Member only
Episode
184

Banned Books

Aug 13, 2021
Arts & Culture
-
26
minutes
Literature
English books
Politics
Philosophy
Morality

It's often said that the pen is mightier than the sword, and throughout history there are books that have been considered too dangerous to be read.

In this episode, we'll take a look at the times when governments have banned books, the reasons for this, and ask ourselves what this tells us about society.

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login
Subtitles will start when you press 'play'
You need to subscribe for the full subtitles
Already a member? Login
Download transcript & key vocabulary pdf
Download transcript & key vocabulary pdfDownload transcript & key vocabulary pdfDownload transcript only available after your trial

Transcript

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Banned Books, and look at the history of what happens when the publication of a book is forbidden, it is not allowed.

[00:00:37] It is a fascinating topic, and will take us from the The Middle Ages right through to the modern day, as we’ll look at all of the different reasons that books are banned, and what happens when they are.

[00:00:51] Before we get right into today’s episode, I want to remind you that you can become a member of Leonardo English and follow along with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:07] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, all of our bonus episodes, so that’s more than 180 different episodes now, as well as two new ones every week, plus access to our awesome private community where we do live events, challenges, and much, much more.

[00:01:29] Our community now has members from over 50 countries, and it's my mission to make it the most interesting place for curious people like you to improve their English.

[00:01:41] So, if that is of interest - and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be - then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:52] OK then, banned books.

[00:01:56] If I were to ask you what was the common link between The Bible, William Shakespeare, Harry Potter, The Quotations of Chairman Mao and Mickey Mouse, I would be very impressed if you said that they had all been banned.

[00:02:12] They have, all for very different reasons, at different times, in different countries, but they have all been considered too dangerous for people to read.

[00:02:23] You are probably already thinking “why”, and indeed this intriguing story will lead us to ask lots of questions: why do different governments at different times in history ban books? 

[00:02:38] What does it tell us about a society when it bans books? 

[00:02:43] Indeed, once you start asking these kinds of questions, you encounter even more profound ones: why and under what conditions is knowledge often considered dangerous? 

[00:02:56] What is the effect on a society of trying to limit knowledge and, with it, human curiosity? 

[00:03:03] Is it ever a good thing?

[00:03:05] Our interesting journey will begin with a bit of history – starting with the invention of the movable type printer in 1440; however, the main focus of the episode will be on books that have been banned in the 20th century that you are likely to have heard about and, perhaps, even read. 

[00:03:26] By a banned book, I am referring to a book which a government or [in the case of the United States] a state has banned or forbidden

[00:03:37] Usually the prohibition, the banning, of a book comes about through making it illegal to publish it. 

[00:03:45] In the pre-Internet days this meant that people would not be able to buy the book, unless it was printed privately, or smuggled into the country, brought into the country illegally. 

[00:03:57] Now, of course, censorship, banning books is significantly harder, and anyone who wants to find a banned book online won’t have a particularly hard time finding it. We’ll talk about this in greater detail towards the end of the episode.

[00:04:15] Before we embark on the historical side, let me try to articulate or express some of the thoughts that are perhaps going through your mind. 

[00:04:26] For what reasons do ruling powers generally ban books? 

[00:04:30] What effect does banning have on the popularity of the book, once the ban is removed? 

[00:04:36] And what does banning a book tell us about the country that banned it?

[00:04:42] We will encounter most of these questions on our travels and return to them at the end, but as a general rule, books are banned because they challenge the current beliefs of a government or a ruling elite, whether that is a religious institution, an educational board or a government. 

[00:05:02] And to the last question, about what banning a book tells us about the country that bans it, well, the banning of books is generally a bad thing - a badge of shame, it doesn’t reflect well on the country.

[00:05:18] Just look at a list of regimes that have done a lot of it in recent history – the USSR, Nazi Germany, North Korea and Apartheid South Africa. 

[00:05:29] It’s an unappetising list, it is not a list of countries that you would normally look up to.

[00:05:37] Perhaps there are occasional exceptions, such as books that promote religious or racial hate or child abuse or bomb-making, or things like that. 

[00:05:47] But as a general rule, there is a correlation, a connection between how happy a country is to ban books and how happy it is to persecute its people and limit their liberty.

[00:06:01] As the German playwright and poet, Heinrich Heine, predicted in one of his plays in 1821:

[00:06:08] “….where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.“ 

[00:06:13] As we know, this terrible prophecy was fulfilled by the Nazis, initially with their book burning across 34 German university towns and cities in May 1933 and then during the Holocaust. 

[00:06:28] To start our story, let us travel back in time to the first half of the 14th century. 

[00:06:35] Books in Europe were produced mainly by hand, they were written out by people.

[00:06:41] And only a tiny proportion of the population of Europe was literate, only a tiny proportion could read and write. 

[00:06:50] For most people, the only book that they would be aware of was the Bible. And their only access to the Bible was through the priest in their church who would read sections of it in Latin. 

[00:07:04] In 1440 this all changed though, or at least it was the start of what was to be a seismic change.

[00:07:13] The German inventor, Johannes Gutenberg, started working on the printing press.

[00:07:19] And a large impact of his invention was, initially at least, on religious publishing. 

[00:07:26] Gutenberg's invention of the movable type printer meant that he was able to print, easily and cheaply, so-called indulgences for the Catholic church. 

[00:07:38] These indulgences were pieces of paper – forms, really – which, when filled in and personalised, allowed officials of the Church to sell to each person a written forgiveness for the sin that they had committed or even might commit in the future. 

[00:07:57] With expensive crusades needing to be fought in the Middle East, the sale of indulgences was a particularly easy and welcome way for the Church to make money in the late 15th century. 

[00:08:11] So, you might think that was entirely a success story for the Church; not so - because this system was so open to abuse and corruption, its worsening reputation added to the growing opposition to the Catholic Church. 

[00:08:28] This opposition to this system and to the established church was shown dramatically in 1517 when Martin Luther wrote his famous 95 Theses which he nailed to the church door. 

[00:08:43] This was in effect the start of the Protestant revolution or Protestantism. 

[00:08:48] How does this have anything to do with banning books, you might think? 

[00:08:53] Well, in the age before printing, Luther’s complaint against the Catholic Church might have simply been an academic but heated debate amongst the clergy or the priests. 

[00:09:05] But, with this area of Germany being the centre of world printing at the time, Martin Luther’s 95 Theses could be swiftly and economically printed and distributed; at least 300,000 copies were produced and distributed in the three years following their publication. 

[00:09:25] By 1500 nearly 8 million books had been published in Europe following the birth of printing. 

[00:09:33] It's difficult to know for sure how much of an increase this was compared to the hand-writing of books, but it is estimated to be about a twentieth of the post-Gutenberg number. 

[00:09:46] Not only were more books published, but the cost reduced dramatically.

[00:09:52] It is thought [based on a study in the Netherlands] that the price of books decreased by about 340 times between 1460 and 1550. 

[00:10:04] So, other than turbo-charging the Protestant Reformation, what were the longer term consequences of these societies becoming increasingly literate

[00:10:15] The answer is that it was certainly not all straightforward, but the major consequence on an individual level was the huge increase in literacy and, with it, individuality. 

[00:10:27] The cultivation of the individual’s mind and his or her thoughts was possible in a way which had not been available before, except for a tiny minority of priests and scholars.

[00:10:41] As access to knowledge started to be democratised, this allowed for new ideas to be developed and spread, and was the start of Renaissance humanism, later on The Enlightenment, and indeed was the start of the tradition of freedom of information and ideas that we are all beneficiaries of today.

[00:11:01] Of course, as knowledge was democratised, printing became cheaper, and it was much easier to spread your ideas to a larger population, those in power became increasingly cautious of the effect of unorthodox ideas or beliefs on their citizens.

[00:11:19] When very few people could read and write, spreading an idea was difficult. With cheap printing and a literate population, it was much easier.

[00:11:30] Although there are plenty of examples of banning books in the few hundred years after Gutenberg’s printing press, we are going to focus on the past 100 years or so, and look at banned books in the 20th and 21st centuries.

[00:11:45] The different reasons for banning books tend to overlap, but I have separated them into four categories: political, sexual, moral and religious. 

[00:11:59] Firstly, political, books that are banned because they contain political beliefs that are contrary to those of the ruling elites.

[00:12:08] Totalitarian states are fearful of individuality and thoughts which run counter to, which are different to their own. 

[00:12:18] Dissent is dangerous. 

[00:12:20] Therefore it should come as no surprise that, when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 on a wave of renewed German militarism, he hated books which criticised the German army in the First World War. 

[00:12:36] For this reason, Erich Remarque’s fine novel about a young man growing to adulthood, called All Quiet on the Western Front, was banned from 1933-1945. 

[00:12:50] Stalinist USSR was also a dangerous place for writers. 

[00:12:55] Many fled, they escaped; and many who remained lost their lives - either with a secret service bullet to the head or by dying in a gulag.

[00:13:06] Novelist and poet Boris Pasternak stayed and managed to navigate this dangerous environment during Stalin’s lifetime. 

[00:13:15] His masterpiece, Dr Zhivago, was rejected by the state authorities in 1956. 

[00:13:23] It was smuggled abroad, it was taken abroad without official permission, and published by the founder of the Italian publishing house and bookseller, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, in Milan in 1957. 

[00:13:38] When Pasternak won the Nobel Prize for this brilliant novel which covers the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the civil war that followed, state pressure was such that he had to refuse the prize. 

[00:13:53] Even though it had been published in 18 languages by 1958, and therefore very widely read all over the world, it was not taken off the banned list in the USSR until 1988. 

[00:14:08] Whilst still in the category of political books, let’s consider the question of Hitler‘s autobiography or life story, Mein Kampf, which is normally translated in English as “My Struggle”. 

[00:14:22] In the same way that it is illegal in Germany to make the Nazi salute, it was illegal to publish this book until 2015 when the copywright to publish held by the state of Bavaria stopped. 

[00:14:36] So it is now available, you can buy it. 

[00:14:40] This is still a contentious issue, there are those that feel strongly about it on both sides. 

[00:14:47] The reasons for continuing to ban it tend to include arguments such as that people buy it as a support for Nazi beliefs, and that it is still offensive to the millions of people who had relations that lost their lives to the Nazies.

[00:15:05] But, those who say it shouldn’t be banned tend to ask whether the book is actually that powerful, and suggest that banning it actually gives it a sort of badge of honour that it doesn’t deserve.

[00:15:19] Of course, I will leave you to make your own mind on that. 

[00:15:24] Moving on from the political, let’s talk about books that were banned for their sexual content.

[00:15:31] Governing powers generally do not like their citizens to read books which have explicit sexual content. 

[00:15:38] Whilst this attitude in the first half of the 20th century was mainly towards descriptions of heterosexual sex, more recently governments and school governing boards [in the USA especially] have banned books which are seen as promoting homosexuality and other forms of sexual expression and ways of living which are different to traditional views. 

[00:16:05] It will perhaps come as no surprise therefore that countries like Malaysia and Singapore have done this quite recently. 

[00:16:13] A book called Gay if OK! A Christian Perspective, for instance, was banned in Malaysia in 2013. 

[00:16:21] Two of the most famous examples of books in English banned for their sexual content are Ulysses, by James Joyce, and one called Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D H Lawrence.

[00:16:36] Ulysses is an incredibly complicated book, it’s very hard to read, and sometimes actually manages to avoid being banned, to avoid being censored, because the sexual passages are so difficult to understand. 

[00:16:51] Lady Chatterley‘s Lover led to the most famous trial of a book in British history when in 1960 its publisher, Penguin Books, was prosecuted for the offence of Obscenity; this means publishing something which is considered offensive and harmful to people’s morals

[00:17:12] Famously, at the trial the prosecution lawyer asked the jury, asked the people judging the trial: “would you wish your wife or servants to read it?” 

[00:17:24] Penguin, the publisher, won the case, and the book was allowed to be printed again. 

[00:17:30] But the trial did a huge amount to boost awareness of it, it was an incredibly effective marketing campaign, and when the ban was lifted sales skyrocketed

[00:17:44] Although the book is one of D.H. Lawrence’s worst books, he actually wrote many, many better books, Lady Chatterley‘s Lover sold many more copies.

[00:17:56] The third category is that of banning for moral reasons - moral degeneracy, is a term sometimes used by governments to describe this concept. 

[00:18:07] This is where ruling powers consider that the influence of a book will cause people – especially young people – to behave badly, and in a way that isn’t in line with how people should behave.

[00:18:22] In the United States there seems to be a constant debate about what should and shouldn’t be allowed to be taught in schools, and from state to state what is considered to be a morally acceptable book varies greatly.

[00:18:37] Perhaps the most famous example of a book that is frequently banned by censors for moral reasons is The Catcher in the Rye, written by JD Salinger in 1951.

[00:18:50] This book is completely fascinating and is actually going to be the subject of the next episode, the next members only episode, so look out for that one. 

[00:19:01] In short, it is a story about teenage rebellion, and centres around a narrator called Holden Caulfield who lies, swears, smokes, and generally behaves badly. 

[00:19:16] It is a cult novel, and since its publication 70 years ago it has remained both one of the most banned books in the USA and also the second most read on high school curriculums, after Of Mice and Men. 

[00:19:32] Harry Potter, which I imagine you may have read, or at least you are familiar with, has been banned in a long list of different countries, often for what you could categorise as “moral” reasons - that it shows children using magic to get what they want, which apparently is not what children should be taught.

[00:19:53] Similarly, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll was banned by the governor of a province in China because animals can speak in the book, and he said that it wasn’t morally right to put animals and humans on the same level.

[00:20:10] There was even a story about the fact that the book “Black Beauty”, which is a book about a black horse, was banned in Apartheid South Africa, because it showed the words black and beauty next to one another, but it does seem that this might be an urban myth.

[00:20:28] Our final category is books that have been banned for religious reasons. 

[00:20:33] Of course, there is some overlap between all of the four categories - political, sexual, moral and religious, but it’s probably between moral and religious that the overlap is the greatest.

[00:20:47] In particular in theocratic countries, in countries where there is an official state religion, the state often sees its job as to protect both its religion, and the morals of its citizens.

[00:21:01] And when it comes to banning books for religious reasons, the pressure to ban them more often than not comes from the people within the country, not the government itself.

[00:21:13] You may be familiar with the Indian-British author Salman Rushdie. 

[00:21:18] In 1988 he published a book called The Satanic Verses, which provoked a dramatic reaction across the Muslim world because it was considered blasphemous and disrespectful to the prophet Mohammed.

[00:21:33] There were huge protests, the book was banned, and indeed the Ayatollah of Iran issued a fatwa, essentially an official declaration, calling for the death of the author and his publishers.

[00:21:48] This was unprecedented, the leader of a country calling for Muslims around the world to murder an author because of a book he had written.

[00:21:59] Salman Rushdie was given 24/7 police protection, and he had to go into hiding for 10 years.

[00:22:07] Like Lady Chatterley’s Lover, this was excellent marketing for the book. 

[00:22:12] One book store in the US initially didn’t sell it for security reasons, but then realised that it was so in demand that they changed their mind. It went to number one on the bestseller list, and sold five times more than the number two book on the list.

[00:22:30] So, to conclude, does banning books actually work?

[00:22:34] Certainly, if the objective is to make fewer people read them, the answer seems to be a resounding no. 

[00:22:43] In almost every case banning books has made people want them more, and actually increased sales.

[00:22:51] And in the era of the Internet, banning books has become even more pointless.

[00:22:56] A book is a story, it is words on a page, and it is information.

[00:23:01] A physical book is only one way in which that information can be distributed

[00:23:07] Nowadays, information and ideas aren’t shared only in physical books, they are shared on websites and via applications, which are obviously a lot harder to censor, to ban.

[00:23:20] The question of censorship of information, and doing things like banning people from social media platforms is a whole other kettle of fish, it is another topic altogether, but it is, of course, closely related to the question of banning books.

[00:23:36] Books might make for an easy target, given that it is a lot easier to stop them being sold in shops than it is to stop people from visiting certain websites.

[00:23:46] But it is almost always a bad idea.

[00:23:50] So, what can we take from all of this? 

[00:23:53] Firstly, it’s that banning a book is almost always a badge of shame for a country. 

[00:23:59] We only need to look at the countries that have done it in the past, and those that are doing it now, and it would be difficult to find one that is looked up to by the rest of the world.

[00:24:12] Secondly, if you want a quick way to increase sales of a book, then banning it is an excellent idea. 

[00:24:20] Especially in the era of the internet, where any kind of information is available if you look hard enough, banning something is a quick way to lead to more people wanting to read it.

[00:24:31] And finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is that banning ideas is perhaps more dangerous than the ideas themselves.

[00:24:42] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Banned Books, on what happens when the publication of a book is forbidden.

[00:24:52] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:24:56] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:25:00] Are there any interesting stories of books that were banned in your country? And if so, why were they banned?

[00:25:07] Do you think there is a right time to ban a book? Or should anyone be free to publish anything, anywhere, and should it be a matter of personal choice who should read it?

[00:25:19] I would love to know.

[00:25:20] For the members among you, you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:30] And as a final reminder, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to for that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:25:45] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:25:59] The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:26:04] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:26:09] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.



[END OF EPISODE]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Banned Books, and look at the history of what happens when the publication of a book is forbidden, it is not allowed.

[00:00:37] It is a fascinating topic, and will take us from the The Middle Ages right through to the modern day, as we’ll look at all of the different reasons that books are banned, and what happens when they are.

[00:00:51] Before we get right into today’s episode, I want to remind you that you can become a member of Leonardo English and follow along with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:07] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, all of our bonus episodes, so that’s more than 180 different episodes now, as well as two new ones every week, plus access to our awesome private community where we do live events, challenges, and much, much more.

[00:01:29] Our community now has members from over 50 countries, and it's my mission to make it the most interesting place for curious people like you to improve their English.

[00:01:41] So, if that is of interest - and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be - then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:52] OK then, banned books.

[00:01:56] If I were to ask you what was the common link between The Bible, William Shakespeare, Harry Potter, The Quotations of Chairman Mao and Mickey Mouse, I would be very impressed if you said that they had all been banned.

[00:02:12] They have, all for very different reasons, at different times, in different countries, but they have all been considered too dangerous for people to read.

[00:02:23] You are probably already thinking “why”, and indeed this intriguing story will lead us to ask lots of questions: why do different governments at different times in history ban books? 

[00:02:38] What does it tell us about a society when it bans books? 

[00:02:43] Indeed, once you start asking these kinds of questions, you encounter even more profound ones: why and under what conditions is knowledge often considered dangerous? 

[00:02:56] What is the effect on a society of trying to limit knowledge and, with it, human curiosity? 

[00:03:03] Is it ever a good thing?

[00:03:05] Our interesting journey will begin with a bit of history – starting with the invention of the movable type printer in 1440; however, the main focus of the episode will be on books that have been banned in the 20th century that you are likely to have heard about and, perhaps, even read. 

[00:03:26] By a banned book, I am referring to a book which a government or [in the case of the United States] a state has banned or forbidden

[00:03:37] Usually the prohibition, the banning, of a book comes about through making it illegal to publish it. 

[00:03:45] In the pre-Internet days this meant that people would not be able to buy the book, unless it was printed privately, or smuggled into the country, brought into the country illegally. 

[00:03:57] Now, of course, censorship, banning books is significantly harder, and anyone who wants to find a banned book online won’t have a particularly hard time finding it. We’ll talk about this in greater detail towards the end of the episode.

[00:04:15] Before we embark on the historical side, let me try to articulate or express some of the thoughts that are perhaps going through your mind. 

[00:04:26] For what reasons do ruling powers generally ban books? 

[00:04:30] What effect does banning have on the popularity of the book, once the ban is removed? 

[00:04:36] And what does banning a book tell us about the country that banned it?

[00:04:42] We will encounter most of these questions on our travels and return to them at the end, but as a general rule, books are banned because they challenge the current beliefs of a government or a ruling elite, whether that is a religious institution, an educational board or a government. 

[00:05:02] And to the last question, about what banning a book tells us about the country that bans it, well, the banning of books is generally a bad thing - a badge of shame, it doesn’t reflect well on the country.

[00:05:18] Just look at a list of regimes that have done a lot of it in recent history – the USSR, Nazi Germany, North Korea and Apartheid South Africa. 

[00:05:29] It’s an unappetising list, it is not a list of countries that you would normally look up to.

[00:05:37] Perhaps there are occasional exceptions, such as books that promote religious or racial hate or child abuse or bomb-making, or things like that. 

[00:05:47] But as a general rule, there is a correlation, a connection between how happy a country is to ban books and how happy it is to persecute its people and limit their liberty.

[00:06:01] As the German playwright and poet, Heinrich Heine, predicted in one of his plays in 1821:

[00:06:08] “….where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.“ 

[00:06:13] As we know, this terrible prophecy was fulfilled by the Nazis, initially with their book burning across 34 German university towns and cities in May 1933 and then during the Holocaust. 

[00:06:28] To start our story, let us travel back in time to the first half of the 14th century. 

[00:06:35] Books in Europe were produced mainly by hand, they were written out by people.

[00:06:41] And only a tiny proportion of the population of Europe was literate, only a tiny proportion could read and write. 

[00:06:50] For most people, the only book that they would be aware of was the Bible. And their only access to the Bible was through the priest in their church who would read sections of it in Latin. 

[00:07:04] In 1440 this all changed though, or at least it was the start of what was to be a seismic change.

[00:07:13] The German inventor, Johannes Gutenberg, started working on the printing press.

[00:07:19] And a large impact of his invention was, initially at least, on religious publishing. 

[00:07:26] Gutenberg's invention of the movable type printer meant that he was able to print, easily and cheaply, so-called indulgences for the Catholic church. 

[00:07:38] These indulgences were pieces of paper – forms, really – which, when filled in and personalised, allowed officials of the Church to sell to each person a written forgiveness for the sin that they had committed or even might commit in the future. 

[00:07:57] With expensive crusades needing to be fought in the Middle East, the sale of indulgences was a particularly easy and welcome way for the Church to make money in the late 15th century. 

[00:08:11] So, you might think that was entirely a success story for the Church; not so - because this system was so open to abuse and corruption, its worsening reputation added to the growing opposition to the Catholic Church. 

[00:08:28] This opposition to this system and to the established church was shown dramatically in 1517 when Martin Luther wrote his famous 95 Theses which he nailed to the church door. 

[00:08:43] This was in effect the start of the Protestant revolution or Protestantism. 

[00:08:48] How does this have anything to do with banning books, you might think? 

[00:08:53] Well, in the age before printing, Luther’s complaint against the Catholic Church might have simply been an academic but heated debate amongst the clergy or the priests. 

[00:09:05] But, with this area of Germany being the centre of world printing at the time, Martin Luther’s 95 Theses could be swiftly and economically printed and distributed; at least 300,000 copies were produced and distributed in the three years following their publication. 

[00:09:25] By 1500 nearly 8 million books had been published in Europe following the birth of printing. 

[00:09:33] It's difficult to know for sure how much of an increase this was compared to the hand-writing of books, but it is estimated to be about a twentieth of the post-Gutenberg number. 

[00:09:46] Not only were more books published, but the cost reduced dramatically.

[00:09:52] It is thought [based on a study in the Netherlands] that the price of books decreased by about 340 times between 1460 and 1550. 

[00:10:04] So, other than turbo-charging the Protestant Reformation, what were the longer term consequences of these societies becoming increasingly literate

[00:10:15] The answer is that it was certainly not all straightforward, but the major consequence on an individual level was the huge increase in literacy and, with it, individuality. 

[00:10:27] The cultivation of the individual’s mind and his or her thoughts was possible in a way which had not been available before, except for a tiny minority of priests and scholars.

[00:10:41] As access to knowledge started to be democratised, this allowed for new ideas to be developed and spread, and was the start of Renaissance humanism, later on The Enlightenment, and indeed was the start of the tradition of freedom of information and ideas that we are all beneficiaries of today.

[00:11:01] Of course, as knowledge was democratised, printing became cheaper, and it was much easier to spread your ideas to a larger population, those in power became increasingly cautious of the effect of unorthodox ideas or beliefs on their citizens.

[00:11:19] When very few people could read and write, spreading an idea was difficult. With cheap printing and a literate population, it was much easier.

[00:11:30] Although there are plenty of examples of banning books in the few hundred years after Gutenberg’s printing press, we are going to focus on the past 100 years or so, and look at banned books in the 20th and 21st centuries.

[00:11:45] The different reasons for banning books tend to overlap, but I have separated them into four categories: political, sexual, moral and religious. 

[00:11:59] Firstly, political, books that are banned because they contain political beliefs that are contrary to those of the ruling elites.

[00:12:08] Totalitarian states are fearful of individuality and thoughts which run counter to, which are different to their own. 

[00:12:18] Dissent is dangerous. 

[00:12:20] Therefore it should come as no surprise that, when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 on a wave of renewed German militarism, he hated books which criticised the German army in the First World War. 

[00:12:36] For this reason, Erich Remarque’s fine novel about a young man growing to adulthood, called All Quiet on the Western Front, was banned from 1933-1945. 

[00:12:50] Stalinist USSR was also a dangerous place for writers. 

[00:12:55] Many fled, they escaped; and many who remained lost their lives - either with a secret service bullet to the head or by dying in a gulag.

[00:13:06] Novelist and poet Boris Pasternak stayed and managed to navigate this dangerous environment during Stalin’s lifetime. 

[00:13:15] His masterpiece, Dr Zhivago, was rejected by the state authorities in 1956. 

[00:13:23] It was smuggled abroad, it was taken abroad without official permission, and published by the founder of the Italian publishing house and bookseller, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, in Milan in 1957. 

[00:13:38] When Pasternak won the Nobel Prize for this brilliant novel which covers the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the civil war that followed, state pressure was such that he had to refuse the prize. 

[00:13:53] Even though it had been published in 18 languages by 1958, and therefore very widely read all over the world, it was not taken off the banned list in the USSR until 1988. 

[00:14:08] Whilst still in the category of political books, let’s consider the question of Hitler‘s autobiography or life story, Mein Kampf, which is normally translated in English as “My Struggle”. 

[00:14:22] In the same way that it is illegal in Germany to make the Nazi salute, it was illegal to publish this book until 2015 when the copywright to publish held by the state of Bavaria stopped. 

[00:14:36] So it is now available, you can buy it. 

[00:14:40] This is still a contentious issue, there are those that feel strongly about it on both sides. 

[00:14:47] The reasons for continuing to ban it tend to include arguments such as that people buy it as a support for Nazi beliefs, and that it is still offensive to the millions of people who had relations that lost their lives to the Nazies.

[00:15:05] But, those who say it shouldn’t be banned tend to ask whether the book is actually that powerful, and suggest that banning it actually gives it a sort of badge of honour that it doesn’t deserve.

[00:15:19] Of course, I will leave you to make your own mind on that. 

[00:15:24] Moving on from the political, let’s talk about books that were banned for their sexual content.

[00:15:31] Governing powers generally do not like their citizens to read books which have explicit sexual content. 

[00:15:38] Whilst this attitude in the first half of the 20th century was mainly towards descriptions of heterosexual sex, more recently governments and school governing boards [in the USA especially] have banned books which are seen as promoting homosexuality and other forms of sexual expression and ways of living which are different to traditional views. 

[00:16:05] It will perhaps come as no surprise therefore that countries like Malaysia and Singapore have done this quite recently. 

[00:16:13] A book called Gay if OK! A Christian Perspective, for instance, was banned in Malaysia in 2013. 

[00:16:21] Two of the most famous examples of books in English banned for their sexual content are Ulysses, by James Joyce, and one called Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D H Lawrence.

[00:16:36] Ulysses is an incredibly complicated book, it’s very hard to read, and sometimes actually manages to avoid being banned, to avoid being censored, because the sexual passages are so difficult to understand. 

[00:16:51] Lady Chatterley‘s Lover led to the most famous trial of a book in British history when in 1960 its publisher, Penguin Books, was prosecuted for the offence of Obscenity; this means publishing something which is considered offensive and harmful to people’s morals

[00:17:12] Famously, at the trial the prosecution lawyer asked the jury, asked the people judging the trial: “would you wish your wife or servants to read it?” 

[00:17:24] Penguin, the publisher, won the case, and the book was allowed to be printed again. 

[00:17:30] But the trial did a huge amount to boost awareness of it, it was an incredibly effective marketing campaign, and when the ban was lifted sales skyrocketed

[00:17:44] Although the book is one of D.H. Lawrence’s worst books, he actually wrote many, many better books, Lady Chatterley‘s Lover sold many more copies.

[00:17:56] The third category is that of banning for moral reasons - moral degeneracy, is a term sometimes used by governments to describe this concept. 

[00:18:07] This is where ruling powers consider that the influence of a book will cause people – especially young people – to behave badly, and in a way that isn’t in line with how people should behave.

[00:18:22] In the United States there seems to be a constant debate about what should and shouldn’t be allowed to be taught in schools, and from state to state what is considered to be a morally acceptable book varies greatly.

[00:18:37] Perhaps the most famous example of a book that is frequently banned by censors for moral reasons is The Catcher in the Rye, written by JD Salinger in 1951.

[00:18:50] This book is completely fascinating and is actually going to be the subject of the next episode, the next members only episode, so look out for that one. 

[00:19:01] In short, it is a story about teenage rebellion, and centres around a narrator called Holden Caulfield who lies, swears, smokes, and generally behaves badly. 

[00:19:16] It is a cult novel, and since its publication 70 years ago it has remained both one of the most banned books in the USA and also the second most read on high school curriculums, after Of Mice and Men. 

[00:19:32] Harry Potter, which I imagine you may have read, or at least you are familiar with, has been banned in a long list of different countries, often for what you could categorise as “moral” reasons - that it shows children using magic to get what they want, which apparently is not what children should be taught.

[00:19:53] Similarly, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll was banned by the governor of a province in China because animals can speak in the book, and he said that it wasn’t morally right to put animals and humans on the same level.

[00:20:10] There was even a story about the fact that the book “Black Beauty”, which is a book about a black horse, was banned in Apartheid South Africa, because it showed the words black and beauty next to one another, but it does seem that this might be an urban myth.

[00:20:28] Our final category is books that have been banned for religious reasons. 

[00:20:33] Of course, there is some overlap between all of the four categories - political, sexual, moral and religious, but it’s probably between moral and religious that the overlap is the greatest.

[00:20:47] In particular in theocratic countries, in countries where there is an official state religion, the state often sees its job as to protect both its religion, and the morals of its citizens.

[00:21:01] And when it comes to banning books for religious reasons, the pressure to ban them more often than not comes from the people within the country, not the government itself.

[00:21:13] You may be familiar with the Indian-British author Salman Rushdie. 

[00:21:18] In 1988 he published a book called The Satanic Verses, which provoked a dramatic reaction across the Muslim world because it was considered blasphemous and disrespectful to the prophet Mohammed.

[00:21:33] There were huge protests, the book was banned, and indeed the Ayatollah of Iran issued a fatwa, essentially an official declaration, calling for the death of the author and his publishers.

[00:21:48] This was unprecedented, the leader of a country calling for Muslims around the world to murder an author because of a book he had written.

[00:21:59] Salman Rushdie was given 24/7 police protection, and he had to go into hiding for 10 years.

[00:22:07] Like Lady Chatterley’s Lover, this was excellent marketing for the book. 

[00:22:12] One book store in the US initially didn’t sell it for security reasons, but then realised that it was so in demand that they changed their mind. It went to number one on the bestseller list, and sold five times more than the number two book on the list.

[00:22:30] So, to conclude, does banning books actually work?

[00:22:34] Certainly, if the objective is to make fewer people read them, the answer seems to be a resounding no. 

[00:22:43] In almost every case banning books has made people want them more, and actually increased sales.

[00:22:51] And in the era of the Internet, banning books has become even more pointless.

[00:22:56] A book is a story, it is words on a page, and it is information.

[00:23:01] A physical book is only one way in which that information can be distributed

[00:23:07] Nowadays, information and ideas aren’t shared only in physical books, they are shared on websites and via applications, which are obviously a lot harder to censor, to ban.

[00:23:20] The question of censorship of information, and doing things like banning people from social media platforms is a whole other kettle of fish, it is another topic altogether, but it is, of course, closely related to the question of banning books.

[00:23:36] Books might make for an easy target, given that it is a lot easier to stop them being sold in shops than it is to stop people from visiting certain websites.

[00:23:46] But it is almost always a bad idea.

[00:23:50] So, what can we take from all of this? 

[00:23:53] Firstly, it’s that banning a book is almost always a badge of shame for a country. 

[00:23:59] We only need to look at the countries that have done it in the past, and those that are doing it now, and it would be difficult to find one that is looked up to by the rest of the world.

[00:24:12] Secondly, if you want a quick way to increase sales of a book, then banning it is an excellent idea. 

[00:24:20] Especially in the era of the internet, where any kind of information is available if you look hard enough, banning something is a quick way to lead to more people wanting to read it.

[00:24:31] And finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is that banning ideas is perhaps more dangerous than the ideas themselves.

[00:24:42] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Banned Books, on what happens when the publication of a book is forbidden.

[00:24:52] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:24:56] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:25:00] Are there any interesting stories of books that were banned in your country? And if so, why were they banned?

[00:25:07] Do you think there is a right time to ban a book? Or should anyone be free to publish anything, anywhere, and should it be a matter of personal choice who should read it?

[00:25:19] I would love to know.

[00:25:20] For the members among you, you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:30] And as a final reminder, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to for that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:25:45] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:25:59] The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:26:04] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:26:09] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.



[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Banned Books, and look at the history of what happens when the publication of a book is forbidden, it is not allowed.

[00:00:37] It is a fascinating topic, and will take us from the The Middle Ages right through to the modern day, as we’ll look at all of the different reasons that books are banned, and what happens when they are.

[00:00:51] Before we get right into today’s episode, I want to remind you that you can become a member of Leonardo English and follow along with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:07] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, all of our bonus episodes, so that’s more than 180 different episodes now, as well as two new ones every week, plus access to our awesome private community where we do live events, challenges, and much, much more.

[00:01:29] Our community now has members from over 50 countries, and it's my mission to make it the most interesting place for curious people like you to improve their English.

[00:01:41] So, if that is of interest - and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be - then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:52] OK then, banned books.

[00:01:56] If I were to ask you what was the common link between The Bible, William Shakespeare, Harry Potter, The Quotations of Chairman Mao and Mickey Mouse, I would be very impressed if you said that they had all been banned.

[00:02:12] They have, all for very different reasons, at different times, in different countries, but they have all been considered too dangerous for people to read.

[00:02:23] You are probably already thinking “why”, and indeed this intriguing story will lead us to ask lots of questions: why do different governments at different times in history ban books? 

[00:02:38] What does it tell us about a society when it bans books? 

[00:02:43] Indeed, once you start asking these kinds of questions, you encounter even more profound ones: why and under what conditions is knowledge often considered dangerous? 

[00:02:56] What is the effect on a society of trying to limit knowledge and, with it, human curiosity? 

[00:03:03] Is it ever a good thing?

[00:03:05] Our interesting journey will begin with a bit of history – starting with the invention of the movable type printer in 1440; however, the main focus of the episode will be on books that have been banned in the 20th century that you are likely to have heard about and, perhaps, even read. 

[00:03:26] By a banned book, I am referring to a book which a government or [in the case of the United States] a state has banned or forbidden

[00:03:37] Usually the prohibition, the banning, of a book comes about through making it illegal to publish it. 

[00:03:45] In the pre-Internet days this meant that people would not be able to buy the book, unless it was printed privately, or smuggled into the country, brought into the country illegally. 

[00:03:57] Now, of course, censorship, banning books is significantly harder, and anyone who wants to find a banned book online won’t have a particularly hard time finding it. We’ll talk about this in greater detail towards the end of the episode.

[00:04:15] Before we embark on the historical side, let me try to articulate or express some of the thoughts that are perhaps going through your mind. 

[00:04:26] For what reasons do ruling powers generally ban books? 

[00:04:30] What effect does banning have on the popularity of the book, once the ban is removed? 

[00:04:36] And what does banning a book tell us about the country that banned it?

[00:04:42] We will encounter most of these questions on our travels and return to them at the end, but as a general rule, books are banned because they challenge the current beliefs of a government or a ruling elite, whether that is a religious institution, an educational board or a government. 

[00:05:02] And to the last question, about what banning a book tells us about the country that bans it, well, the banning of books is generally a bad thing - a badge of shame, it doesn’t reflect well on the country.

[00:05:18] Just look at a list of regimes that have done a lot of it in recent history – the USSR, Nazi Germany, North Korea and Apartheid South Africa. 

[00:05:29] It’s an unappetising list, it is not a list of countries that you would normally look up to.

[00:05:37] Perhaps there are occasional exceptions, such as books that promote religious or racial hate or child abuse or bomb-making, or things like that. 

[00:05:47] But as a general rule, there is a correlation, a connection between how happy a country is to ban books and how happy it is to persecute its people and limit their liberty.

[00:06:01] As the German playwright and poet, Heinrich Heine, predicted in one of his plays in 1821:

[00:06:08] “….where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.“ 

[00:06:13] As we know, this terrible prophecy was fulfilled by the Nazis, initially with their book burning across 34 German university towns and cities in May 1933 and then during the Holocaust. 

[00:06:28] To start our story, let us travel back in time to the first half of the 14th century. 

[00:06:35] Books in Europe were produced mainly by hand, they were written out by people.

[00:06:41] And only a tiny proportion of the population of Europe was literate, only a tiny proportion could read and write. 

[00:06:50] For most people, the only book that they would be aware of was the Bible. And their only access to the Bible was through the priest in their church who would read sections of it in Latin. 

[00:07:04] In 1440 this all changed though, or at least it was the start of what was to be a seismic change.

[00:07:13] The German inventor, Johannes Gutenberg, started working on the printing press.

[00:07:19] And a large impact of his invention was, initially at least, on religious publishing. 

[00:07:26] Gutenberg's invention of the movable type printer meant that he was able to print, easily and cheaply, so-called indulgences for the Catholic church. 

[00:07:38] These indulgences were pieces of paper – forms, really – which, when filled in and personalised, allowed officials of the Church to sell to each person a written forgiveness for the sin that they had committed or even might commit in the future. 

[00:07:57] With expensive crusades needing to be fought in the Middle East, the sale of indulgences was a particularly easy and welcome way for the Church to make money in the late 15th century. 

[00:08:11] So, you might think that was entirely a success story for the Church; not so - because this system was so open to abuse and corruption, its worsening reputation added to the growing opposition to the Catholic Church. 

[00:08:28] This opposition to this system and to the established church was shown dramatically in 1517 when Martin Luther wrote his famous 95 Theses which he nailed to the church door. 

[00:08:43] This was in effect the start of the Protestant revolution or Protestantism. 

[00:08:48] How does this have anything to do with banning books, you might think? 

[00:08:53] Well, in the age before printing, Luther’s complaint against the Catholic Church might have simply been an academic but heated debate amongst the clergy or the priests. 

[00:09:05] But, with this area of Germany being the centre of world printing at the time, Martin Luther’s 95 Theses could be swiftly and economically printed and distributed; at least 300,000 copies were produced and distributed in the three years following their publication. 

[00:09:25] By 1500 nearly 8 million books had been published in Europe following the birth of printing. 

[00:09:33] It's difficult to know for sure how much of an increase this was compared to the hand-writing of books, but it is estimated to be about a twentieth of the post-Gutenberg number. 

[00:09:46] Not only were more books published, but the cost reduced dramatically.

[00:09:52] It is thought [based on a study in the Netherlands] that the price of books decreased by about 340 times between 1460 and 1550. 

[00:10:04] So, other than turbo-charging the Protestant Reformation, what were the longer term consequences of these societies becoming increasingly literate

[00:10:15] The answer is that it was certainly not all straightforward, but the major consequence on an individual level was the huge increase in literacy and, with it, individuality. 

[00:10:27] The cultivation of the individual’s mind and his or her thoughts was possible in a way which had not been available before, except for a tiny minority of priests and scholars.

[00:10:41] As access to knowledge started to be democratised, this allowed for new ideas to be developed and spread, and was the start of Renaissance humanism, later on The Enlightenment, and indeed was the start of the tradition of freedom of information and ideas that we are all beneficiaries of today.

[00:11:01] Of course, as knowledge was democratised, printing became cheaper, and it was much easier to spread your ideas to a larger population, those in power became increasingly cautious of the effect of unorthodox ideas or beliefs on their citizens.

[00:11:19] When very few people could read and write, spreading an idea was difficult. With cheap printing and a literate population, it was much easier.

[00:11:30] Although there are plenty of examples of banning books in the few hundred years after Gutenberg’s printing press, we are going to focus on the past 100 years or so, and look at banned books in the 20th and 21st centuries.

[00:11:45] The different reasons for banning books tend to overlap, but I have separated them into four categories: political, sexual, moral and religious. 

[00:11:59] Firstly, political, books that are banned because they contain political beliefs that are contrary to those of the ruling elites.

[00:12:08] Totalitarian states are fearful of individuality and thoughts which run counter to, which are different to their own. 

[00:12:18] Dissent is dangerous. 

[00:12:20] Therefore it should come as no surprise that, when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 on a wave of renewed German militarism, he hated books which criticised the German army in the First World War. 

[00:12:36] For this reason, Erich Remarque’s fine novel about a young man growing to adulthood, called All Quiet on the Western Front, was banned from 1933-1945. 

[00:12:50] Stalinist USSR was also a dangerous place for writers. 

[00:12:55] Many fled, they escaped; and many who remained lost their lives - either with a secret service bullet to the head or by dying in a gulag.

[00:13:06] Novelist and poet Boris Pasternak stayed and managed to navigate this dangerous environment during Stalin’s lifetime. 

[00:13:15] His masterpiece, Dr Zhivago, was rejected by the state authorities in 1956. 

[00:13:23] It was smuggled abroad, it was taken abroad without official permission, and published by the founder of the Italian publishing house and bookseller, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, in Milan in 1957. 

[00:13:38] When Pasternak won the Nobel Prize for this brilliant novel which covers the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the civil war that followed, state pressure was such that he had to refuse the prize. 

[00:13:53] Even though it had been published in 18 languages by 1958, and therefore very widely read all over the world, it was not taken off the banned list in the USSR until 1988. 

[00:14:08] Whilst still in the category of political books, let’s consider the question of Hitler‘s autobiography or life story, Mein Kampf, which is normally translated in English as “My Struggle”. 

[00:14:22] In the same way that it is illegal in Germany to make the Nazi salute, it was illegal to publish this book until 2015 when the copywright to publish held by the state of Bavaria stopped. 

[00:14:36] So it is now available, you can buy it. 

[00:14:40] This is still a contentious issue, there are those that feel strongly about it on both sides. 

[00:14:47] The reasons for continuing to ban it tend to include arguments such as that people buy it as a support for Nazi beliefs, and that it is still offensive to the millions of people who had relations that lost their lives to the Nazies.

[00:15:05] But, those who say it shouldn’t be banned tend to ask whether the book is actually that powerful, and suggest that banning it actually gives it a sort of badge of honour that it doesn’t deserve.

[00:15:19] Of course, I will leave you to make your own mind on that. 

[00:15:24] Moving on from the political, let’s talk about books that were banned for their sexual content.

[00:15:31] Governing powers generally do not like their citizens to read books which have explicit sexual content. 

[00:15:38] Whilst this attitude in the first half of the 20th century was mainly towards descriptions of heterosexual sex, more recently governments and school governing boards [in the USA especially] have banned books which are seen as promoting homosexuality and other forms of sexual expression and ways of living which are different to traditional views. 

[00:16:05] It will perhaps come as no surprise therefore that countries like Malaysia and Singapore have done this quite recently. 

[00:16:13] A book called Gay if OK! A Christian Perspective, for instance, was banned in Malaysia in 2013. 

[00:16:21] Two of the most famous examples of books in English banned for their sexual content are Ulysses, by James Joyce, and one called Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D H Lawrence.

[00:16:36] Ulysses is an incredibly complicated book, it’s very hard to read, and sometimes actually manages to avoid being banned, to avoid being censored, because the sexual passages are so difficult to understand. 

[00:16:51] Lady Chatterley‘s Lover led to the most famous trial of a book in British history when in 1960 its publisher, Penguin Books, was prosecuted for the offence of Obscenity; this means publishing something which is considered offensive and harmful to people’s morals

[00:17:12] Famously, at the trial the prosecution lawyer asked the jury, asked the people judging the trial: “would you wish your wife or servants to read it?” 

[00:17:24] Penguin, the publisher, won the case, and the book was allowed to be printed again. 

[00:17:30] But the trial did a huge amount to boost awareness of it, it was an incredibly effective marketing campaign, and when the ban was lifted sales skyrocketed

[00:17:44] Although the book is one of D.H. Lawrence’s worst books, he actually wrote many, many better books, Lady Chatterley‘s Lover sold many more copies.

[00:17:56] The third category is that of banning for moral reasons - moral degeneracy, is a term sometimes used by governments to describe this concept. 

[00:18:07] This is where ruling powers consider that the influence of a book will cause people – especially young people – to behave badly, and in a way that isn’t in line with how people should behave.

[00:18:22] In the United States there seems to be a constant debate about what should and shouldn’t be allowed to be taught in schools, and from state to state what is considered to be a morally acceptable book varies greatly.

[00:18:37] Perhaps the most famous example of a book that is frequently banned by censors for moral reasons is The Catcher in the Rye, written by JD Salinger in 1951.

[00:18:50] This book is completely fascinating and is actually going to be the subject of the next episode, the next members only episode, so look out for that one. 

[00:19:01] In short, it is a story about teenage rebellion, and centres around a narrator called Holden Caulfield who lies, swears, smokes, and generally behaves badly. 

[00:19:16] It is a cult novel, and since its publication 70 years ago it has remained both one of the most banned books in the USA and also the second most read on high school curriculums, after Of Mice and Men. 

[00:19:32] Harry Potter, which I imagine you may have read, or at least you are familiar with, has been banned in a long list of different countries, often for what you could categorise as “moral” reasons - that it shows children using magic to get what they want, which apparently is not what children should be taught.

[00:19:53] Similarly, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll was banned by the governor of a province in China because animals can speak in the book, and he said that it wasn’t morally right to put animals and humans on the same level.

[00:20:10] There was even a story about the fact that the book “Black Beauty”, which is a book about a black horse, was banned in Apartheid South Africa, because it showed the words black and beauty next to one another, but it does seem that this might be an urban myth.

[00:20:28] Our final category is books that have been banned for religious reasons. 

[00:20:33] Of course, there is some overlap between all of the four categories - political, sexual, moral and religious, but it’s probably between moral and religious that the overlap is the greatest.

[00:20:47] In particular in theocratic countries, in countries where there is an official state religion, the state often sees its job as to protect both its religion, and the morals of its citizens.

[00:21:01] And when it comes to banning books for religious reasons, the pressure to ban them more often than not comes from the people within the country, not the government itself.

[00:21:13] You may be familiar with the Indian-British author Salman Rushdie. 

[00:21:18] In 1988 he published a book called The Satanic Verses, which provoked a dramatic reaction across the Muslim world because it was considered blasphemous and disrespectful to the prophet Mohammed.

[00:21:33] There were huge protests, the book was banned, and indeed the Ayatollah of Iran issued a fatwa, essentially an official declaration, calling for the death of the author and his publishers.

[00:21:48] This was unprecedented, the leader of a country calling for Muslims around the world to murder an author because of a book he had written.

[00:21:59] Salman Rushdie was given 24/7 police protection, and he had to go into hiding for 10 years.

[00:22:07] Like Lady Chatterley’s Lover, this was excellent marketing for the book. 

[00:22:12] One book store in the US initially didn’t sell it for security reasons, but then realised that it was so in demand that they changed their mind. It went to number one on the bestseller list, and sold five times more than the number two book on the list.

[00:22:30] So, to conclude, does banning books actually work?

[00:22:34] Certainly, if the objective is to make fewer people read them, the answer seems to be a resounding no. 

[00:22:43] In almost every case banning books has made people want them more, and actually increased sales.

[00:22:51] And in the era of the Internet, banning books has become even more pointless.

[00:22:56] A book is a story, it is words on a page, and it is information.

[00:23:01] A physical book is only one way in which that information can be distributed

[00:23:07] Nowadays, information and ideas aren’t shared only in physical books, they are shared on websites and via applications, which are obviously a lot harder to censor, to ban.

[00:23:20] The question of censorship of information, and doing things like banning people from social media platforms is a whole other kettle of fish, it is another topic altogether, but it is, of course, closely related to the question of banning books.

[00:23:36] Books might make for an easy target, given that it is a lot easier to stop them being sold in shops than it is to stop people from visiting certain websites.

[00:23:46] But it is almost always a bad idea.

[00:23:50] So, what can we take from all of this? 

[00:23:53] Firstly, it’s that banning a book is almost always a badge of shame for a country. 

[00:23:59] We only need to look at the countries that have done it in the past, and those that are doing it now, and it would be difficult to find one that is looked up to by the rest of the world.

[00:24:12] Secondly, if you want a quick way to increase sales of a book, then banning it is an excellent idea. 

[00:24:20] Especially in the era of the internet, where any kind of information is available if you look hard enough, banning something is a quick way to lead to more people wanting to read it.

[00:24:31] And finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is that banning ideas is perhaps more dangerous than the ideas themselves.

[00:24:42] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Banned Books, on what happens when the publication of a book is forbidden.

[00:24:52] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:24:56] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:25:00] Are there any interesting stories of books that were banned in your country? And if so, why were they banned?

[00:25:07] Do you think there is a right time to ban a book? Or should anyone be free to publish anything, anywhere, and should it be a matter of personal choice who should read it?

[00:25:19] I would love to know.

[00:25:20] For the members among you, you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:30] And as a final reminder, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to for that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:25:45] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:25:59] The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:26:04] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:26:09] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.



[END OF EPISODE]