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If there’s one thing to love about Book Riot, it’s that the contributors and editors here are great at covering up censorship and attempted book bans. From historical topics like the story of the Nazi book burning, to heartwarming attempts to right wrongs like the Brooklyn Library giving teens across the United States access to banned e-books, to comprehensive guides to fighting book bans with this anti-censorship toolkit, there are many places. to start here.
In my years of experience chatting with people on the internet about censorship (not a satisfying or recommended activity), one of the most important things I’ve learned is that nearly 100% of people think other people are trying to silence their views. About 4% believe that “their camp” is trying to do the same.
Of course, the reality is that while I would say one side is more guilty than the other, they are all guilty. Lots of guilt for everyone! In this recap of non-fiction books on censorship, I have tried to bring different perspectives and different formats. While some of the books on this list were written decades ago, the methods and results of censorship endure.
Non-fiction books on censorship
Unlearning Freedom: Campus Censorship and the End of the American Debate by Greg Lukianoff
If you’re a left-wing atheist like the author of this oft-discussed book on censorship in academia, you’ll likely applaud his attacks on various right-wing individuals and institutions trying to stop students from expressing their “radical” views. . . But hang on to your trucker hats, guys, because he’s coming for us too. If you think all the accusations of “political correctness spreading” deserve nothing more than a good old-fashioned eye roll, I encourage you to check out this book because it will challenge some of your assumptions.
Hate: why we should resist it with freedom of expression, not censorship by Nadine Strossen
Nadine Strossen was both the first woman and the youngest person to lead the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU is often referred to as a liberal organization, but the truth is that it is on the side of free speech, period. That’s why they once sued to allow the KKK to stage a protest, and that’s why Strossen argues that trying to silence conversations through censorship isn’t the answer. This book argues against the idea of separating ‘free speech’ from ‘hate speech’ and instead suggests vigorous debate and discussion of viewpoints that one finds offensive.
Dear Sir, I intend to burn your book: An Anatomy of a Burning Book by Lawrence Hill
Lawrence Hill knows censorship well, thanks to a group in the Netherlands who burned his novel, The Book of Negroes. In Dear Sir, a short 56-page book or a long 56-page essay, depending on how you look at it, Hill talks about his experience with censorship. It also delves into his views on censorship in general, control over the publication and distribution of books, and numerous examples of books that have been censored or banned and the eventual outcome of those actions.
Banned books: challenging our freedom to read by Robert P. Doyle
This invaluable resource is updated every three years and organizes information into three indexes of contested/banned books: Title, Geographical and Thematic. If you’re looking to delve deeper into the large number of books challenged each year, this is the place to start. Whether you want to find books banned because of a particular topic, the most disputed book for a particular reason, or you want to search for a specific book by title, it’s got you covered.
The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA and the Battle for a Banned Book by Peter Finn translated by Petra Couvée
If you like your non-fiction to read like a real thriller, then this book is for you. Find out how Boris Pasternak, a Russian poet, smuggled out his now famous first (and only) novel, Dr Zhivago. He knew his novel had little chance of being published in Soviet-era Russia, and enlisted the help of an Italian publisher to get the book to the foreign masses. When the CIA obtained a copy of the novel, they had it translated into Russian and smuggled it back to the USSR – and this is just the start of a truly extraordinary true story.
Laughter: One Woman’s Story of Fighting Censorship by Claudia Johnson
Claudia Johnson, best known as a scholar of literature for her work on Kill a mockingbird, spent much of his life from 1986 to 1988 fighting censorship in Lake City, Florida. A playwright and graduate student at the time, she wrote these often funny and always frustrating memoirs to show audiences what it’s like to try to speak truth to power when power hasn’t even read the damn book. Although this book was written nearly 30 years ago, unfortunately it still rings too true.
Books Under Fire: A List of Banned and Contested Children’s Books by Pat R. Scales
For those interested not only in non-fiction books on censorship, but in children’s literature in particular, Pat R. Scales has compiled an impressive resource. Updated every few years, Books under fire deals with both banned and contested contemporary works as well as out-of-print historical books deemed too hot for school in their time. For each book listed, the author provides a basic summary, explains why it was banned, and includes information about any awards the author may have won for their work.
Read Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi
Part memoir, part great playlist, and 100% moving. this book tells the story of a teacher who secretly met students to read the western classics they weren’t allowed to read at school. If you’ve ever wondered if literature really has the power to change the world, this book will show you. Of course, the fact that organizations and governments want to censor books is the only proof I need!
Stay tuned to Book Riot for more on other upcoming non-fiction books about censorship, including Wake up now in the fire, a graphic non-fiction book written by Jarrett Dapier and illustrated by AJ Dungo. Slated for release in 2023, the book follows a group of Chicago teenagers as they fight against a ban on Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.