5 Baffling Banned Books Throughout History

By Andrew Koch

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During Banned Books Week, booklovers recognize great works of literature that have been targeted for censorship throughout history. To celebrate, we’ve put together this list of five books banned under interesting circumstances:

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

President Lincoln wasn’t exaggerating when he supposedly called Stowe “the little lady who started this great [Civil] war.” Indeed, her book’s realistic depiction of slavery shocked Northerners and outraged slaveholders in the South, galvanizing both sides. Prominent plantation owners banned it in some places in the South, running booksellers who carried it out of town. Even today, some school districts ban the book for its racial slurs and graphic depiction of slavery.

Ulysses by James Joyce

American journal The Little Review first published Joyce’s epic novel in serial format in 1918. But after complaints from some readers about an episode featuring a character masturbating, critics banned Ulysses from the United States. More than a decade later, publisher Random House sued, and the court found the book to be not obscene. An appeals court upheld the decision in United States v. One Book Called Ulysses (1933), lifting the ban and allowing later books with racy content to be read and sold in the United States.

Call of the Wild by Jack London

This book has the dubious honor of being banned in multiple places for multiple reasons. Some object to the book because of its dark tone, violence and depiction of animal cruelty. Others take issue with its portrayal of indigenous peoples. Still others—notably, the dictatorial governments of Italy, Yugoslavia and Germany—condemned Jack London’s personal politics. These countries banned and burned the works of the “radical” London, an outspoken socialist, in the 1920s and 1930s.

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

This classic follows Sam-I-Am as he tries to convince his friend to eat the eponymous meal in various places. But did you know the book celebrates early Marxist ideas? That’s what the Chinese government determined when it banned the book from 1965 to 1991 (the year of Seuss’ death). Accusing Sam-I-Am of being a Marxist might be a stretch, but Seuss’ work often tackled political issues. The Lorax famously supported environmentalism, and The Butter Battle Book parodies the Cold War and the nuclear arms race.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle

The Cold War may have ended in the early 1990s, but the Red Scare still holds some sway. In 2010, the Texas Education Board temporarily banned the beloved Brown Bear, Brown Bear after confusing the book’s author, Bill Martin, Jr., with another writer, controversial philosopher Bill Martin. This other Bill Martin wrote a book called Ethical Marxism, and the board apparently wanted to ban the Marxist Bill Martin’s whole library of work. They could have cleared this up with a simple Google search: Bill Martin, Jr. died in 2004, four years before he supposedly published Ethical Marxism. (Genealogists would have never made this mistake. See our article on finding “Mr. Right” among people with the same name.)

Fortunately, no one has banned our books. (Not yet, anyway!) Check out our collection of useful how-to genealogy books.

What are some of your favorite banned books? Let us know in the comments, or reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter.