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Photo by mind on fire
Are some subjects simply too volatile for public consumption?

The other day, I came across a list of fourteen downloadable files of books that have been made illegal or banned.

“Banned books?” I thought to myself. “Feh.” I generally look skeptically whenever I hear something has been banned because experience has shown me when someone says a book shouldn’t be read it’s an attempt at censorship and not because there is truly something harmful in the book.

And really, how can a book be harmful?

A quick scan through a list of banned books through the ages only confirms my initial feeling.

Do you see a pattern here? People and political bodies excise literature and art that conflicts with their world view. As world view shifts, as it inevitably does, the list of censored and outlawed materials changes too. While truth may be a difficult entity to determine, when a government or other body seeks to limit and thus carefully construct the information their citizens receive, propaganda overtakes our vision of reality.

George Orwell’s novel 1984 — banned by Joseph Stalin in 1950 — vividly portrays the type of world created by just this type of censorship.

It Begins By Indoctrinating the Children

According to the American Library Association, parents challenge books more often than any other group under the guise of protecting their children. I’m so proud! “Anti-family,” I believe is the doublespeak term used to justify these actions.

Ironically, when a government wants to censor the actions of its people, they first indoctrinate children in the ways of “correct thinking” and those children then spy on their parents. Refer back to Orwell’s 1984 to see how this happens.

But are there some books that shouldn’t be open for public consumption?

Last week, I would have said no. All books should be open and readily available to those who want to read them.

Of course, I get that certain books contain materials that aren’t appropriate for younger children – be that with sexually explicit or violent content – but you don’t protect children by simply removing the offending material from public consumption.

Then I came across this list of 14 books.

Should Simply Reading About Illegal Subjects Be Outlawed?

Photo by PugnoM

This list includes a Beginner’s Guide To Growing Marijuana and another on How-to Grow Psychedelic Mushrooms. Fine, I understand they might be banned because they encourage and teach people to cultivate illegal crops, but those are plants, right? How much harm can they really do and how many mushrooms will the average person grow? That and whether or not these crops should even be illegal is a topic worthy of another article in itself.

Then I come across a book with 100 Ways To Disappear and Live Free. Or the secrets of manufacturing methamphetamines by Uncle Fester.

All of these are already available for sale or even free over the internet. While my Amazon search for Justin Gombos’ Fooling the Bladder Cops only lead me to a small selection of deluxe hydration bladders, Yahoo brought me right to what I wanted to read.

That’s when my initial resolve begins to waver.

While many of us might find it a great party trick to pick a lock or help a friend set up grow lights in an empty closet, the bottom line is these books help train you to commit crimes or learn to get away with them.

Do you really want someone at the wheel of your flight or train ride having tricked a urine test?

While many of us might find it a great party trick to pick a lock or help a friend set up grow lights in an empty closet, the bottom line is these books help train you to commit crimes or learn to get away with them.

How many of those people living free and clear off the grid are law abiding citizens who mean and do no harm but simply want to be alone. (If my experiences living on a tiny island off the coast of Panama is any indication, that number is extremely small.)

Some other titles to consider:

  • Twenty-one Techniques of Silent Killing.
  • Silent But Deadly: More Homemade Silencers.
  • The ever maligned Anarchist’s Cookbook.

Is Information Dangerous In Itself?

When I originally found this list of books, my thought was to publish the titles as a list of interesting banned and illegal books with quotes and links to them, but then I had a second thought. After all, there’s plenty of information to suggest these books are indeed dangerous.

Do you agree with our decision?


Is our responsibility to maintain an honest press and thus open paths to information that could be dangerous? Or should we take on the role of protecting people from potential harm?

Culture + ReligionEducation


About The Author

Leigh Shulman

Leigh Shulman is a writer, photographer and mom living in Salta, Argentina. There, she runs Cloudhead Art, an art & education group that creates collaborative art using social media to connect people and resources. You can read about her travels on her blog The Future Is Red

  • JoAnna

    When I started to read this post, I thought the same thing you did: No book should be banned. If someone doesn’t approve of a topic, they should find something else to read.

    But I have to admit I didn’t even realize such books as you’ve noted at the end of the article actually existed (somehow, though, I’m not all that surprised). Though I’m all for freedom of the written word, I’m definitely torn here. I don’t think it’s a good idea to promote and sell books that can endanger safety. I guess the foggy part of the discussion is where do you draw the line?

    • JoAnna

      Last night my husband and I spent a long time talking about this, and I think I’ve decided that these books shouldn’t be banned, but they should have restricted access. I think the information contained in them is important for certain people to know for educational and training purposes. We can’t stop the flow of information, but we can turn it into something positive.

      • Leigh Shulman

        Then the question becomes, how does one restrict access to information. How do you keep certain groups — maybe minors? — from seeing something while allowing others access? Particularly now when information spreads so quickly it’s impossible to even track it.

        Also, who should be restricted?

  • Aaron-B

    Great piece Leigh.It’s a question,within a question.I read your artical fairly fast after a glass of wine so I hope I’ve not missed anything.
    Personally,I think all books should be made available.After that,I think it comes down to personal chioce & the person whom reads such material & their moral & ethical choices.
    Personaly I would find it quite interesting to read about & know how to grow Marijuana.Secoundly,I’ve got nothing against people using Marijuana,& thirdly,in certain parts of the world Marijuana is legal & I basically feel everybody has the right to know & learn about any ( if not most) subjects.
    Different cultures allow for certain practices & disallow for others,but no one,atleast in my humble opinon is always right.I believe everybody should be allowed learn about anything the wish to learn about & in the end,free to make their own choices.They say ‘ignorance is bliss’ & surley that ingnorance comes from not knowing.So let people know as much as possible.

    • Leigh Shulman

      Hey Aaron,

      I tend to agree with you on the marijuana front. I don’t care if you grow it or smoke it or what you do with it. I find it more odd to put limits on a plant at all. Particularly since there are plenty plants — wheat for whiskey, potatoes for vodka, juniper for gin, tobacco — that while somewhat regulated are open for just about anyone almost worldwide.

      Still, it makes me uncomfortable to think my neighbor’s 15 year old son could happen on how to build a bomb and try it out. He may not have a moment’s negative intent, but it could still lead to destruction.

      Yet I also agree that censorship brings it’s own issues that are equally problematic.

      You also mentioned the intercultural angle. What is good for one group of people at one time will suddenly in another place or timw become wrong, ban-able, and in some places punishable as a crime. We saw a long discussion of that in two recent articles here on Life, too. The breastfeeding photo debate on Facebook & a follow up article Definitions of Modesty

      There are no easy answers here. There’s a devil in both sides of the equation.

  • Michael Lynch

    Me, I’d rather let people yell “Fire” in a crowded theater than be sitting on a flight with someone wearing exploding underwear. There’s probably a book available if you have ten mintues to search.

    • Leigh Shulman

      Lol, Mike. You always have such a way of saying things.

      So free spoken speech. But once you put it down and allow it to proliferate the problem begins?

  • Stephen

    The whole point behind the freedom of speech is to protect that speech that is most disagreeable. While a book may describe how to do something illegal, may be objectionable, the words in and of themselves aren’t illegal. You gave examples of non-fiction books telling folks how to do something bad. What happens when a work of fiction has a character described doing the same thing. If a book that teaches someone to assassinate silently and leave no evidence can be banned, then a book about an assassin that successfully kills someone and is then hunted by the protagonist will follow.

    I’ve always pointed out to people that it is still legal to cry fire in a crowded theater if there is a fire. It is not legal to cry fire in a crowded theater with the intent of starting a riot.

    • Leigh Shulman

      Hi Stephen,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I’m a bit lost in it though. On the one hand, I don’t believe a book in which a protagonist does something illegal (that doesn’t teach others how to do the same) is in danger of being banned for violence reasons alone.

      Now that I think about it, it seems violence is rarely a reason a book or film has been banned. The reasons tend to be more political.

      But your first point seems to say you don’t support any ban of information while your second seems to indicate you think bans should be alright in certain circumstances, particularly those that might cause harm or panic to others.

      Do I have that right?

  • Red Tom

    If a person with criminal intent wants to find out about something they no doubt will no matter if its in a banned book.

    But would it not be better if everyone else also know what was going on and how to help prevent desctructive behavior?

    Information wants to be free!

    • Leigh Shulman


      I totally agree. Information most definitely wants to be free. I also am in complete agreement that those who want information will find it. And quite frankly, I want to believe that we should never censor anything.

      But what about situations when potential harmful information gets into the hands of someone who didn’t really know how harmful it could be? I was a bit of a pyro in high school. I could see many people like my old high school self trying these things just to experiment.

      Also keep i mind, we do very much censor things that involve crime. Like snuff films or child porn (two things I will without a doubt say should be censored, illegal banned and whatever else can be done to eliminate them).

      How big a step is teaching someone to kill from filming the murder?

  • Heather

    I had to laugh at the books about passing drug screens because I work at an outpatient drug treatment clinic and we see all kinds of crazy and gross ways people try to game the tests. Admittedly, we see the ones that fail, but word gets around on what’s tested for and what works and that’s with or without books. The internet can give you all kinds of “bad” information, such as how to kill yourself or advice from an anorexic on how to only eat 500 calories a day. Google and other mainstream search engines won’t link to such sites, but they’re there.

    I think books are often reactive – as in they’re a reflection of what people want to know or are thinking about and so if books on meth, making bombs, and killing people are what’s hot, then a society will likely already have a problem with meth heads, explosions, and murder before the books on these topics make any sort of selling list. In other words, such books are a symptom, not a cause. I can see how any reputable bookstore would make a choice to be like Google and not to carry these harmful topics, but there will always be someone willing to do so.

    I believe individuals have a right to learn about what they want and it’s what they do that matters, so banning books is appalling to me. All books are offensive to someone, so I believe censorship opens up a whole new set of problems.

    • Leigh Shulman

      I keep going back and forth on this. On the one hand, I also find the idea of censorship appalling. When it comes to 99% of things, I will side with letting information be free (as Red Tom said above).

      Then there are just these few sticking point for me.

      You make an interesting point about people writing for what they want. There’s much truth in that. At that same time, there are just as many times a book will be written that creates an image of the future for people. Of course, people have to want a future to them work toward creating it (be that consciously or not), but would that vision have had such pull otherwise.

      I am, of course, playing devil’s advocate here. These are interesting ideas to bat about.

  • Spencer Spellman

    I like Joanna’s response, but at the same time agree that if people want something, then they’re going to take the necessary actions to get it. Now do I want kids reading how to guides on how to manufacture meth from their basement and make a million dollars a year doing it? Of course not, however, I think we have to be careful about what and how we “ban” things because then it makes it easier to apply that same principal to other things, and not just books, to ban.

  • Matt Elzweig

    “The Diary of Anne Frank banned in Lebanon for portraying Jews favorably”

    – I am a member of said group, so this is particularly disturbing to me. But the question of whether ‘dangerous’ literature should banned is not as easy to answer as it seems. For example, I have seen booksellers in Harlem and Midtown Manhattan selling “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and a DVD of some kind of minister preaching about “The Illegitimacy of a People Called the Jews,” respectively. It makes me angry, but then again, who am I to insist that another person not be stupid and/or ignorant?

    I had a copy of “The Anarchist’s Cookbook,” growing up and never used it to do anything violent, which one definitely could. But I also had good parents and a good education. What happens when everybody does? If I am not mistaken the First Amendment goes so far as the speech can not be used to incite violence.

    Manuals that people buy that show them how to do things like make homemade silencers and bombs are out there and have been used in the commission of violent crimes. I may be stating the obvious here, but I think if there are books that warrant censorship, these are prime examples.

  • Matt Elzweig

    “What happens when everybody does?” … this should read “What happens when people who don’t (have good parents and a good education) get a hold of a book like this?”

  • Carolyn

    The problem with censorship is that no one group of people is truly omniscient.
    A group or individual can surmise what might be harmful to another group or individual. And one can argue reading a subject that would put one group or another in danger is reason for censorship.
    All too often,however, reasoning can well be flawed and come out of fear, not sound, careful thought processes.
    When censorship is based on fear and control then I believe it is wrong. I think there is often a clue buried in the censorship message as to what the motive is.

  • Alaina O’Brien

    Generally, I’m against banning books/censorship. For example, the books in the article’s first picture – specifically “The Lorax” and “A Light in the Attic” which I enjoyed as a child – shouldn’t be banned. Other examples of banned-but-shouldn’t-be books include “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, “Catcher in the Rye” and “Lord of the Flies” all which shapped my high school education.

    I’m a bit torn on banning the books like “Beginner’s Guide To Growing Marijuana” and “Twenty-one Techniques of Silent Killing.” It’s easy to say they should be banned based on the illegality of their content, but then where does one (or, the government) draw the line? After all, the information would probably be available to those who want it on the Internet or through other sources anyway.

  • The Dame

    Information is only something when you add intention to it. That said, anything about to abuse or be violent should be censored.

  • WP Themes

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  • Danette Kakacek

    Money makes the world go around

  • Ashlan

    I don’t like the idea of the government censoring anything. That idea does not bode well…

  • Leo Vasque

    It is easier to get forgiveness than permission

  • Ernesto

    All the things I had thought of to type, they all fail to express the deep disappointment I feel.
    The sight of authors, of writers, arguing for the banning of books leaves me with a queasy feeling in my stomach.

  • Darci

    I am a child of the Internet. Quite frankly, anything I want rests at my fingertips–the Narcotic’s Cookbook, the Anarchist’s Cookbook, any album a band has produced, any movie, any game, you name it. I may reach a few roadblocks in my quest to find what I want, but rest assured: I will get it in the end. 
    I was raised in an upper middle class neighborhood, am going to one of the more expensive and progressive liberal arts schools in the country, and have parents that are slightly mentally ill but ultimately raised me well. The least of what can be said in their favor is that they taught me hitting others is wrong, that other people have feelings too, and that education is the ultimate pinnacle of the human experience. Truthfully, though, I can say that my father taught me what compassion is, and also what passion means; and one passion he passed on to me was certainly a passion to learn. 
    The thought of any book–I mean any work of literature–being banned makes me sick to my stomach. It is the word of the people, the thoughts and feelings of a singular human being. Perhaps they’re writing, somewhat illegibly, on how to make methamphetamine, but it is still their right as a human being to produce such works. If we are to live in a free society, they should have the right to publish such things.
    Does owning a copy of a book equate to actually committing the crime?
    If I read the sentence “I grow pot” out loud, am I admitting to actually growing pot or am I merely saying something? 
    These are the questions we have to ask ourselves as a society when the topic of censorship of “dangerous materials” comes to the fore. In my mind, it isn’t illegal to write about killing someone (or else, quite frankly, many of our most beloved authors would be behind bars), nor is it illegal to read about doing the deed: yet it is illegal to commit the act. But reading Wuthering Heights isn’t going to exactly make a child run outside, find the nearest tan-skinned person in the neighborhood, and then treat them poorly. Along that same vein, reading a novel about the 21 most effective ways to silently kill a person isn’t going to inspire a person to kill. (If I’m going to be honest with myself, I would read that book, just to see what it has to say!) 
    Thinking isn’t a crime. Writing isn’t a crime. Talking isn’t a crime. Acting is a crime. There is certainly a progression from the thinking stage to the acting stage, and one fairly conservative person could easily make an argument that thinking about murder is akin to committing murder, but the fact remains that thinking does not equal acting. I am positive that everyone reading this comment has moaned, “I wish I could kill that person!” at some point in their life. Would you appreciate it if a police officer came up to you immediately after you said this, cuffed you, and claimed that you had a motivation and was clearly planning the act, ergo he had the right to detain you and hold you in custody? How, if we are going to be honest with ourselves, is that scenario any different than the blatant censorship happening in our country this very moment? 
    As one commenter said, if the book already exists in a society, the problem was prevalent prior to its publication. The book is simply a symptom, not a cause. 
    So, to this young 18 year old with bright hope for the future, any form of censorship is Orwellian and crude. It is not a matter of squelching the writers, but those who act upon the written words. 
    And, besides, in this day and age, it’s all available on the Internet anyway.

  • Michael

    People such as those who want to keep books like this out in the open are not only morons, but also drug addicts, drug sellers, gang members, killers, etc…. If you really want these books, then you are obviously eiter 2 things: 1 – A Horrible person in ones self and needs to be aprehended for your deeds. or 2 – An Officer of the Law that needs to look for things in said books.

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