Throughout history, books have been sources of controversy. They have been challenged, debated, and even restricted. Whether a book was a catalyst for a groundbreaking revolutionary idea, or had brought minor offense to a small number of people, there is no denying that the written word has the power to shape the course of the tides for better or worse. 

In honor of Banned Books Week, here are 15 books that have, in one way or another, been censored by institutions for their sensitive topics.


Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

This classic is often credited with inadvertently starting the United States Civil War, which is no surprise given its anti-slavery content and profound effect on the attitudes towards African-Americans all over the country. It was banned in most of the southern United States for these reasons and across the north, people became more accurately aware of the horrors happening in their own country.

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harry potter set

Harry Potter series by J .K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling’s beloved children’s series was and is still banned in several schools in the United States for its depiction of witchcraft and the occult. Some parents have even denounced Rowling herself for promoting witchcraft and “paganism” as a government-recognized religion. Nonetheless, the series continues to thrive as a pop culture phenomenon beloved by millions around the world.

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a wrinkle in time

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Upon its publication, this children’s book was targeted by conservative Christians for its controversial depiction of religion. These include the implication of Jesus Christ as merely a historical figure, among the likes of Einstein, Gandhi or Da Vinci. The presence of a crystal ball in several scenes also caused quite a stir among the public, connecting it to the advocacy of sorcery.

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color purple

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple is now considered a paramount of classic African-American literature. However, the book was challenged in several schools for its graphic sexual content, depiction of incest and lesbianism, violence, and abuse.

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s timeless dystopian feminist masterpiece was banned for its sexually explicit material and profane language. In 1992, it was challenged in Iowa public schools for “statements defamatory to minorities, God, women, and the disabled”. In 1998, it was restricted in several Washington high schools for being “poor-quality literature that stresses suicide and hopelessness”.

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The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

The Outsiders is considered one of the most widely banned books in the United States to this day. The depiction of drug use, foul language and violence as the “norm” sparked outrage in my parents, forcing schools to deem the book “challenged” and inappropriate for young children.

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immortal life of henrietta lacks 2

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Though not actually banned, the biography of Henrietta Lacks, a woman whose stolen cancer cells led to modern medical breakthroughs, was challenged by a school in Knoxville, Tennessee when a mother of a fifteen-year-old student deemed the book “pornographic” on the account of some explicit passages containing gynecology.

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looking for alaska

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska was named the United States’ most challenged book of 2015 in a survey by the American Library Association. It also claimed the number one spot on a list of controversial books ahead of E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey. High schools across the United States listed offensive language, sexually explicit scenes and unsuitable religious viewpoints as reasons for restriction.

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fahrenheit 451 exp

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Ironically, considering the entire novel is about the banning and burning of books, Fahrenheit 451 was also censored and redacted in some schools due to a scene in which the Bible is burned. Overall, parents protested the book’s depictions of Christianity, and as trivial as it sounds, firemen.

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good omens tie in

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

This collaboration between two of the world’s most renowned writers of fantasy sparked controversy when it was found to be laden with sexual innuendos and harsh language. On a related note, its web series adaptation on Amazon also garnered criticism by more conservative groups for its seemingly light-hearted portrayal of demons and the Antichrist.

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his dark materials

His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman

In 2007, the Catholic League campaigned for this children’s series to be banned, claiming that it “promoted atheism and attacked Christianity, particularly the Catholic Church”. The series’ main antagonists are depicted as a holy order and several prominent voices in the Church interpreted this as Pullman’s own criticism of Catholicism.

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catcher in the rye

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

At the height of its popularity, The Catcher in the Rye was denounced by several institutions as alleged Communist propaganda. Parents have voiced their concerns over the book’s alleged promotion of drinking, smoking, promiscuity and rebellion.

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autobiography of malcolm x

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley

The self-authored autobiography of famed Civil Rights activist Malcolm X was considered by many to be a “how-to-manual for crime”, citing its controversial views on violence, race and politics.

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where's waldo 2

Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford

On a surprising note, this iconic picture book was one of the Top 100 frequently banned or challenged books of the 1990’s. This was due to a tiny detail; one topless female sunbather on the beach on Page 4. Since then, the woman was drawn with a bathing suit top.

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Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka’s surreal classic was included in the notorious book burnings of both the Soviet and Nazi regimes, when books deemed contradictory to overarching ideals were destroyed and widely banned. In the case for Metamorphosis, high-powered executives found the book to be “decadent and despairing”.

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