5 Banned Books All Geeks Should Read

Matthew Hughes 02-10-2015

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.

Nineteen Eighty-Four

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 Samsung's Latest Smart TVs Are Straight Out Of George Orwell's 1984 A new feature in the latest Samsung smart TVs has put the Korean giant in a bit of hot water. It turns out they've been listening to everything you've been saying... Read More , 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 How Technology May Be Influencing Human Evolution There's not a single aspect of the human experience that hasn't been touched by technology, including our very bodies. Read More , 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 The Best Bond Gadgets Of All Time James Bonds gadgets are legendary. In this article, we run down some of the most futuristic gadgets from the films, and see how they stand up in the era of the iWatch. Read More . Still, despite Q’s lack of presence, Spycatcher offers a geeky look at the world of spying, which, if the antics of the NSA Tomorrow's Surveillance: Four Technologies The NSA Will Use to Spy on You - Soon Surveillance is always on the cutting edge of technology. Here are four technologies that will be used to violate your privacy over the next few years. Read More 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

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 Oyster's Dead: What's the New Netflix for eBooks? The popular eBook subscription service Oyster just shut down, so where are you supposed to get your ebooks? Read More . Strapped for time? Then you can listen to them on your iPod Getting Started with Audiobooks: How to Finally Finish Your "Reading List" Audiobooks are a good way to tackle your reading list, but it can be difficult to get started with them. Let's make it simple. Read More . 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 Project Gutenberg: More Than Just Free Books Sites like Project Gutenberg, which has over 45,000 books on offer (at the time of writing), will ensure that no book will ever truly disappear. Discovering obscure works of literature is now easier than ever. Read More .

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.

Related topics: Artificial Intelligence, Geeky Science, Surveillance.

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  1. elee
    November 1, 2017 at 11:30 pm

    I'm not sure it is banned but it opened my eyes. the title is: "Diplomacy By Deception" An Account Of The Treasonous Conduct By The Governments of Britain And The United States
    By: Dr. John Coleman
    pay special attention to page 237 notes on surveillance

  2. Anonymous
    October 13, 2015 at 10:26 am

    There is also the issue of "passive" censorship, as sometimes practised by Public Libraries. Regrettably some librarians don't like "nasty" books on their shelves. Two examples I remember from my time were
    1. A stand-up row which I eventually won concerning "Last Exit to Brooklyn" by Hubert Selby Jr .
    2. An argument about putting "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" by Hunter S. Thompson into The Young Adult section. Happily I won again - but why the stupid hassle?

  3. Anonymous
    October 12, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    The Art of Deception by Kevin Mitnick. I find it surprising that this is not listed here

  4. Saikat Basu
    October 11, 2015 at 4:35 am

    As I read somewhere, the really banned books are the ones we never hear about!

    I wonder if there's a point in banning books anymore. From my own experience, I find that banning something makes us want to read it more. Just like if you tell a child not to do something and they go on and do it.

  5. Anonymous
    October 6, 2015 at 3:44 am

    None of these are banned in the Philippines! They even told us to read 1984 by George Orwell in school!

  6. Rob Nightingale
    October 3, 2015 at 6:17 am

    From what I hear, 1984 is actually now banned in Thailand, too!

  7. Anonymous
    October 2, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    "George Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair) is perhaps the greatest English language author the world has ever seen. " is the most ridiculous thing I have read in about six months.

    • Anonymous
      October 3, 2015 at 11:49 am

      Got to agree!

    • Anonymous
      October 11, 2015 at 1:32 pm

      If he thinks G.O is the greatest language author the world has seen, so let him have that opinion.

    • Anonymous
      October 13, 2015 at 1:23 am

      I disagree strongly. I have read every one of his available essays and novels at least twice for study and 'pleasure' and every time I marvel at his genius. From the self-loathing of his time in Burma in 'Shooting an Elephant', the pictures in words of 'Down the Mine', the allegorical brilliance of 'Animal Farm' (my first Orwell book at age 14), and so on.

      Nineteen Eighty-Four is brilliant in so many ways but the prescience of his description of that dystopia is chilling. There is no template or lived experience that we know of that could have predicted the technology the book uses to describe the influence it has on the population's daily lives.

      Lest you suspect I'm a one-eyed fan boy, I have read extensively and critically through school, university and in two careers. Every great author is great because of 'something' they've written, but some, like Orwell and Camus, are great because there is no 'something' that was poor.

  8. Anonymous
    October 2, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller.

    • Anonymous
      October 11, 2015 at 2:57 pm

      You are right, he is absolutely entitled to his wrong opinion that he states as if it were a fact.

  9. Anonymous
    October 2, 2015 at 6:55 pm
    • Mihir Patkar
      October 3, 2015 at 5:54 am

      I love that one.

  10. Anonymous
    October 2, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    The biggest problem I have with all the censorship dedications is that censorship is only half the problem which is made to seem like the whole thing. The other half is state-imposed/state-mandated press which never seems to get mentioned.

    Maybe because the state uses it too much like in such simple laws as mandating that people print their income or people word their product labels to comply with the state.

    Both a violation of freedom of press if fully supported .

    • Mihir Patkar
      October 3, 2015 at 5:56 am

      Absolutely valid point, Howard. I think banning/censorship gets more attention because it's the state saying "You can't do X" as opposed to state-imposed press which covertly promotes certain agendas. The restriction of freedom on the first is far more explicit, while the latter is covert.

    • Anonymous
      October 3, 2015 at 10:09 pm

      I don't find truth in product labeling to be a "freedom of the press" issue; why do you say that? Is it because you don't like reading the truth on cigarette packs - that smoking is the one stupidest and easiest-to-avoid health threat in the world today? Or that alcohol causes birth defects when pregnant women drink (to excess)?
      Give me one example where product labels *should not* be truthful.

      • Anonymous
        October 3, 2015 at 11:39 pm

        You say TRUTH ? Who gets to determine that ? The state ? And truth in advertising is covered by fraud laws …. or did you forget those?

        Telling people what they have to print is a violation of freedom of the press … PERIOD! If in doing such press they commit fraud, then we have laws to cover that.

        But we can just take down that Howard Blair only supports such freedom if you are writing books or other articles maybe ….. but not if you are doing other business

        • Anonymous
          October 5, 2015 at 12:34 pm

          Freedom of the press is not an absolute, just as freedom of religion (a holy war is not permitted), nor freedom of speech (go shout "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater).
          Freedom of the press to print *truth* is covered; lying on food and drug labels is NOT truth, and is not permitted. There are independent firms to judge the accuracy of such labels, just like Underwriter Labs (UL) permits its seal on tested electrical products.
          Just recently VW/Audi was caught falsifying emissions testing on its 4-cylinder diesel engines; will they get punished for **printing** that their engines were safe and emissions-friendly? Yes, just as much as they will be brought to task for cheating the EPA testing.
          Samsung's monitors and TVs seem to use less energy during Energy Star testing; we'll soon find out about that one. They may well wind up being punished for falsifying the tests that provide their Energy Star labels, which include typical costs-per-year to operate.
          I support freedom of journalists to tell the truth. I also support business' rights to print the truth about their products..but not *lies*. Do you want to find out your "dolphin safe" tuna isn't, toxic preservatives in your "100% natural" cornflakes, or find out that your car's safety rating is bogus? No?
          If you're just griping about the warning labels on your cigarettes, go do it somewhere else. I lost both my parents to cancer (only one smoked), and wish Sir Walter Raleigh had lost his head a few decades sooner.

        • Anonymous
          October 5, 2015 at 5:07 pm

          Lol, so our freedoms always have room for your exceptions ... ehhh ? Maybe southern plantation owners claimed right to life was not absolute when trying to preserve their slaves.

          I also strongly suggest we leave judging truth to society in general .... and not state appointed companies. The other option is to accuse these companies directly of a crime first for judgment by a jury.

          Having the state come-out before any wrong has been committed(charged) to judge whether what you say or print is true or not sounds pretty fascist to me REGARDLESS of any companies the state has appointed for this fascist task

          Let me reassert, telling people what they have to print is a violation of freedom of the press .. particularly when done by the state that probably has an agenda REGARDLESS of how noble you think your goals are !

        • Anonymous
          October 5, 2015 at 10:31 pm

          I seem to remember a document whose second paragraph started with: "We hold these truths to be self evident"...it doesn't take a mallet over the head to tell truth from lies.
          Sometimes the truth of a statement is clear and undeniable, like the content of foods (when you find a rat's foot in your burger, you'll know it's not 100% pure beef!), and someone has to look into food, drug, and cosmetics before presenting their findings to police agencies and Grand Juries.
          No one has the freedom to print lies...in this or any country that doesn't have "fascist agencies" "telling people what they have to print." Maybe printing outright lies about how good your company's products are is good in *your* warped world-view...thank God it's not the law here. Of course, any company is free to print what they like...but I reserve the right to expose the lies, and bring in the government to stop it.
          Martin Shkreli thought it would be OK to hike the price of his company's anti-tuberculosis drug 5000% overnight, and fortunately, both the public and the government called "bullshit!" and forced them to back down. In your free-market, anything-goes fantasy land, Turing Pharmaceuticals would be justified in making up any damned lie they wanted to justify the price-gouging..."we can't catch as many unicorns as we used to, to make our magic pills." "Our drug will cure cancer, AIDS, halitosis, and premature baldness. Only $5,000 a pill!"

        • Anonymous
          October 6, 2015 at 4:19 pm

          Outright lies about one's product , I am confident" are covered by fraud laws as I said before. Telling people what they have to print before any wrong has been committed , I do consider fascist.

          As for whether our freedoms are absolute, I certainly believe so. We certainly don't go around stating they are not anytime we would like to excuse someone's actions.

          I know it upsets you that companies may actually have rights too, but that is the nature of not being a hypocrite .... you support those rights for all legal entities !

        • Anonymous
          October 5, 2015 at 8:29 pm

          "I also support business’ rights to print the truth about their products..but not *lies*."
          I'm glad you do but did you know, for instance, that there is a certain percentage of rat droppings allowed in the flower and sugar sold in the supermarkets? Do the manufacturers tell us the "truth" about the flour and the sugar?

          If "truth in advertising" laws were worth the paper they were written on, advertising industry would not exist. Granted that advertisers may not lie outright but the liberties they take with the truth come very close to making their advertisements into lies.

        • Anonymous
          October 5, 2015 at 10:35 pm

          Yes, I know the allowable content of "impurities" in supermarket food.
          Advertising impurities like insect parts per pound is not in favor of food marketing, which is why they don't do it.
          (I didn't realize the local florist had rat droppings in their "flower." Thanks for pointing that out.)
          Advertisements have to be at least moderately truthful. Advertising a Big Mac as a cure for the common cold is not only ludicrous, but untruthful; advertising it as 100% pure beef (meaning no soybean fillers) is. There are limits, and government watchdog agencies (and institutions like Consumer Reports) are there to protect us. That's why VW got caught with its hand in the emissions cookie jar...in that case, EPA oversight.

        • Anonymous
          October 6, 2015 at 12:09 am

          "I didn’t realize the local florist had rat droppings in their “flower.”"
          You'd be surprised what stuff the florist put on and in their flower(s). :-)

          "Advertisements have to be at least moderately truthful."
          Define the word "truthful."
          Stating "Best in its class" when it's a class of one, while strictly "truthful", attempts to deceive the consumer by implying that the class consists of many.
          Stating that "3 out of 4 people recommend XYZ" may or may not be "truthful." Also, the fact that the people were paid to make the "proper" recommendation, may be omitted.
          As I said, advertisements, may not be liying, but they are not telling the truth, either.

          Pictures of items being advertised are routinely retouched, air brushed, enhanced and manipulated to look better. Strictly speaking, isn't that breaking the truth in advertising laws? It certainly is deceiving the customers.