Archive, the Academic American Encyclopedia, the American Library Association (via John Edwards), Paul S. Boyer's Purity in Print: The Vice Society Movement and Book Censorship in America, Deborah Lipstadt's Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, Joel Thibault, Tonia Eastman, and the books and Web sites cited above.
The online books come from many sources, including The English Server, the Internet Wiretap collection, Project Bartleby, Trent University's FTP server, Robert Stockton's HTML literature collection, and various other sources. Some of the works were originally provided by Project Gutenberg. All listings are from The Online Books Page at the University of Pennsylvania. All opinions expressed on this page, unless otherwise noted, are those of the editor, John Mark Ockerbloom, who is solely responsible for the content of this page.