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Since 1982, the annual Banned Books Week has raised awareness of literary censorship, and acknowledged authors who have had their writing repressed.
This year, it’s especially timely. In New Zealand, a country generally known for its liberalism and carefree mode-de-vie, Family First (a social conservative group) was able to pull Ted Dawes’ award-winning Into The River from the shelves of the island nation, due to its depictions of drug-taking and sex.
But it’s not just youth fiction that’s under threat. Everything from political treatises, books on religion and faith, and iconic novels have been banned at some point, including some geek favorites.
Here we present a list of five books, banned at some point, somewhere around the world, that all geeks should read.
George Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair) is perhaps the greatest English language author the world has ever seen. Although he died at the age of 46 after a battle with tuberculosis, he indelibly changed the world of literature for the better, and forever.
One of his greatest abilities was to explore the darker side of human nature. In Animal Farm, he looked at avarice and ambition, through a parable about animals usurping human control on a farm. In Nineteen Eighty-Four (often stylized as 1984), he looked at totalitarianism and the human capacity for the subjugation of others.
One of the remarkable things about Orwell’s writing is his ability to drag the reader into a world of unrelenting bleakness. From the onset of the book, he paints a picture of a drab life, stripped of any individualism, and dulled with servings of noxious “Victory Gin”. Of overarching surveillance. A world where you can’t even trust your own memories.
Nineteen Eighty-Four became the benchmark for dystopias. And often, people find parallels between the book and our present circumstances.
Many of the things that Orwell imagined ultimately became true. Take the Telescreens, for example, which broadcast non-stop propaganda whilst monitoring their viewers. These recently became reality, with Samsung releasing Smart TVs that actively surveilled their users, listening to ever spoken word and then transmitting it across the Internet to be analyzed.
Orwell’s masterpiece is widely regarded as one of the best books ever written, but it wasn’t well received by everyone. Stalin’s government banned it in the 1950s, as it was seen as an allegory of the repressive communist regime.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is another masterpiece of literature, that at one point found its way to being censored.
It tells the story of young Dr Victor Frankenstein who, in an illicit scientific experiment, creates another sentient being. But Frankenstein was repulsed at his own creation, and rejected it, causing it to become embittered and murderous.
It’s a brilliant story. One that teaches us about the dangers of “playing God”. It could also be read as a criticism of transhumanism, which is the idea that technology can fundamentally change (or augment) what it means to be a human, and a warning to avoid meddling with the “natural order” of things.
Unfortunately, it was banned in 1955 by South Africa’s Apartheid Government, for being “objectionable and obscene”. After the return of democracy in the 1990s, it was unbanned.
The Anarchist Cookbook
The Anarchist Cookbook is a mess. And we’re not going to link to it for obvious reasons.
It talks about some genuinely dangerous subjects. Most notoriously, it teaches the reader how to manufacture explosives and incendiary devices, and has inspired thousands to actually go out and do just that. It also discusses “phone phreaking” at length, and is a fascinating exploration of the vulnerabilities of the telephone system in the 1970s.
Powell has since had a bit of a Damascene conversion, converted to Anglicanism, and disavowed his original book. In 2013, he published an article in the Guardian asking for the publishers to remove it from print.
Due to the controversial nature of the book, it’s banned in Australia. And in the UK, people have been prosecuted for possessing it.
To say that Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer was explosive upon its release is putting it mildly. It made some serious allegations about the British government, and the British security services.
Specifically, it accused the erstwhile MI5 director general Roger Hollis of being a KGB mole, and talks about a covert MI6 assassination plot against President Gamal Nasser – the former President of the United Arab Republic (now modern-day Egypt and Syria).
It’s an explosive book, recounting the life and times of a real-life James Bond, just without the over-the-top gadgets. Still, despite Q’s lack of presence, Spycatcher offers a geeky look at the world of spying, which, if the antics of the NSA are anything to go by, is still going strong.
It was an embarrassing episode for the UK government, who tried to ban it, and embarked upon a legal battle to also get it banned in Australia. One year after its release, it was finally cleared for sale in the UK.
Fahrenheit 451 is one of the most challenged books in recent history. Because of its “colorful” language, a number of school districts in the U.S. have either banned it, or redacted it to remove the offending material. Which is incredibly ironic, as Fahrenheit 451 is about a world where books are banned and burned.
Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the early 1950s, when most homes owned a radio, and television sets were becoming something more and more people could afford to own. He feared that these technologies would ultimately pose a threat to the very existence of the written word.
Who knows what Bradbury would have thought of eBooks, a format which means works of fiction can be remotely wiped and censored, as was the case with Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four in 2009.
The irony, it seems, was lost on those who tried to ban it. Which is a pity, because like 1984, Fahrenheit 451 offers another great literary exploration of dystopias.
What Banned Books Do You Recommend?
You can find these books at your local bookseller, or on Google Play Books. Strapped for time? Then you can listen to them on your iPod. Some, like Frankenstein and Nineteen Eighty-Four have (in some locales) lapsed into the public domain, and can be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg.
Five books with geeky themes. Five books that have all been banned. Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments below which banned books you can recommend to your fellow MakeUseOf readers.