65 Banned or Challenged Books that Shaped America

Writer and philosopher Voltaire once said, “Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.” Sounds simple but at what point does someone else’s thinking or ideas become subversive? Where does one draw the line? Who gets to decide?

For the past 40 plus years, Half Price Books has strived to uphold co-founder Ken Gjemre’s direction; “We don’t let others, or ourselves, determine what our customers should read.” So every year we celebrate Banned Books Awareness Week to celebrate our First Amendment rights which enable us to write, speak, publish and read freely. We acknowledge authors and their work which have caused controversy. And you might be surprised about which books are stirring things up.

The number one challenged book in 2013 reported by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom is (brace yourself)… Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey.

Yep. Captain Underpants. Sounds silly, but over the years there have been many challenged books that have had a profound influence on American culture. Some of these banned or challenged books have shaped America. Below is the Half Price Books list of 65 Best Banned or Challenged Books Across the Decades, many of which you can find on our shelves.

(1) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (2) The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X & Alex Haley (3) Beloved by Toni Morrison (4) Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (5) The Call of the Wild by Jack London (6) Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (7) The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (8) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (9) For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (10) Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (11) The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (12) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (13) Howl by Allen Ginsberg (14) In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (15) Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (16) The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (17) Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (18) Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (19) Native Son by Richard Wright (20) The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (21) The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (22) The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

(23) Sexual Behavior in the Human Male by Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey (24) Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (25) A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams (26) Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (27) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (28) Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (29) Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (30) The Words of Cesar Chavez by Cesar Chavez (31) 1984 by George Orwell (32) The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (33) The Color Purple by Alice Walker (34) Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (35) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (36) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (37) And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (38) Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden (39) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (40) The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (41) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (42) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (43) Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

(44) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (45) The Giver by Lois Lowry (46) The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (47) The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (48) The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (49) Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (50) Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya (51) SlaughterHouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (52) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (53) Lord of the Flies by William Golding (54) The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (55) Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (56) Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson (57) My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier (58) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (59) Go Ask Alice by Anonymous (60) Ulysses by James Joyce (61) As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (62) The Awakening by Kate Chopin (63) Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (64) Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (65) The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (66) Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich


What book do you think shaped American life and culture? Or perhaps just your own?

Join Half Price Books as we celebrate our First Amendment rights during Banned Books Awareness Week, September 28 – October 5.

Susan is Production Assistant at Half Price Books Corporate.

3 thoughts on “65 Banned or Challenged Books that Shaped America

  1. Pingback: 65 Banned or Challenged Books that Shaped America | poetry from the frontera

  2. Of them all, “To Kill A . Mockingbird” had the most profound effect upon me. When I read it and then saw the film, I was just becoming interested in the civil rights issue.

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