Banned authors or their books are usually attacked for their socially, politically, or religiously unacceptable ideas or speech. Perhaps it's not by chance that we observe Banned Books Week in September. After all, it's the time of the year when students (those we encourage to think for themselves) return to schools and colleges and review reading lists for the year's writing projects. While many students will recognize Lady Chatterley's Lover and Lolita as banned material, they may be shocked to see Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass on the list as well. 100 Banned Books discusses the censorship histories of books both past and present and this is only the short list. Banning, as it turns out, is an old and established way of . . . well, keeping the lid on. The first list of forbidden books was probably compiled during the fifth century by the pope. The Vatican, however, didn't abolish it until 1966, after running up a grand total of 4,126 books. The irony is that The Bible still ranks as one of the most censored books in history, yet it's translated more times and into more languages than any other book and has outsold every book in the history of publishing. Another study in irony is popular sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, a believable tale of a futuristic society in which all books are banned. It's also on the list. 100 Banned Books clears up the fog about what's been banned, when, where, and why. But it has more than court cases and public opinion. The book allows readers a bird's-eye view of the values and opinions that this and other societies have held over the centuries with respect to politics, religion, sex, and social mores. Each listing begins with a brief summary of the book, followed by its censorship history, and a generous listing of newspaper, newsletter, magazine, and journal articles for Further Readings. The book provides a panoramic view of the full scope of book banning.
Pat Regel is a frequent reviewer for BookPage.