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

Book censorship is the act of some authority taking measures to suppress ideas and information within a book. Censorship is "the regulation of free speech and other forms of entrenched authority".[1] Censors typically identify as either a concerned parent, community members who react to a text without reading, or local or national organizations.[2] Marshall University Library defines a banned book as one that is "removed from a library, classroom etc." and a challenged book as one that is "requested to be removed from a library, classroom etc."[3] Books can be censored by burning, shelf removal, school censorship, and banning books.[3] Books are most often censored for age appropriateness, offensive language, sexual content, amongst other reasons.[4] Similarly, religions may issue lists of banned books, such as the historical example of the Roman Catholic Church's Index Librorum Prohibitorum and bans of such books as Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses by Ayatollah Khomeini,[5] which do not always carry legal force. Censorship can be enacted at the national or subnational level as well, and can carry legal penalties. Books may also be challenged at a local community level, although successful bans do not extend outside that area.


"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."[6] There are a variety of reasons why books may be censored. 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.[7] The censorship of literature on the charge of obscenity appears to have begun in the mid-19th century.[8] The rise of the middle class, who had evangelical backgrounds, brought about this concern with obscenity.[citation needed] Book censorship has been happening in society for as long as they have been printed, and even before with manuscripts and codices. The use of book censorship has been a common practice throughout our history.

Governments have also sought to ban certain books which they perceive to contain material that could threaten, embarrass, or criticize them.[9]

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.[10]

Other leaders outside the government have banned books, including religious authorities.[11] 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.[12]

Religious materials have been subject to censorship as well. For example, various scriptures have been banned (and sometimes burned at several points in history). The Bible has been censored and even banned, as have other religious scriptures. 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.[13]

The banning of a book often has the effect of enticing people to seek the book.[14] The action of banning the book creates an interest in the book which has the opposite effect of making the work more popular.[14]


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

Book burning

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 back to 213 BCE.[15] Book burning has historically been performed in times of conflict, for example Nazi book burnings, US Library of Congress, Arian books, Jewish Manuscripts in 1244, and the burning of Christian texts, just to name a few.[16] In the United States, book burning is another right that is protected by the first amendment as a freedom of expression.[17]

School censorship

In the United States, school organizations that find contents of a book to be offensive or unfit for a given age group will often have the book removed from the class curriculum.[17] This type of censorship usually arises from parental influence in schools.[17] Parents who do not feel comfortable with a child's required reading will make efforts to have the book removed from a class, and replaced by another title.[17]

Banning books

Main article: List of books banned by governments

According to the Marshall University Library, a banned book in the United States is one that has been "removed from a library, classroom, etc."[3] In many situations, parents or concerned parties will ban or propose a ban based on the book's contents.[18] The American Library Association publishes a list of the top "Banned and Challenged Books" for any given year.[19] The American Library Association also organizes a "Banned Books Week", which is "an annual event celebrating the freedom to read."[19] The goal of the project is to bring awareness to banned books and promote the freedom to learn.[20]

Shelf removal

Shelf removal refers to being unable to buy or borrow a book from a bookstore or library, respectively.

School libraries

According to the American Library Association, "the school library is a unique and essential part of the learning community, and when led by a qualified school librarian, prepares all learners for college, career, and life."[21] In certain scenarios, concerned third parties often voice their concerns over certain titles in libraries that they deem to be unfit for students. In 1982, the Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 versus Pico was taken to the United States Supreme Court.[22] In the case, students and parents challenged the board's removal of certain titles from the school library.[22] The books included texts which the board considered to be "anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and just plain filthy."[23] The Supreme Court Justices stated removal of books from libraries was only permissible if the books were considered educationally unsuitable.[2][24]

Public libraries

Public libraries are considered to be open to the public within a town or community. Similar to school libraries, removal of books from public library shelves is often the subject of heavy debate. "Public schools and public libraries...have been the setting for legal battles about student access to books, removal or retention of 'offensive' material, regulation of patron behavior, and limitations on public access to the internet."[25]


Privishing is the practice by which a book publisher at the behest of governments or special interests acquires the rights to a manuscript and then sabotages the distribution and marketing of the book, usually breaching publishing contracts. Methods include cutting print runs so as to make books unprofitable, scaling back promotional efforts, delaying release so as to miss holiday seasons, cutting advertising budgets, and pressuring reviewers to be hostile. An example is Gerard Colby's 1984 Du Pont: Behind the Nylon Curtain - where the Du Pont family convened a "war counsel" to suppress the book and put pressure on publisher Prentice Hall to ensure its limited distribution and print run. With a limited print run of 10,000, the family then dispatched its own agents to buy up as many copies as possible.[26][27][28]


Book censorship can arise for any number of reasons. Concerned parties may find certain texts to be unfit for a learning environment. Some of the most common reasons for censorship include:

International book censorship

Nazi-Era Germany

This section may need to be rewritten to comply with Wikipedia's quality standards. You can help. The talk page may contain suggestions. (October 2022)

During the Second World War, the German Nazi party hosted frequent book burnings following seizures of property belonging non-Nazi Germans. The burnings were organized along with the efforts of an all-powerful Aryan Race that were being instated in the government by Joseph Goebbels; the Nazi Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda.[43] These events were seen as a symbolic cleanse for the German people, ridding their country and Aryan identity of anything that was 'un-German' in its ideals.[44] The materials included in the burning were not limited to works made within the Weimar Republic of the time, and the blacklist being followed reached to American authors as well as socialist and communist works. Ultimately, the blacklist for book burnings was focused on any content that would threaten the totality of Nazi power in Germany. More than anything else, these book burnings were aiming to remove Jewish cultural influences in Germany, at the order of the rising Nazi regime.[43]

Ireland's Censorship of Publications Act of 1929

Ireland's relationship with censorship was connected to the passing of the Censorship of Publications Act in 1929 as a result of an all-encompassing effort on the part of the Catholic Actions groups.[45] The 1929 act would not be repealed until 1967. For the 38 years before the act was repealed, the status of Irish works was left completely at the whim of members of the Catholic Church. In accordance to the act, the censorship board put into place would be composed of a member of the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (CTSI) or a Knight of St. Columbanus as well as three additional Catholics and a final Protestant.[45] This congregation were tasked with deciding whether or not a work had any tendency towards the "indecent or obscene".[45] For a work to be prohibited there was a required four-to-one majority following an intense analysis of the work for any potentially problematic content.[45] Works that were deemed too provocative would be banned by the deciding board.

Apartheid Regime of South Africa

The nearly 50-year period of Apartheid in South Africa, under influence of the severe policies of racial segregation, silenced the voices of many who were critical of the government. The censorship of such writings was legalized under the institution of the 1950 Suppression of Communism Act. This act was the government's tool to refute any anti-government propaganda being released against the Apartheid, allowing the works of any person who had left the country or who was considered to have acted against the state to be prohibited entirely.[46] Banned people were marked with a Communist label, making it clear that no works being produced on their behalf were to be consumed by a South African Citizen.

It was not until the early 1990s, the South African Government began a process of evaluating the banned materials looking to decide if certain works should still be considered prohibited in the country. This evaluation led to much of the considerations for prohibited materials to become limited to explicit topics instead of politically driven messaging.[47] Though some materials remained undesirable following this reevaluation, there were major publications that were then allowed to be distributed in South Africa. Especially notable was the country's growing openness to various works of political thinkers such as Nelson Mandela, Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin.[47] Credit for this new perspective can be offered towards an increasingly liberal political climate coming into place during the early 1990s.

Ukraine ban on Russian Books

On December 30, 2016, President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine signed into law a decree that restricts import of books into Ukraine from Russia. According to the law, a person can bring at most 10 Russian books without a permit. Unauthorized distribution of books from Russia is under a penalty. The State Committee for Television and Radio-broadcasting, whose duties include enforcing the information policy in Ukraine, is set in charge of book permits and is to issue bans on books deemed inappropriate which come "from territory of the aggressor state and from the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine". Types of printed matter which require permits include books, brochures, children's books including coloring books, as well as maps, atlases, globes, etc. Each permit is to be entered into the special state register and is valid for at most five years. Bans are based on evaluations by a council of experts and may be contested.

Challenged books

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

Main article: List of most commonly challenged books in the United States

By country

Main article: Lists of banned books

See also: Book censorship in Canada, Book censorship in China, Book censorship in Iran, Book censorship in the Republic of Ireland, and Book censorship in the United States

See also


  1. ^ Chapman, Roger; Ciment, James (2014-06-26). Culture Wars in America : an Encyclopedia of Issues, Viewpoints, and Voices. Chapman, Roger, 1960–, Ciment, James (Second ed.). Armonk, New York. ISBN 9780765683175. OCLC 881383488.
  2. ^ a b "The Right To Read: Censorship in the School Library. ERIC Digest". Retrieved 2019-04-15.
  3. ^ a b c "Marshall University Libraries – Banned Book – 2018 Banned Books". Retrieved 2019-04-15.
  4. ^ a b Commons, Information. "LibGuides: Banned Books: Reasons for Banning Books". Retrieved 2019-04-17.
  5. ^ Swan, John. 1991. "The Satanic Verses," the "Fatwa," and Its Aftermath: A Review Article. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy 61.4:429–443,
  7. ^ "About Banned & Challenged Books". 25 October 2016.
  8. ^ "This Is What Americans Used to Consider Obscene". Time. 2016-06-21. Retrieved 2023-04-23.
  9. ^ "Banned Books Online".
  10. ^ "Gale-Institution Finder".
  11. ^ "Index Librorum Prohibitorum". Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
  12. ^ University of South Florida. "USF NetID Single-SignOn – University of South Florida".
  13. ^ "Office of Budget and Planning" (PDF).
  14. ^ a b "Could Banning Books Actually Encourage More Readers?". 20 September 2013.
  15. ^ Biscontini, Tracey Vasil, ed. (2018), "Free Speech", UXL Protests, Riots, and Rebellions: Civil Unrest in the Modern World, UXL, vol. 1, pp. 171–202, retrieved 2019-04-15 ((citation)): Check |url= value (help)[permanent dead link]
  16. ^ Boissoneault, Lorraine. "A Brief History of Book Burning, From the Printing Press to Internet Archives". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  17. ^ a b c d Staff, NCAC. "The First Amendment in Schools: Censorship". National Coalition Against Censorship. Retrieved 2019-04-17.
  18. ^ "Why Do We Ban Books, Anyway?". The Hub. 2013-09-27. Retrieved 2019-04-15.
  19. ^ a b "About ALA". About ALA. Retrieved 2019-04-15.
  20. ^ admin (2012-12-11). "Banned Books Week (September 22–28, 2019)". Advocacy, Legislation & Issues. Retrieved 2019-04-15.
  21. ^ JCARMICHAEL (2018-03-31). "School Libraries". News and Press Center. Retrieved 2019-04-15.
  22. ^ a b "Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico | law case". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-04-23.
  23. ^ "The Pico Case – 35 Years Later". Intellectual Freedom Blog. 2017-11-07. Retrieved 2019-04-23.
  24. ^ Jones, Thomas N., Ed (1986). School Law Update, 1986. Publication Sales. OCLC 954313353.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  25. ^ admin (2008-06-13). "First Amendment and Censorship". Advocacy, Legislation & Issues. Retrieved 2019-04-15.
  26. ^ "Privish and Perish". Washington Post. October 9, 1983.
  27. ^ Charlotte, Dennett (March 1984). "Book Industry Refines Old Suppression Tactic". The American Writer. Vol. 3, no. 1. National Writer's Union.
  28. ^ Borjesson, Kristina, ed. (2002). Into the Buzzsaw. Amherst, NY: Promethius Books. pp. 15–35. ISBN 1-57392-972-7.
  29. ^ admin (2013-03-26). "100 most frequently challenged books: 1990–1999". Advocacy, Legislation & Issues. Retrieved 2019-04-23.
  30. ^ Brown, Robert B. (1984). One Hundred Years of Huck Finn. American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc. OCLC 671279626.
  31. ^ a b c "The Big Five: Why Books Are Banned by Powell's Books". Retrieved 2019-04-17.
  32. ^ a b c d admin (2013-03-26). "Top Ten Most Challenged Books Lists". Advocacy, Legislation & Issues. Retrieved 2019-04-17.
  33. ^ Deegan, Gordon. "Warm welcome home for O'Brien". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2019-05-02.
  34. ^ "There was some truth in Paisley's tirades against our priestly republic". 2010-08-14. Retrieved 2019-05-02.
  35. ^ a b Bald, Margaret. (2006). Literature suppressed on religious grounds. Wachsberger, Ken. (Rev. ed.). New York: Facts On File. ISBN 0816062692. OCLC 62090850.
  36. ^ Borrow, George Henry (1894). The Bible in Spain Or, the Journeys, Adventures, and Imprisonments of an Englishman in an Attempt to Circulate the Scriptures in the Peninsula. OCLC 971378940.
  37. ^ Nitschke, Philip; Stewart, Fiona (November 22, 2009). "Peaceful Pill Handbook - Reasons for Decision" (PDF). Wayback Machine. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 22, 2009. Retrieved March 24, 2022.
  38. ^ "Fac-similé JO du 01/01/1988, page 00013 | Legifrance". Retrieved 2019-05-02.
  39. ^ "U.S. School District Removes Books Over Racial Slurs". Time. Retrieved 2019-04-23.
  40. ^ "Banned Books | Just wrong". Retrieved 2019-04-29.
  41. ^ Karolides (1999). 100 Banned Books. Checkmark Books. pp. 20–22. ISBN 0816040591.
  42. ^ Smith, David (2005-01-02). "Lesbian novel was 'danger to nation'". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 2019-05-02.
  43. ^ a b "Book Burning". Retrieved 2020-02-20.
  44. ^ Merveldt, Nikola von (2007-04-12). "Books Cannot Be Killed by Fire: The German Freedom Library and the American Library of Nazi-Banned Books as Agents of Cultural Memory". Library Trends. 55 (3): 523–535. doi:10.1353/lib.2007.0026. hdl:2142/3723. ISSN 1559-0682. S2CID 39301623.
  45. ^ a b c d Drisceoil, Donal Ó (2005). "'The best banned in the land': Censorship and Irish Writing since 1950". The Yearbook of English Studies. 35: 146–160. doi:10.1353/yes.2005.0042. ISSN 0306-2473. JSTOR 3509330. S2CID 159880279.
  46. ^ Vlies, Andrew van der (2007-11-01). "Reading Banned Books". Wasafiri. 22 (3): 55–61. doi:10.1080/02690050701565810. ISSN 0269-0055. S2CID 219609182.
  47. ^ a b Wren, Christopher S. (1990-07-23). "South Africa Easing Up on Its Political Censorship of Books". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-02-20.

Further reading