People have been banning books since printing and the distribution of information to the public has been a thing. Nowadays most books are banned because the central message conflicts with some religious, moral or societal norm. Shocking and overly graphic books are banned to protect the children. No matter the reason, here are 25 of the most controversial books of all time.
25) Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland
This sexually explicit book is often called the first erotic novel written in English. First printed in 1748, this book has been banned on and off for over a quarter of a century in various countries around the world. In fact, it was illegal to publish it in the United States until 1966.
24) Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
First published in 1958, this book caused a stir for its subtext (both subtle and not) and criticism about colonialism – particularly British Colonialism and Christian influence in Africa. Malaysia still bans the book.
23) Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Captured during the Battle of the Bulge, Billy Pilgrim is brought to Slaughterhouse number five by his captors and must attempt to survive the end of the war. It has been removed from countless libraries over the years as well and it often makes the list of most challenged books in America because of its themes.
22) The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Egles
A critical look at capitalism, the Communist Manifesto, is partly responsible for the rise of communism throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The book claims that capitalism is only a theoretical success.
21) Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Often required reading for adolescents, this book’s continued use of the ‘n-word’ and an overabundance of vulgarity make it controversial. Others claim the oversimplification of blacks is problematic. At the time it was published the anti-slavery message was also a major mark against it.
20) The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
It contains some terribly dangerous designs for creating bombs that probably won’t work and instructions on how to make some potentially illegal substances. Powell’s work was written during his youth and at the height of the Vietnam War, and its very anti-government nature and terroristic themes are controversial, to say the least.
19) Origins of the Species by Charles Darwin
Darwin’s greatest work has become something of an inadvertent attack on Christianity and a rallying cry for pro-evolutionists. Origins of the Species has been blamed by many for causing the chasm between Christians and science and it shall likely remain ever so.
18) A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
Not so controversial because of the content, A Million Little Pieces is the memoir of James Frey. Also, most of it is a lie. Frey’s book was applauded at first, then subsequently ripped by Oprah Winfrey after details surfaced that Frey altered the truth.
17) The Color Purple by Alice Walker
It features sex, spousal rape, incestuous rape, spousal abuse and homosexuality. Its underlying themes focus on the struggle of a black woman making her way in the world. In addition to the graphic content, it has been criticized as being unfair to black men.
16) Ulysses by James Joyce
Banned in Ireland, the United States and Britain, parts of Ulysses were printed in serial format in the US at first and considered too obscene to warrant a book deal, so Joyce had to first publish it in France. Its stream of consciousness-style content is considered vulgar and overly graphic as it depicts several vivid descriptions of bodily functions including: sex, masturbation, menstruation and defecation.
15) Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
This novel about soldiers during the Vietnam War has angered numerous people since its publication in 1998. It’s been challenged because of its language and graphic, violent war scenes. It’s been called racist and removed from the shelves of schools and libraries throughout the US.
14) The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
When it was published in 1951 it was considered vulgar and profane – even though by modern standards it’s not worse than some of the things you hear every day on television today. Teenage angst and the end of innocence are still important themes today and attitudes about the book have changed greatly in the last 50 years.
13) The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
One of the world’s most beloved modern series, many consider the Harry Potter series to advocate the notions of witchcraft. These books have been on the most challenged books lists since 2000. They’ve been banned and burned in various places throughout the world.
12) A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
It’s been challenged repeatedly over the years largely because of the graphic scenes of animals being butchered. The story itself is an autobiographical coming of age tale and it’s widely regarded as one of the better books of the 1970s.
11) Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Its themes on child-birth and a utopian society led to Ireland banning the book. Some in the US believed the book was so negative it was removed from schools and libraries.
10) The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
A book about a man turning into a bug seems like an odd choice for this list on the surface, but the themes in The Metamorphosis focus on isolation and estrangement. Kafka was banned in his home country of Czechoslovakia because he wrote it in German. It was also banned by the Nazis and Soviets.
9) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky
The Perks of Being a Wallflower involves a teenager sending letters to an anonymous friend where he vividly describes his experiences with sex, abuse and drugs. Because of the homosexual experiences of the narrator, this book is often removed from libraries and banned in some places in the United States.
8) The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
The tale of an Indian expat living in England is so controversial that you can be imprisoned if you’re caught reading this book in Venezuela or fined if you’re caught selling it in Japan. Some booksellers in the US refuse to sell this book because they received death threats. What makes it so controversial? Rushdie’s opinions on the Islamic faith is widely considered to be heretical.
7) Topic of Cancer by Henry Miller
Miller’s book is largely autobiographical and focuses on the lives of expats living abroad in France. It features several sexual encounters and focuses on the lives of a struggling writer and his relationships with his friends and colleagues. It was banned in America almost immediately upon publication in 1934.
6) Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Written at the height of slavery in America, Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped shed light on the cruelty and tragic suffering imposed on African-American slaves. The book was widely panned by pro-slavery supporters and several attempts were made to deride the themes written, but none were successful.
5) And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
It’s a children’s book that features two male penguins hatching and raising a child together. It’s one of the most challenged books in America for its depiction of homosexual lifestyle. Christian and non-gay groups have vehemently protested against this book since it was published in 2005.
4) The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Many Americans weren’t ready to read about the graphic struggles of the poor and downtrodden in 1939, when this book was first published. Steinbeck’s novel was said to be even more graphic before edits. It has been banned, burned and condemned by the public – despite going on to be considered a literary masterpiece.
3) American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis
Extremely violent, Brett Easton Ellis’s tale of an American yuppie and serial killer was deemed too graphic for minors. First banned in Germany before Australia and Canada both banned or restricted the sales of this book. Queensland still bans the book and the rest of Australia restricts its sale to those over the age of 18.
2) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou’s autobiography is one of the most banned books in US history. It features racism, rape, drug abuse, profanity and numerous adult themes. The book has been used in universities since its publication and remains a steadfast reminder of the strength of the individual. Some schools have removed it as required reading and it’s one of the most challenged books ever.
1) Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
A book about a man who marries a woman so he can embark upon a relationship with her 12-year-old daughter is bound to be controversial. It was banned in various countries and has been called pornography by various authority figures over the years, enshrining it as one of the most controversial books of all time.