None of these books should have been proscribed, looking back.So also some of our views on current issues right now.
Whether it’s to join a debate, exercise those First Amendment rights, or get a piece of the scandal, everyone loves – to hate, potentially – a controversial book.
In chronological order, here are fifteen of the most controversial Western books from across the spectrum of scandal. We hope you find yourself intrigued, enlightened, enraged, or some combination thereof.
1. Open and Smut Case
Who: John Cleland
What: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (a.k.a. Fanny Hill)
Why: Explicit sexuality
How: Considered the first erotic novel in the English language, Fanny Hill tells the story of a country girl forced into prostitution in eighteenth-century London. Cleland wrote the book while finishing a sentence in debtors’ prison only to be re-arrested for obscenity after the book’s release.
The novel has been banned, confiscated, and smuggled in countries around the world throughout its 260-year history. Its publication was illegal in the US until a 1966 Supreme Court case ruled that it had redeeming social importance as a work of literature. Since then, no American court has been successful in ruling that a book is obscene.
2. Capital Offensive
Who: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
What: The Communist Manifesto
Why: Challenging capitalism
How: As the book that effectively split the political world in half for the better part of a century, The Communist Manifesto needs little introduction. Marx and Engels’s criticism of (and proposed alternative to) capitalism is more theoretical than practical, barely addressing the real-world possibilities behind the ideology.
Nevertheless, the book set off a chain of events that eventually led to the implementation of communism in four continents and several close calls for global nuclear war. Lest we overlook the tragic irony, the Soviet take on this German manifesto was also used to keep East Germany under lock and key for 40 years.