Time and again, in a bid to present the content of their fiction or non-fiction in the most realistic way possible – to ascertain that all visible aspects of life are depicted in prospect, authors end up writing books that fuel the flame of controversy. Any piece of literature that revolves around excessive use of violence, graphic sexuality, extreme political or racist views and other likewise troubling content is always bound to raise some noise. Such books sometimes garner so much attention that calls are made to ban them. But in defence of such controversial books is the fact that they challenge the conventional view of readers on various matters. They push the readers to grasp things that go beyond the routine that we are habituated to, they help the readers to push their perception to new levels. Here is a list of top 10 controversial books to have ever been published. For obvious reasons, we are not keeping books considered testaments to religion like the Bible and Quran in this list.
10. Atlas Shrugged
Author – Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff
Year of Publication – 1957
When Ayn Rand completed Atlas Shrugged, her fourth and last novel, she considered it to be her magnum opus in the realm of fiction writing. A plot which revolves around post-economic collapse United States where nation’s wealthiest entrepreneurs and businessmen disappear to everything in chaos, and remind the government how much it needs pure capitalism and the men and women who drive it. Over the years, Atlas Shrugged has attracted an energetic and committed fan base. But the same cannot be said of the reception it garnered from a number of critics at the time of its release back in 1957.
The gist that this esteemed novel presented was doubtlessly too forward and a few decades too ahead of its time when it came out. So much so that Los Angeles Times critic Robert R. Kirsch called it the worst piece of large fiction written since Miss Rand’s equally weighty ‘The Fountainhead’. When a book reflects a message that says the world is best served when individuals act entirely in their own rational self-interest, controversy is all but inevitable.
9. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Author – Mark Twain
Year of Publication – 1884
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is undoubtedly one of most commonly named novels among great American novels. A direct sequel to ‘The adventures of Tom Sawyer’, it is a story told in first person by Huckleberry ‘Huck’ Finn. Despite being popular, Huckleberry Finn also notoriously makes the most frequent appearance in banned-from-school-library books, especially in the United States.
Why exactly? Because of the frequent use of racial slur “nigger” throughout the book. Yes, at the time Mark Twain wrote the book, use of this word was fairly common, but things are much different today. Now that racism in itself is a very sensible topic, horrified parents can’t get over the thought of their children reading the word “nigger” several hundred times throughout the book. The presence of black students in classrooms at schools, and the empowerment of blacks to protest led to Huck Finn’s greatest struggle with censorship and banning.
8. Catcher in the Rye
Author – J.D. Salinger
Year of Publication – 1951
This 1951 novel by J.D Salinger was originally published with adult readers in mind, but ever since, it has become equally popular with adolescents, which has more to do with its theme of teenage angst and alienation. Catcher in the rye has been receiving a humungous amount of applause and fan following – the protagonist Holden Caulfield has become a icon for teenage rebellion. But again, the context and purpose of the book has also garnered alike controversies ever since its publication.
The psychological battles of Holden Caulfield serve as main basis for arguments for its controversies. Caulfield’s self-destruction over a period of days forces one to contemplate society’s attitude towards the human condition. The challenges generally begin with Holden’s frequent use of vulgar language, a lot of sexual references, blasphemy, a great deal of smoking and drinking, and other factors in the context. The portrayal has been so disputed but yet so close to the realism of human nature that Catcher in the Rye is one of the most banned and at the sametime, one of the most assigned novels in schools and colleges.
7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Author – Stephen Chbosky
Year of Publication – 1999
Published 15 years ago, this coming of age epistolary novel written by American novelist Stephen Chbosky spent over a year in the New Year Times Best Seller List and has been translated in more than 30 languages. Set in 1990, the story is centered around a teenage narrator who describes his various life experiences through a series of letter to an anonymous stranger.
What sparked widespread controversy, especially among parents who tend to keep a track of what their children read at schools, is the presence of mature material including abortion, repressed memories of sexual abuse, and homosexual content. Furthermore, repeated narration of drinking, use of drug and other like activities has led this book being in the list of 10 most frequently challenged books, the book being challenged 5 times in the past decade alone.
6. The God Delusion
Author – Richard Dawkins
Year of Publication – 2006
Doubtlessly, it is the most famous and also the most controversial book by Dr. Richard Dawkins to date. Atheist ardently support it, theist denounce it at every chance they get, and the rest, well there are very few of them in the middle. Dr. Dawkins is one of the most divisive figures in the evolution vs creationism debate mainly because his position tends to be offensive to believers. His position is that religion, and people who believe in God, do more harm than good.
Dr. Dawkins calls the concept of religion a mere delusion. He also contradicts the presence of the Almighty – a common notion in every religion, by giving some strong arguments saying there is no god, and there has never been. Now obviously, any book with such strong anti-religion message will doubtlessly ring some bells among the religious fraternities throughout the world. And this book has been doing so ever since its publication.
5. Brave New World
Author – Aldous Huxley
Year of Publication – 1932
This book set in the futuristic London of the year 2540 AD depicts the developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation and other factors that combine to bring a profound change in the future society. Although the set up is in the future, it does deal with contemporary issues of 20th century.
The novel depicts drugs, sexuality, and suicide and reveals Huxley’s disdain for the culture of United States. It explores the loss of identity and increases of division in the society to a devastating effect. Initially, Ireland pulled it off the shelves for the controversial themes on childbirth, and not much later, several states in the US also tried to get it removed from school curriculums.
4. American Psycho
Author – Bret Easton Ellis
Year of Publication – 1991
In this 1991 classic, Bret Easton Ellis imaginatively explores the incomprehensible depths of madness and captures the insanity of violence in our time or any other. What starts off as a mere retelling of Patrick Bateman’s living experiences in an affluent part of New York City in the 1980s. The book’s graphic violence and sexual content generated a great deal of controversy before and after publication.
When a publisher backs out of a book stating that it was an error of judgement to their name on a book of such questionable taste, the book is always bound to stir some controversy. The horrors of torture and murder portrayed in the book are so graphical that it was deemed ‘harmful to minors’ in countries like Germany, Australia and New Zealand. The book wasn’t published in hardcover in United States until 2012. The author received numerous death threats and hate mail after the publication of American psycho.
3. The Communist Manifesto
Author – Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels
Year of Publication – 1848
Possibly the most influential political manuscript in the world, the Communist Manifesto, originally titled Manifesto of the Communist Party, is a short publication written by popular political theorists, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848. The book is entirely revolved around the gist that all of humanity’s strife, from the beginning of our history to now, has been over class struggles.
To create an equal and utopian society, the books suggests abolishing the division created by classes is a must. It suggests a government where everyone from the highest to the lowest of post gets the same pay, the same facilities, the same car, the same house, basically the same everything. In theory, it sounds probable at times, but in reality, it can never work that way. Because it is the human nature to want more, to work for more.
2. Satanic Verses
Author – Salman Rushdie
Year of Publication – 1988
Published in 1988 and inspired in part by the life of Prophet Muhammad, this was Salman Rushdie’s fourth novel. The books tells the story of two protagonists – Faristha and Chamcha, both of whom magically survive plane crash, but there lives take them to opposite ways after the incident. In a miraculous transformation, Farishta takes on the personality of the archangel Gibreel, and Chamcha that of a devil.
Enough though the book was well received in the western community – being the 1988 Booker prize finalist, a major controversy ensued among the muslim community as they
accused the book for blasphemy and mocking the Islamic Faith. This outrage led to the infamous Rushdie Affair – with fatwa being called for Rushdie’s death by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran, on 14 February 1989. Then on many failed attempts were made on Rushdie’s life, and also on other individuals connected to the book such as translator Hitoshi Igarashi who was killed in one of such attacks.
Author – Vladimir Naboko
Year of Publication – 1955
Published in 1955 in Paris and in 1958 in New York, Lolita created a huge stir among the reader at the time of its release, and has been doing so to this day. Considering the plot in which the protagonist, a 37 year old literature professor Humbert Humbert, is obsessed with the 12 year old Dolores Haze, with whom he becomes sexually involved after he becomes her stepfather.
A storyline brimming with such explicit sexual content – controversy around the book was always on the cards. First of all, the manuscript was turned down by at least 5 major publications. The book is equally hailed by a select part of critics, giving it a cult status among the 20th century novels, and also heavily criticized for the adult and disturbing content. In one of its earliest reviews, Sunday Express Editor John Gordon called it the filthiest book he had ever read.
Final Conclusion: Books do have power to change the world, it does not restrain itself a mere cliche all the time. And at times, we come around books, which like the ones listed here, are really capable of bringing about some potent change, be it political, or behavioral, or to merely make us realize we have been looking at things a different way. And this sparks a movement, where such books are burnt and campaigns are made to ban them, because people fear the messages those books can give. But again, this is exactly why you should read them. Only in rarest of cases can a book really bring about some unnecessary harm. And in rest of the cases, the issues against a book are nothing else but whimsical – well, some people have opposed the Harry Potter books on the grounds that they inspire children into occult!
Pawan is a budding programmer who loves to write about anything he finds interesting. He is a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and loves reading spy novels in his leisure time.