Some books in history have caused major controversies and faced widespread condemnation. in some cases, the inflammatory content of these books led governments and law enforcement agencies also to get involved. This resulted in bans and in some rare instances, the burning of books.
The reasons behind such outrages are manifold. Some books faced criticism because they challenged the dominant ideologies, some invited wrath because they questioned the religion and some were shunned because they turned the spotlight on highly sensitive political issues.
In this post, I am sharing a list of 10 highly controversial books. These books challenged conventional thinking and stirred debates about race, gender, sexuality, religion, and politics.
However, please note, this is not a recommendation list. Whether or not you read one of these books is a personal choice. It depends on your own values, and how comfortable you are with the subject matter.
So, without ado, let’s jump into the 10 provocative books that ignited controversy and shook society’s foundations:
#1.”The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain (1884)
Mark Twain’s famous and infamous book is the first entry on this list. It is a book famous for its imaginative story and memorable characters. At the same time, it is controversial because of its depiction of racism in the US.
Many readers found its portrayal of African American characters downright offensive. The book contains frequent use of the racial slur “n****r”.
Over the years, many schools and libraries in the US, the UK, and Australia have banned the book labeling it a racist piece of literature. Despite these criticisms, the book remains a classic of American literature.
Twain saw his book as a testament to his beliefs about the inherent goodness of humanity. He famously remarked in his defense, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a book of mine in which a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat.”
#2. “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (1903)
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a fraudulent and anti-Semitic text that purports to describe a Jewish plan for world domination. First published in Russia in the late 19th century, it has since been widely discredited as a fabrication, a hoax.
It promotes these wild ideas about Jews controlling everything from finance to media, which is just not true. The problem is that even though it’s been proven to be a lie, it’s still been used time and again to spread hate toward Jews.
It’s sad that something so untrue could cause so much harm and persecution throughout history. The toxic thinking pushed by the text led to some really dark moments in history, like pogroms and the Holocaust.
But, the good news is that people are starting to see through this nonsense. More and more countries are recognizing the Protocols for what it truly is: hate speech. The book is banned in Russia, Germany, Poland, Austria and many other countries.
#3. “Mein Kampf” by Adolf Hitler (1925)
Mein Kampf (My Struggle in English) is a political manifesto written by Adolf Hitler. His book reflects his deep-seated hatred for Jews and his ideology and plans for Germany.
It’s crazy to think but this book made a big impact on the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. It was made mandatory reading in schools and distributed throughout the country. Imagine having to read a book filled with such malicious ideas as part of your education. Scary stuff.
Due to its message of hate and antisemitism, the book was banned in many countries. Even today it is a banned item in Germany, Austria, and several other countries in Europe.
If you wish to read Mein Kampf, do it to understand the events that led to the rise of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust.
#4. “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger (1951)
JD Salinger’s novel created quite a commotion when it was released. People were shocked by all the swear words and insults in the book.
It also talked about some pretty mature stuff like prostitution and homosexuality, which wasn’t exactly considered appropriate for a young audience back then.
The main character, Holden, is an eccentric rebel who doesn’t like grown-ups very much. This made a lot of people upset. But others loved the fact that the book was honest about the tough stuff that teenagers go through, such as depression and alienation.
All in all, it’s a book that definitely pushes the limits! The book was banned in several schools and libraries because of its perceived immorality and it has remained a target of censorship campaigns to this day.
However, despite all the controversies, The Catcher in the Rye remains widely read and studied. Its critique of societal norms and values resonates with readers even today.
#5. “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan (1963)
Betty Friedan’s book stirred the hornet’s nest because it challenged the traditional gender roles and expectations of women in mid-20th century America. At the time, the popular view was that women should be content with being wives and mothers. Seeking an education or a career was just not the norm for women.
The Feminine Mystique challenged this view. It also criticized the way women were taught to see themselves and the way society defined their roles and value.
At the time of its publication, the ideas and arguments in the book were considered pretty controversial. It faced resistance and criticism from many people. But that’s the thing about change, it can be a bit controversial at first!
Thanks to this book, a national conversation about the status of women ensued and helped launch the modern feminist movement. Even today, its impact is still felt and it’s considered a significant and influential work.
#6. “The Anarchist Cookbook” by William Powell (1971)
This book cause quite a ruckus when it came out. Powell detailed some seriously sketchy stuff like bomb-making, weapons use, and drug manufacturing in the book. No wonder it was criticized for promoting violent and criminal behavior.
Apparently, the bigwigs in law enforcement took a look at the information in it and deemed it a threat to public safety.
Over the years, it’s been tied to some pretty violent and terrifying acts, leading to calls to remove it from circulation completely. Since the book promotes illegal and dangerous activities, it’s not a surprise it caused a major uproar. This book is definitely one controversial read!
#7. “The Turner Diaries” by William Luther Pierce (1978)
The Turner Diaries is a neo-Nazi dystopian novel that stirred controversy due to its racist and anti-Semitic content. Its author William Luther Pierce was a Ph.D. in Physics who later became the leader of a white nationalist organization.
The book depicts a violent revolution by white supremacists against the government and minorities and includes graphic descriptions of violence and acts of terrorism. Over the years, the book has been associated with a number of extreme right-wing and white nationalist groups.
Many critics view the book as promoting hate speech and violence. Quite rightly, the book is banned from sale in several countries including the US, Canada, Australia, and Germany.
It’s not the best idea to read this book as it propagandizes hate speech. Just a heads up!
#8. “The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie (1988)
Perhaps no other book on this list caused so much furor than Salman Rushdie’s 1988 polemic. When the book first came out, the Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini even issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death.
The controversy surrounding this book refuses to die down even to this day. On August 12, 2022, he was stabbed at a public lecture in New York resulting in loss of sight in one eye and use of one hand.
The critical nature of the book towards certain aspects of Islam was taken as disrespectful to the religion and its followers. Most countries with large Muslim populations such as Iran, India, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan still carry the ban on its sale. However, it is essential to note that the ban is not universal.
If you are interested in reading The Satanic Verses, it’s a good idea to keep an open mind and be aware of the controversy that surrounds it. There may be some content in the book that might be considered offensive by some, so it’s important to be respectful of those feelings.
#9. “The Bell Curve” by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray (1994)
The Bell Curve was controversial due to its contentious arguments about race and intelligence.
Some of the authors’ claims were interpreted as suggesting that certain racial and ethnic groups were inherently less intelligent than others. This led to accusations of racism and sparked intense debate and criticism.
Additionally, the authors’ use of statistical methods was widely disputed by many researchers, leading to further criticism of the book’s conclusions. The widespread view, even today, is that the book promotes scientific racism and an outdated view of intelligence.
You can read books such as The Nature of Intelligence by Linda S. Gottfredson and How Children Succeed by Paul Tough for a more accurate understanding of intelligence.
#10. “American Sniper” by Chris Kyle (2012)
American Sniper is a memoir written by Chris Kyle, a former US Navy SEAL sniper. The book provides a firsthand account of his experiences during the Iraq War. He claimed to have killed 255 people during his active service of six years.
The book, on release, sparked strong reactions and debates. Some people criticized the book for glorifying violence and war, while others claimed it fueled anti-Islamic sentiments.
Kyle’s own statements also added fuel to the fire. His descriptions of killing as “fun” and “something he loved” really got people fired up. He even wrote that he “hated the damn savages” and “didn’t give a flying f**k” about the Iraqis.
Needless to say, the book is a provocative read and may interest those interested in understanding different viewpoints on war, military service, and the psychological effects of combat.
From “Mein Kampf” to “American Sniper”, these books have pushed the boundaries of literary expression. The fact, though, remains that despite their often-controversial nature, these books remain an important part of our literary heritage and continue to be widely read and studied today.
Finally, I wish to reiterate that through this list, I am not recommending you read these books. Whether or not you read them is a personal choice of yours. However, you should stay alert to the controversies these books have caused and while reading them, keep an open mind.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post on 10 of the most controversial books ever written. I hope this list encourages you to engage in the important conversations they continue to inspire. I look forward to your feedback in the comments section below.