It is somewhat peculiar that humans are so flustered by fiction, and yet we have been banning, burning and berating books throughout history. Novels that contradict social, religious and moral norms become lightening rods for controversy from the day they are published, fortunately though we live in a far more enlightened society where we can explore the complex themes books pose. Here are fifteen of the most controversial books of all time; we highly recommend you give them a read:
15. The Holy Book And The Holy Grail – Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (1982)
Although tempted to include Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code in this list, it seems more appropriate to incorporate his nonfiction inspiration. The Holy Book And The Holy Grail caused a colossal amount of controversy as it claims Jesus was not at all divine and instead married Mary Magdalene and fathered children who later emigrated to Gaul, France. The book goes on to claim that Jesus’ children founded the Merovingian Dynasty, which included Charles The Hammer and Charlemagne.
While many simply disregarded the book due to it’s lack of solid facts, huge sections of the religious community found it appalling, particularly the Roman Catholic Church and Jewish societies, as the book claimed they had corrupted history.
14. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe (1958)
Now widely regarded as a crucial part of African literature’s history, Things Fall Apart shares the story of Okonkwo, a leader and wrestler in Umotia – a fictional collection of nine villages in Nigeria – as he describes the influence of British colonialism and Christian missionaries on the Igbo community. Apparently, Achebe’s work is still banned in Malaysia due its criticism of colonialism.
13. To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee (1960)
Harper Lee’s novel is still celebrated as a great work of American fiction to this day, however the tale of Scout and her father Atticus Finch has constantly been bombarded with criticism. Blatant depictions of rape and racism lead to To Kill A Mockingbird being sporadically banned for decades.
12. And Tango Makes Three – Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson (2005)
This adorable picture book based on the true story of Roy and Silo the penguins received a lot of backlash due to it’s ‘homosexual’ themes and was banned throughout the USA. Our two penguin protagonists live in the New York City Central Park Zoo and were seen attempting to hatch a rock shaped like an egg. Having seen this, zookeepers decided to give Roy and Silo a real egg, and the two raised their chick Tango.
11. Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
Slaughterhouse-Five follows the harrowing tale of Billy Pilgrim, an American soldier captured by Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, and imprisoned in Dresden. In the abandoned ‘Slaughterhouse Number Five’ Pilgrim, other POW and German soldiers all hide in a cellar to avoid the Bombing of Dresden. As time passes, it begins to warp and Pilgrim sees visions of both the past and the future, including his own death. Of course, USA officials didn’t want to expose American children to Slaughterhouse-Five’s content, and the book still resides in the American Library Association’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books.
10. The Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling (2001 – 2007)
The incredibly popular tale of a young wizard’s school years may seem harmless, but many parents and religious groups claimed that the Harry Potter series dragged children too far into a fantasy world. These critics also suggested that J.K. Rowling’s novels might inspire children to become involved in witchcraft and the occult.
9. The Anarchist Cookbook – William Powell (1971)
Due to detailed descriptions of how to make bombs, explosives and telecommunications phreaking equipment, the American government and even anarchist groups almost immediately attacked The Anarchist Cookbook. Although Powell later admitted the book was inspired by teenage angst over the USA’s involvement in the Vietnam War, it still causes controversy today as many of the recipes for bombs are deemed dangerous and inaccurate.
8. A Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (1932)
Set in a utopian future ruled by technology and science, A Brave New World explores themes of industrialization, identity crisis, the division of society and the effect this can have on our world. Ireland immediately banned Huxley’s work due to its perceived view on childbirth, and was later removed from schools in many US states due to its ‘themes on negativity’.
7. The Catcher In The Rye – J.D. Salinger (1951)
Originally intended for adult audiences, Salinger’s tale of teenage angst, sexuality and rebellion became popular amongst teenagers. Due to the content’s profanities, anti-white sentiment and violence though, schools and libraries that provide the book are still facing protests from parents to this day.
6. The Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie (1988)
Salman Rushdie’s novel detailing the lives of expats living in modern day England has been a hot topic for almost three decades. Many Islamic communities have deemed The Satanic Verses blasphemous, and you can be imprisoned for fifteen months if you are caught reading the book in Venezuela. Meanwhile, in Japan you can be fined for selling it. Many bookstores in the USA refuse to sell Rushdie’s work due to the copious amounts of death threats they receive.
5. Tropic Of Cancer – Henry Miller (1934)
Set in 1930s France, Miller’s autobiography details the life of a struggling writer and his sexual exploits with friends and coworkers. Described by Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Micheal Musmanno as ‘a cesspool, an open sewer, a pit of putrefaction, a slimy gathering of all that is rotten in the debris of human depravity’ Tropic Of Cancer wasn’t particularly well received.
4. The Grapes Of Wrath – John Steinbeck (1939)
This Pulitzer Prize winner details the story of one family, the Joads, as they attempt to deal with life during the Great Depression. Driven from Oklahoma by drought and economic difficulties, the Joads travel to California in search of jobs. Due it’s depiction of the poor, which Steinbeck later admitted was actually a kinder version of reality, The Grapes Of Wrath was banned throughout the US and even burned by members of the general public.
3. American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis (1991)
This notorious novel about serial killer and Manhattan businessman Patrick Bateman begins as a simple account of one man’s life in an affluent area of New York City during the 1980s. However, as the book progresses American Psycho soon reveals a far more sinister and violent tale. Due it’s aggressive content, American Psycho was banned in Germany, Canada and the Australian state of Queensland. To this day, you must be over eighteen to purchase a copy throughout Australia.
2. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou (1970)
The first of many autobiographies written by Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings details Maya’s early life in the town of Stamp. Maya describes the trauma, tragedy and turmoil that ran throughout her childhood, including the racism she and her grandmother faced and a graphic description of when she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend at eight-years-old.
Although I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was celebrated by many literary elites and nominated for the National Book Award, some school’s around the USA banned the work due to it’s adult content.
1. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
The infamous tale of Humbert Humbert and his Lolita has been riddled with controversy since it was first published in 1955. Lolita follows the trials and tribulations of middle-aged scholar Humbert as he tries – and fails – to deal with his attraction towards young girls. After moving to a small town in New England, Humbert marries Charlotte Haze with the aim of seducing her twelve-year-old daughter Dolores. Following the book’s release, a Sunday Express editor labeled Lolita “the filthiest book” he’d ever read, and so the UK Home Office seized all copies. France banned the book the following year, however it was published in the USA with little resistance.