ConversesBanned Books

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ag. 30, 2008, 4:48pm

I've just stumbled onto your group whilst browsing in LT. I'm in shock. OK, so I'm incredibly naieve, and I had to do a bit of googling to get to the bottom of it, but do you mean to say that books are put on a banned list in the USA? Land of the free? I'm beyond shocked. Sorry if you're all unable to believe in my sincerity, but I really didn't know. So does this happen in the UK too? Say it isn't so.

Editat: ag. 30, 2008, 5:09pm

Books aren't really 'banned' in the USA in the way you are referring to. No.

Generally when we say 'banned books' we are referring to books which have been banned from public or school libraries. The name may sound a little more dramatic than it is.

ag. 30, 2008, 8:59pm

#2, can I add also that is is generally unconstitutional to ban a book--i.e., to make it a crime to possess or read a certain book?

Very rarely has the U.S. government banned a book, though it has happened. "Johnny Got His Gun," by Dalton Trumbo, was banned during World War II.

Trumbo was also blacklisted in the 1950s. Congress's investigations into authors and screenwriters with ties to the communist party made it impossible for some authors to have their work published. Others went under pseudonyms.

Nowadays, books are often challenged by special interest groups that want a public library to take a book off the shelf for some reason, usually because something in the book conflicts with their own moral standards.

More insidious are very strident challengers who whip up public fear over certain books, wage campaigns to defeat library funding, and generally try to intimidate the librarian from making purchasing certain types of books in the future.

Editat: ag. 31, 2008, 4:20pm

Not only is it possible to own "banned" books in the USofA, some of us are even proud to declare our dedication to owning and reading them. Take a look at this product, available from Northern Sun, here in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis, where the Republican National Convention isn't, & Saint Paul).


When the parish priest started spouting out about The Da Vinci Code (an appallingly bad book, but not for his reasons), I started wearing this button to services:


Fortunately, we have not yet quite reached the state of things seen in V for Vendetta.

ag. 30, 2008, 9:26pm

>3 nohrt4me: - from my understanding Johnny Got His Gun was not banned, but rather Trumbo decided to suspend the reprinting of the people until after the war.

Editat: ag. 30, 2008, 11:13pm

#3 Johnny Got His Gun was not banned, even during WWII. It was voluntarily withdrawn from publication.

Stephen King has done the same thing with his early book Rage.

I was looking for books that were banned by the government. Irwin Schiff (the 'pay no taxes' guy) claims that a judge ordered him to stop selling his book The Federal Mafia, but not only is it still listed at Amazon (showing that it is legal to sell) he also has it free on his website. Not having done my homework, it seems to me that this is some sort of grab at free publicity.

ag. 30, 2008, 11:15pm

Thanks for that correction. The blurb on my copy of "Johnny Got His Gun" (which was released in the 1960s) is in error!

juny 10, 2009, 10:22pm

I've heard of books being outlawed because they explained at length how to make silencers, or drugs, et cetera. I think it's reasonable in those instances, but not really any others.

juny 11, 2009, 11:15am

#1 Don't you remember all the furore over Spycatcher in the 90s. The UK gov did ban the book. Which immidiately made everbody curious about it, sourced it from the internet, got published in newspapers abroad etc etc, and generally did a wonderful job of making more people aware of the contents than if it had quietly mouldered in the back of a few bookshops unread, or read and not believed.

It also enable someone else to make quite a lot of money with Eye catcher although that doesn't appear to have made it onto LT.

Editat: feb. 5, 2010, 8:06pm

Yep. All it takes is some parent/guardian getting all huffy about a word or page in their kid's book report book, and they can challenge it. Ultimately, it doesn't work, which is why you see so many reading list books on the "Banned Book List". If you ask me, banning (or attempting to ban) them makes them all the more enticing to a kid ... I know it did to me!

juny 4, 2010, 6:57pm

>9 reading_fox: I recall an episode of Rumpole of the Bailey where Rumpole was asked to guess what the fellow had in his brief case and Rumpole's guess was a copy of the Spycatcher. I tried to read it, but found it dreadfully dull and gave up. You'd think spy work would be more enthralling, especially the story of one that got banned.

gen. 3, 2015, 5:41am


Editat: juny 3, 2015, 9:29pm

Plenty of books have been banned by the US Customs Service from entering the United States, a fact most American are unaware of. Example: photography books documenting the suffering of Japanese citizens in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the US use of nuclear weapons in World War II. Example: an Iranian book of pieced-together US embassy cables from the seized US embassy in Tehran, Iran; that book was a global bestseller except in the United States.

abr. 29, 2015, 5:29pm

Had not heard of the US embassy-cable book, interesting. Was it published under a certain name similar to the 9/11 Commission Report, or many names depending on who published it?

abr. 29, 2015, 6:59pm

It depends how you define "banned". In all probability the books will still be available somehow, but school boards and such....

abr. 29, 2015, 7:06pm

>13 MaureenRoy: I haven't heard about this before and I'm very interested to learn more. Can you provide any further reading?

It's hard for me to imagine customs agents taking the time to check book titles but if that is happening, I oppose it and want to know more.

Editat: maig 9, 2015, 11:04pm

Spareme and everyone, I found out about the US Customs ban on the book of pieced-together US embassy cables in Tehran thru independent journalist Robert Fisk's recent book The great war for civilization. I have yet to meet a US librarian who is aware of either of those banned books, or even that they *were/are* banned in the USA... sad, actually. Fisk currently has a column in The London Independent newspaper. (After Murdoch bought The London Times, Fisk's previous employer, The London Times became routinely censored by Murdoch and Co.)

The good news is that more independent journalists than ever are popping out of the woodwork. Under the user name Uphill I occasionally add more indy news links I find in a thread on the Links forum on the free website abovetopsecret dot com.

Since 3/11 I have devoted a lot of time to writing for publication about the Fukushima nuclear disaster, so I'm not in a position to sleuth out any more US government banned book examples for you, but why would the censors stop at 2 books?

maig 12, 2015, 7:18pm

I'd really like to see a title and author of these allegedly banned books; even if they really are banned from being imported into the US we could at least confirm their existence.

Editat: juny 3, 2015, 9:34pm

June 2, 2015: lorax and sparemethecensor, here are the results of Google book search results today in the following link. And yes, I already did an Amazon search on the US embassy cables book with 0 results, a complete nadaburger, which suggests the possibility that the US Customs interdict is not only real but is still in effect. If you saw the recent movie Argo (starring Ben Affleck), it included scenes where elders, kids, injured war veterans and other volunteers helped the Tehran religious students piece together the shredded US embassy cables.

Spynest revelations -- nope, nothing in the LT database either.

I will check with my Fukushima writers' groups to see if anyone remembers the exact name of the Hiroshima photos book(s). Later on that.


If LT has membership spanning the Middle Eastern countries or at least Germany and Denmark, which make a point of printing everything no matter whom it offends (bless their hearts), those folks may be able to give you the ISBN, if a book of that kind even has an ISBN. Hang in there.

juny 3, 2015, 1:34pm

As it happens, I came across another reference to the embassy cables yesterday, which mentions the key point that they were classified. I am willing to believe that US Customs would not let people with classified material they were not cleared for to bring it into the country. That's a far cry from OMG CENSORSHIP!!!11!!.

(Amazon is not the sum total of all books that ever exist or have existed in the US; it's a list of books that one site currently has for sale. Now if you saw it listed on Amazon UK and not Amazon US, and attempts to have it shipped to the US failed, Amazon would mean something.)

Editat: juny 3, 2015, 2:31pm

>20 lorax: I am willing to believe that US Customs would not let people with classified material they were not cleared for to bring it into the country.

But why, besides bureaucracy? Once a classified document is publicly available, stopping it from entering the US only stops poor and middle class Americans from having a copy; anyone who can afford a trip to Canada or Mexico can grab a copy, as well as anyone who lives outside the country, like the foreign nations who we're supposedly trying to hide these documents from.

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Documents_seized_from_the_U.S._Embassy_in_Tehran has a number of these documents. The Iranians were the ones who published them, so everyone who cared about the Iranian documents had a copy, and the rest are Soviet biographies, which the Soviets naturally had already seen. Perhaps stopping them from entering the country relieves some of the pressure from the CIA about its mistakes, but that's not a good thing.

Edit: At first glance, https://archive.org/details/DocumentsFromTheU.s.EspionageDen looks to have the full thing.

For another example, there is or was a Russian publisher publishing documents about the early Russian nuke program, including classified American documents transfered by spies. Now that anyone with a credit card can order them direct from Moscow, what's the advantage to stopping them from entering the US?

Editat: juny 4, 2015, 10:42pm

June 4, 2015: Following below is today's American Library Association (ALA) definition of censorship, from their "Censorship FAQ" page:

"What Is Censorship?

Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons—individuals, groups or government officials—find objectionable or dangerous. It is no more complicated than someone saying, “Don’t let anyone read this book, or buy that magazine, or view that film, because I object to it! ” Censors try to use the power of the state to impose their view of what is truthful and appropriate, or offensive and objectionable, on everyone else. Censors pressure public institutions, like libraries, to suppress and remove from public access information they judge inappropriate or dangerous, so that no one else has the chance to read or view the material and make up their own minds about it. The censor wants to prejudge materials for everyone."

By this above ALA definition, when the US Customs Service stripped that Spynest book out of the hands of journalist Robert Fisk on his trip to the USA, that *is* censorship.

juny 5, 2015, 6:46pm

While it may technically qualify as censorship depending on your precise definition, I must say I find it a lot harder to get worked up about "The government prohibits unauthorized individuals from having or distributing classified material" than I would about "The government prohibits the publication of books that are critical of its policies" (though I do think the US government overclassifies material). Clearly Indybooks views them as equivalently awful, so I think there's little point in continuing that line of discussion.

juny 6, 2015, 9:52pm

>23 lorax: "critical of its policies" is probably a rare reason for censorship. Revelatory of things the government doesn't want revealed, like corruption or error, is more common. And there's no reason to keep "Documents from the US Espionage Den" secret except the latter.

Editat: jul. 30, 2015, 7:47pm

12:30pm Thursday, July 30, 2015: Lorax, I didn't mean to rule out "The government prohibits the publication of books that are critical of its policies." Sorry for my lack of clarity on that point. Anyway, I found one Hiroshima bombing title that may still be under US censorship ... it was and apparently still is unobtainable in the US market:


Title in English, 1989: The Town of corpses. Author is Ota Yoko, with Ota being the first name. Translated into English by Richard Minear. Originally published in 1945 in the Japanese language under the title Shikabane no machi. Novel totally censored in 1945 and later published in Japanese in 1948 with portions deleted.

For further documentation on this subject, I await my purchased copy of the following book by Monica Braw: The Atomic Bomb Suppressed. American Censorship in Japan 1945-1949. Publisher is University of Lund, Sweden.

Everyone, please suggest other ways of identifying still-censored materials on this subject. I am finding it difficult to prove what US censorship still continues ... I guess that is one of the purposes of continued censorship -- it's hard to prove a negative.

The most complete US archive on Hiroshima/Nagasaki I found so far is the following. That link contains mostly only their contact information, with no online catalog. They list events they are sponsoring, however, concerning the imminent 70th observance of the 1945 bombings: http://www.wilmington.edu/the-wilmington-difference/prc/

jul. 31, 2015, 3:15pm

> 25

If the Amazon description is correct, Hiroshima: Three Witnesses contains Ota Yoko's book in English plus two others. I am not sure how complete the translation is.

ag. 5, 2015, 4:09pm

bertilak, thank you for that suggested title. There is also a "collected works" edition of all of Ota's titles, that were all originally published as separate items. I have not yet checked the version of The town of corpses in the collected works edition, nor the 1989 Richard Minear translated edition. If I do find any full-length editions in Japanese or English, I will post that information back here, but so far I am only hitting various stone walls.

August 5, 2015: My family and I will be attending a 70th observance ceremony today of the A-bombing of Hiroshima ... due to the time difference between Santa Monica, CA (Los Angeles county) and Hiroshima, Japan, the Santa Monica gathering will observe its silent meditation phase beginning at 4:15pm PDT on Wednesday August 5, 2015, which coincides with 8:15am Thursday August 6, 2015 in Hiroshima, Japan.

Editat: set. 18, 2015, 4:08pm

An early example in the final months of WWII and several postwar years of official US censorship in both Japan and the USA is The atomic bomb suppressed: American censorship in occupied Japan. I also just added it to my LT collection, so you can see it there. That book is in the Library of Congress collection.

Swedish PhD student (and now journalist) Monica Braw, author of The atomic bomb suppressed (that edition is in the English language), discusses many examples of US censorship official policy decisions. Some of those policy measures covered only Japan, some only the US population, and some applied to both. Official censorship has a tendency to leave traces of its existence, some of which have created lasting negative effects in the United States.

US bureaucratic inertia may have influenced today's US policies on books arriving now in the United States related to that subject.

Editat: maig 4, 2019, 4:17pm

Michael Cremo writes about the "knowledge filter". He is a controversial writer, and for years the public libraries would not carry his books. Even today, very few libraries carry Forbidden Archeology, The Hidden History of the Human Rac.e or his follow-up Forbidden Archeologist, talking about how the profession responds to his work. He is probably the most famous of many many writers who trespass into controversial areas around the origins of the human race, or who talk about vaccination research, non-ionizing radiation effects (cell phones, wi-fi,etc), or who discuss research into the origins of the big foundations like the Carnegie Foundation, or the Ford foundation. There are whole areas of information that public libraries won't touch. Another example is alternative health cures that the AMA does not approve. In their words, "Efficacy is no defense".

I went into my local library, wanting to know why there were four different magazines on collecting antiques, but nothing on Native American culture, and I brought in five different magazines varying in tone from popular public to very academic. The librarian sniffed, said, "I won't even bring them up for discussion!" and turned on her heals and left the room.

There is a mainstream "truth" that libraries follow to the "T", and much like medicine during Pasteur's time, evidence (say, about UFOs) is irrelevent.

They stick to the knowledge filter.

If you define censorship as the government throwing people in jail, then you have the famous case of Wilhelm Reich, who not only died in jail, but had his books burned. Do a search if you are (probably!) unfamiliar with him. And ignore what Wikipedia says.

But we are talking here about ALA censorship, which is alive and well!

Editat: set. 3, 2019, 11:01am

The USA is bigger than what people tend to imagine.

For example, some readers even within the US don't remember any challenges to accessing the Harry Potter series. Others remember community book burnings and library bans that meant the only accessible copies were snuck in and hid. Not everyone could order copies online when they even knew online bookstores existed! What was closest to me were bookstore protests, which were disturbing but not as restrictive in my city as church leaders around bonfires.

Those are drastic differences in experiences with books believed to be easy to find.

The reason we watch censorship intently here is because when it happens, it's easy to overlook. People in one big city who believe they can access whatever books they want don't care what's happening in other parts of the country.

Bans are rarely about what's restricted by a well-published federal law. Local censorship is more common, and when repeated across the country, it impacts thousands to millions of people each time.