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Book burning (a category of biblioclasm, or book destruction) is the practice of destroying, often ceremoniously, one or more copies of a book or other written material. In modern times, other forms of media, such as phonograph records, video tapes, and CDs have also been ceremoniously burned, torched, or shredded. The practice, usually carried out in public, is generally motivated by moral, religious, or political objections to the material.

Some particular cases of book burning are long and traumatically remembered - because the books destroyed were irreplaceable and their loss constituted a severe damage to cultural heritage, and/or because this instance of book burning has become emblematic of a harsh and oppressive regime. Such were the destruction of the Library of Alexandriamarker, the burning of books and burying of scholars under China's Qin Dynasty, the destruction of Mayan codices by Spanish conquistadors and priests, and in more recent times, Nazi book burnings and the destruction of the Sarajevomarker National Library.

Some particular cases of book burning are the result of unacceptable material according to generally accepted moral, community and or religious standards; for example child pornography.

Historical background

From China's 3rd century BC Qin Dynasty to the present day, the burning of books has a long history as a tool wielded by authorities both secular and religious, in efforts to suppress dissenting or heretical views that are perceived as posing a threat to the prevailing order.

When books are ordered collected by the authorities and disposed of in private, it may not be book burning, strictly speaking — but the destruction of cultural and intellectual heritage is the same.

According to scholar Elaine Pagels, "In AD 367, Athanasius, the zealous bishop of Alexandriamarker… issued an Easter letter in which he demanded that Egyptian monks destroy all such unacceptable writings, except for those he specifically listed as 'acceptable' even 'canonical' — a list that constitutes the present 'New Testament'". Although Pagels cites Athanasius's Paschal letter (letter 39) for 367 AD, there is no order for monks to destroy heretical works contained in that letter.

Thus, heretical texts do not turn up as palimpsests, washed clean and overwritten, as pagan ones do; many early Christian texts have been as thoroughly "lost" as if they had been publicly burnt.

In his 1821 play, Almansor, the German writer Heinrich Heine — referring to the burning of the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an, during the Spanish Inquisition — wrote, "Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings." ("Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.")

One century later, Heine's books were among the thousands of volumes that were torched by the Nazis in Berlin's Opernplatzmarker.

Symbol of the "New York Society for the Suppression of Vice", advocating book-burning
Anthony Comstock's New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, founded in 1873, inscribed book burning on its seal, as a worthy goal to be achieved (see illustration at right). Comstock's total accomplishment in a long and influential career is estimated to have been the destruction of some 15 tons of books, 284,000 pounds of plates for printing such 'objectionable' books, and nearly 4,000,000 pictures. All of this material was defined as "lewd" by Comstock's very broad definition of the term — which he and his associates successfully lobbied the United States Congress to incorporate in the Comstock Law.

The Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451 is about a fictional future society that has institutionalized book burning. In Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the euphemistically-called "memory hole" is used to burn any book or written text which is inconvenient to the regime, and there is mention of "the total destruction of all books published before 1960".

The advent of the digital age has resulted in an immense collection of written work being catalogued exclusively or primarily in digital form. The intentional deletion or removal of these works has been often referred to as a new form of book burning.

This reference is more closely related to the relationship between book burning and censorship than the systematic and categorical elimination of a particular body of literary work. In general, book burning does not refer to individual censorship, but rather to an act of mass censorship, and the term is applied appropriately only when these types of digital cases are suspected to be epidemic or widespread and systemic.

Some supporters have celebrated book burning cases in art and other media. Such is the bas-relief by Giovanni Battista Maini of The Burning of Heretical Books over a side door on the façade of Santa Maria Maggioremarker, Rome, which depicts the burning of 'heretical' books as a triumph of righteousness.

Chronology of notable book burning incidents

Headings indicate the books or libraries burned, with perpetrator and/or location in parentheses.

Chinese philosophy books (by Emperor Qin Shi Huang)

Following the advice of minister Li Si, Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered the burning of all philosophy books and history books from states other than Qin — beginning in 213 BC. This was followed by the live burial of a large number of intellectuals who did not comply with the state dogma.

The damage to Chinese culture was compounded during the revolts which ended the short rule of Qin Er Shi, Qin Shi Huang's son. The imperial palace and state archives were burned, destroying many of the remaining written records that had been spared by the father.

Several other large book burning also occurred in Chinese history.

Protagoras' "On the Gods" (by Athenian authorities)

The Classical Greek philosopher Protagoras was a proponent of agnosticism, writing in a now lost work entitled On the Gods: "Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not or of what sort they may be, because of the obscurity of the subject, and the brevity of human life.According to Diogenes Laertius, the above outspoken Agnostic position taken by Protagoras aroused anger, causing the Athenians to expel him from their city, where the authorities ordered all copies of the book to be collected and burned in the marketplace. The same story is also mentioned by Cicero . However, the Classicist John Burnet doubts this account, as both Diogenes Laertius and Cicero wrote hundreds of years later and no such persecution of Protagoras is mentioned by contemporaries who make extensive references to this philosopher. Burnet notes that even if some copies of Protagoras' book were burned, enough of them survived to be known and discussed in the following century.

Jewish Holy Books (by the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV)

In 168 BC the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV ordered Jewish 'Books of the Law' found in Jerusalemmarker to be 'rent in pieces' and burned (1 Maccabees 1:56) - part of the series of persecutions which precipitated the revolt of the Maccabees.

Roman history book (by the aediles)

In 25 AD Senator Aulus Cremutius Cordus' was forced to commit suicide and his History was burned by the aediles, under the order of the senate. The book's praise of Brutus and Cassius, who had assassinated Julius Caesar, was considered an offence under the lex majestatis. A copy of the book was saved by Cordus' daughter Marcia, and it was published again under Caligula. However, only a few fragments survived to the present.

Torah scroll (by Roman soldier)

Flavius Josephus relates that about the year 50 a Roman soldier seized a Torah-scroll and, with abusive and mocking language, burned it in public. This incident almost brought on a general Jewish revolt against Roman rule, such as broke out two decades later. However, the Roman Procurator Cumanus appeased the Jewish populace by beheading the culprit.

Sorcery scrolls (by early converts to Christianity at Ephesus)

According to the New Testament book of Acts, early converts to Christianity in Ephesusmarker who had previously practiced sorcery burned their scrolls: "A number who had practised sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas." (Acts 19:19, NIV)

Rabbi Haninah ben Teradion burned with a Torah scroll (under Hadrian)

Under the Emperor Hadrian, the teaching of the Jewish Scriptures was forbidden, as in the wake of the Bar Kochva Rebellion the Roman authorities regarded such teaching as seditious and tending towards revolt. Haninah ben Teradion, one of the Jewish Ten Martyrs executed for having defied that ban, is reported to have been burned at the stake together with the forbidden Torah scroll which he had been teaching. According to Jewish tradition, when the flame started to burn himself and the scroll he still managed to say to his pupils: "I see the scrolls burning but the letters fly up in the air" - a saying considered to symbolize the superiority of ideas to brute force. While in the original applying to sacred writings only, 20th Century Israeli writers also quoted this saying in the context of non-religious ideals.

In the same period a Torah scroll was also burned ceremoniously on Jerusalem's Temple Mountmarker, in this case without a human being added.

Burning of the Torah by Apostomus (precise time and circumstances debated)

Among five catastrophes said to have overtaken the Jews on the Seventeenth of Tammuz, the Mishnah includes "the burning of the Torah by Apostomus". Since no further details are given and there are no other references to Apostomus in Jewish or non-Jewish sources, the exact time and circumstances of this traumatic event are debated, historians assigning to it different dates in Jewish history under Seleucid or Roman rule, and it might be identical with one of the events noted above (see Apostomus page).

Epicurus' book (in Paphlagonia)

Established beliefs of Epicurus was burned in a Paphlagonian marketplace by order of the charlatan Alexander, supposed prophet of Ascapius ca 160 (Lucian, Alexander the false prophet)

Egyptian alchemy texts (by Diocletian)

The Egyptian alchemical books of Alexandriamarker were burnt by the emperor Diocletian in 292.

Christian books (by Diocletian)

Christian books by a decree of emperor Diocletian in 303, calling for an increased persecution of Christians.

Books of Arianism (after Council of Nicaea)

The books of Arius and his followers, after the first Council of Nicaea (325), for heresy.

Library of Antioch (by Jovian)

In 364, the Christian Emperor Jovian ordered the entire Library of Antiochmarker to be burnt. It had been heavily stocked by the aid of his non-Christian predecessor, Emperor Julian

The Sibylline Books (by Flavius Stilicho)

The Sibylline Books were burnt by Flavius Stilicho (died 408).

Writings of Priscillian

In 383, the theologian Priscillian of Ávilamarker became the first Christian to be executed by fellow-Christians as a heretic. Some (though not all) of his writings were condemned as heretical and burned. For many centuries they were considered irreversibly lost, but surviving copies were discovered in the 19th century.

Repeated destruction of Alexandria libraries

The library of the Serapeum in Alexandria was trashed, burned and looted, 392, at the decree of Theophilus of Alexandria, who was ordered so by Theodosius I. Around the same time, Hypatia was murdered. One of the largest destructions of books occurred at the Library of Alexandriamarker, traditionally held to be in 640; however, the precise years are unknown as are whether the fires were intentional or accidental.

Etrusca Disciplina

Etrusca Disciplina, the Etruscanmarker books of cult and divination, collected and burned in the 5th century.

Nestorius' books (by Theodosius II)

The books of Nestorius, after an edict of Theodosius II, for heresy (435). The Greek originals of most writings were irevocably destroyed, surviving mainly in Syriac translations.

Qur'anic texts with varying wording (ordered by the 3rd Caliph, Uthman)

Uthman ibn 'Affan, the third Caliph of Islam after Muhammad, who is credited with overseeing the collection of the verses of the Qur'an, ordered the destruction of any other remaining text containing verses of the Quran after the Quran has been fully collected, circa 650. This was done to ensure that the collected and authenticated Quranic copy that Uthman collected became the primary source for others to follow, thereby ensuring the Quran remained authentic. Although the Qur'an had mainly been propagated through oral transmission, it also had already been recorded in at least three codices, most importantly the codex of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud in Kufamarker, and the codex of Ubayy ibn Ka'b in Syriamarker. Sometime between 650 and 656, a committee appointed by Uthman is believed to have produced a singular version in seven copies, and Uthman is said to have "sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered any other Qur'anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt."

Competing prayer books (at Toledo)

After the conquest of Toledo, Spainmarker (1085) by the king of Castile, it was being disputed on whether Iberian Christians should follow the foreign Roman rite or the traditional Mozarabic rite. After other ordeals, it was submitted to the trial by fire: One book for each rite was thrown into a fire. The Toledan book was little damaged after the Roman one was consumed. Henry Jenner comments in the Catholic Encyclopedia: "No one who has seen a Mozarabic manuscript with its extraordinarily solid vellum, will adopt any hypothesis of Divine Interposition here."

Abelard forced to burn his own book (at Soissons)

The provincial synod held at Soissonsmarker (in France) in 1121 condemned the teachings of the famous theologian Peter Abelard as heresy; he was forced to burn his own book before being shut up inside the convent of St. Medard at Soissons.

The writings of Arnold of Brescia (at France and Rome)

The rebellious monk Arnold of Brescia - Abelard's pupil and colleague - refused to abjure his views after they were condemned at the Synod of Sens in 1141, and went on to lead the Commune of Rome in direct opposition to the Pope, until being executed in 1155.The Church ordered the burning of all his writings, which was carried out so thourougly than none of them survives and it is unknown even what they were - except for what can be inferred from polemics against him . Nevertheless, though no written word of Arnold's has survived, his teachings on apostolic poverty continued potent after his death, among "Arnoldists" and more widely among Waldensians and the Spiritual Franciscans.

Nalanda University

The library of Nalandamarker, known as Dharma Gunj (Mountain of Truth) or Dharmagañja (Treasury of Truth), was the most renowned repository of Buddhist knowledge in the world at the time. Its collection was said to comprise hundreds of thousands of volumes, so extensive that it burned for months when set aflame by Muslim invaders in 1193.

Samanid Dynasty Library

The Royal Library of the Samanid Dynasty was burned at the turn of the 11th century during the Turkic invasion from the east. Avicenna was said to have tried to save the precious manuscripts from the fire as the flames engulfed the collection.

Destruction of Cathar texts (Languedoc region of France)

During the 13th century, the Catholic Church waged a brutal campaign against the Cathars of Languedoc (smaller numbers also lived elsewhere in Europe), culminating in the Albigensian Crusade. Nearly every Cathar text that could be found was destroyed, in an effort to completely extirpate their heretical beliefs; only a few are known to have survived.

Maimonides' philosophy (at Montpellier)

In 1233 Maimonides' "Guide for the Perplexed" was burnt at Montpelliermarker, Southern France (see #Medieval burning of Jewish literature).

The Talmud (at Paris), first of many such burnings over the next centuries

In 1242, The French crown burned all Talmud copies in Paris, about 12,000, after the book was "charged" and "found guilty" in the Paris trial sometimes called "the Paris debate". This burnings of Hebrew books were initiated by Pope Gregory IX, who persuaded French King Louis IX to undertake it. He was followed by subsequent popes. The Church and Christian states viewed the Talmud as a book hateful and insulting toward Christ and gentiles. The most ferocious haters of Judaism and Jewish books among them were Innocent IV (1243–1254), Clement IV (1256–1268), John XXII (1316–1334), Paul IV (1555–1559), Pius V (1566–1572) and Clement VIII (1592–1605). They almost succeeded in stamping out Jewish books entirely. Yet Jews continued to pen their holy books, and once the printing press was invented, the Church found it impossible to destroy entire printed editions of the Talmud and other sacred books. Johann Gutenberg, the German who invented the printing press around 1450, certainly helped stamp out the effectiveness of further book burnings. The tolerant (for its time) policies of Venice made it a center for the printing of Jewish books (as of books in general), yet the Talmud was publicly burned in 1553 and there was a lesser known burning of Hebrew book in 1568.

The House of Wisdom library (at Baghdad)

The House of Wisdom was destroyed during the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258, along with all other libraries in Baghdadmarker. It was said that the waters of the Tigrismarker ran black for six months with ink from the enormous quantities of books flung into the river.

Wycliffe's books (at Prague)

In 1410 John Wycliffe's books were burnt by the illiterate Praguemarker archbishop Zbynek Zajic z Házmburka in the court of his palace in Lesser Town of Praguemarker to hinder the spread of Jan Hus's teaching.

Non-Catholic books (by Torquemada)

In the 1480s Tomas Torquemada promoted the burning of non-Catholic literature, especially the Jewish Talmud and also Arabic books after the final defeat of the Moors at Granadamarker in 1492.

Decameron, Ovid and other "lewd" books (by Savonarola)

In 1497, followers of the Italian priest Girolamo Savonarola collected and publicly burned pornography, lewd pictures, pagan books, gaming tables, cosmetics, copies of Boccaccio's Decameron, and all the works of Ovid which could be found in Florencemarker.

Arabic and Hebrew books (at Andalucia)

In 1490 a number of Hebrew Bibles and other Jewish books were burned at the behest of the Spanish Inquisition. In 1499 about 5000 Arabic manuscripts were consumed by flames in the public square at Granada on the orders of Ximénez de Cisneros, Archbishop of Toledo. Many of the poetic works were allegedly destroyed on account of their symbolized homoeroticism. The German Romantic poet Heinrich Heine wrote about this, stating "Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen" (Where they burn books, they will also, in the end, burn humans), a quote written on the monument for the Nazi Book Burnings today.

Tyndale's New Testament (in England)

In October 1526 William Tyndale's English translation of the New Testament was burned in London by Cuthbert Tunstal, Bishop of London. he later died

Servetus's writings (burned with their author at Geneva, and also burned at Vienne)

In 1553, Servetus was burned as a heretic at the order of the city council of Geneva, dominated by Calvin - because a remark in his translation of Ptolemy's Geographia was considered an intolerable heresy. As he was placed on the stake, "around [Servetus'] waist were tied a large bundle of manuscript and a thick octavo printed book", his Christianismi Restitutio. In the same year the Catholic authorities at Viennemarker also burned Servetus in effigy together with whatever of his writings fell into their hands, in token of the fact that Catholics and Protestants - mutually hostile in this time - were united in regarding Servetus as a heretic and seeking to extirpate his works. At the time it was considered that they succeeded, but three copies were later found to have survived, from which all later editions were printed.

"The Historie of Italie" (In England)

"The Historie of Italie" (1549), a scholarly and in itself not particularly controversial book by William Thomas, was in 1554 suppressed and publicly burnt by order of Queen Mary I of England - after its author was executed on charges of treason. Enough copies survived for new editions to be published in 1561 and 1562, after Elizabeth I came to power.

Maya sacred books (by Spanish Bishoph of Yucatan)

July 12, 1562, Fray Diego de Landa, acting Bishop of Yucatan - then recently conquered by the Spanish - threw into the fires the sacred books of the Maya. The number of destroyed books is greatly Landa himself admitted to 27, other sources claim "99 times as many" - the later being disputed as an exaggeration motivated by anti-Spanish feeling, the so-called Black Legend. Only three Maya codices and a frgament of a fourth survive. Approximately 5,000 Maya cult images were also burned at the same time. The burning of books and images alike were part of de Landa's effort to eradicate the Maya "idol worship", which he considered "diabolical". As narrated by de Landa himself, he had gained access to the sacred books, transcribed on deerskin books, by previously gaining the natives' trust and showing a considerable interest in their culture and languague: "We found a large number of books in these characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they (the Maya) regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction." De Landa was later recalled to Spain and accused of having acted illegally in Yucatan, though eventually found not guilty of these charges. Present-day apologists for de Landa assert that, while he had destroyed the Maya books, his own Relación de las cosas de Yucatán is a major source for the Mayan languague and culture. Allen Wells calls his work an “ethnographic masterpiece”, while William J. Folan, Laraine A. Fletcher and Ellen R. Kintz have written that Landa‘s account of Maya social organization and towns before conquest is a “gem.”

"Obscene" Maltese poetry (By the Inquisition)

In 1584 Pasquale Vassallo, a Maltese Dominican friar, wrote a collection of songs, of the kind known as "canczuni", in Italian and Maltese. The poems fell into the hands of other Dominican friars who denounced him for writing "obscene literature". At the order of the Inquisition in 1585 the poems were burned for this allegedly 'obscene' content.

Bernardino de Sahagún's manuscripts on Aztec culture (By Spanish authorities)

The 12-volume work known as the Florentine Codex, result of a decades-long meticulous research conducted by the Fransciscan Bernardino de Sahagún in Mexicomarker, is among the most important sources on Aztec culture and society as they were prior to the Spanish conquest, as well as on the Nahuatl Languague. However, upon Sahagún's return to Europe in 1585, his original manuscripts - including the records of conversations and interviews with indigenous sources in Tlatelolco, Texcocomarker, and Tenochtitlan, and likely to have included much primary material which did not get into the final codex - were confiscated by the Spanish authorities, disappeared irrevocably, and are assumed to have been destroyed. The Florentine Codex itself was for centuries afterwards only known in heavily-censored versions.

Luther's Bible translation

Martin Luther's German translation of the Bible was burned in Catholic-dominated parts of Germany in 1624, by order of the Pope - part of the exacerbation of Catholic-Protestant relations due to the Thirty Years' War, then in its early stages.

Marco Antonio de Dominis' writings (In Rome)

The theoligian and scientist Marco Antonio de Dominis came in 1624 into conflict with the Inquisition in Romemarker and declared "a relapsed heretic". He died in prison, which did not end his trial. On 21 December 1624 his body was burned together with his works .

Books burned by civil, military and ecclesiastical authorities between 1640 and 1660 (England)

Sixty identified printed books, pamphlets and broadsheets, and 3 newsbooks were ordered to be burned during this period.

Quaker books (in Boston)

In 1656 the authorities at Bostonmarker imprisoned the Quaker women preachers Ann Austin and Mary Fisher, who had arrived on a ship from Barbadosmarker. Among other things they were charged with "bringing with them and spreading here sundry books, wherein are contained most corrupt, heretical, and blasphemous doctrines contrary to the truth of the gospel here professed amongst us" as the colonial gazette put it. The books in question, about a hundred, were publicly burned in Boston's Market Square.

Hobbes books (at Oxford University)

In 1683 several books by Thomas Hobbes and other authors were burnt in Oxford University.

Mythical writings of Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (by Rabbis)

During the 1720s rabbis in Italy and Germany ordered the burning of the kabbalist writings of the then young Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. The Messianic messages which Luzzatto claimed to have gotten from a being called "The Maggid" were considered heretical and potentially highly disruptive of the Jewish communties' daily life, and Luzzatto was ordered to cease disseminating them. Though Luzzatto in later life got considerable renown among Jews and his later books were highly esteemed, most of the early writings were considered irrevocably lost until some of them turned up in 1958 in a manuscript preserved in the Library of Oxfordmarker.

Protestant books and Bibles (By Archbishop of Salzburg)

In 1731 Count Leopold Anton von Firmian - Archbishop of Salzburg as well as its temporal ruler - embarked on a savage prosecution of the Lutherans living in the rural regions of Salzburg. As well expelling tens of thousands of Protestant Salzburgers, the Archbishop ordered the wholesale seizure and burning of all Protestant books and Bibles.

The writings of Johann Christian Edelmann (by Imperial authorities in Frankfurt)

In 1750, the Imperial Book Commission of the Holy Roman Empire at Frankfurt/Mainmarker ordered the wholesale burning of the works of Johann Christian Edelmann, a radical disciple of Spinoza who had outraged the Lutheran and Calvinist clergies by his Deism, his championing of sexual freedom and his asserting that Jesus had been a human being and not the Son of God. In addition, Edelmann was also an outspoken opponent of royal absolutism. With Frankfurt's entire magistracy and municipal government in attendance and seventy guards to hold back the crowds, nearly a thousand copies of Edelmann's writings were tossed on to a tower of flaming birch wood. Edelmann himself was granted refuge in Berlin by Friedrich the Great, but on condition that he stop publishing his views .

Anti-Wilhelm Tell tract (at Canton of Uri)

The 1760 tract by Simeon Uriel Freudenberger from Luzernmarker, arguing that Wilhelm Tell was a myth and the acts attributed to him had not happened in reality, was publicly burnt in Altdorfmarker, capital of the Swiss canton of Urimarker — where, according to the legend, William Tell shot the apple from his son's head.

Vernacular Catholic hymn books (at Mainz)

In 1787, an attempt by the Catholic authorities at Mainzmarker to introduce vernacular hymn books encountered strong resistance from conservative Catholics, who refused to abandon the old Latin books and who seized and burned copies of the new German-language books.

Egyptian archaeological finds (threatened burning by French scholars)

Many French scholars accompanied Napoleon's expedition to Egyptmarker in 1799, where they made many important finds. When forced to surrender to the British in 1801, the scholars initially strongly resisted the claim made by the British to have the collections of the expedition handed over. Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire ominously threatened that, were that British demand persisted in, history would record "a second burning of a library in Alexandriamarker". The threat was, however, not carried out, and the finds were finally handed over and ended up in the British Museummarker.

The Code Napoléon (by German Nationalist students)

On October 18, 1817 about 450 students, members of the newly founded German Burschenschaften ("fraternities"), came together at Wartburgmarker Castle to celebrate the German victory over Napoleon two years before, condemn conservatism and call for German unity. The Code Napoléon as well as the writings of German conservatives were ceremoniously burned 'in effigy': instead of the costly volumes, scraps of parchment with the titles of the books were placed on the bonfire. Among these was August von Kotzebue's History of the German Empires. Karl Ludwig Sand, one of the students participating in this gathering, would assassinate Kotzebue two years later.

Early braille books (in Paris)

In 1842, officials at the school for the blind in Paris, France, were ordered by its new director, Armand Dufau, to burn books written in the new braille code. After every braille book at the institute that could be found was burned, supporters of the code's inventor, Louis Braille, rebelled against Dufau by continuing to use the code, and braille was eventually restored at the school.

Library of St. Augustine Academy, Philadelphia (by Anti-Irish rioters)

On May 8, 1844, the Irish St. Augustine Church, Philadelphiamarker was burned down by anti-Irish Nativist rioters (see Philadelphia Nativist Riots). The fire also destroyed the nearby St. Augustine Academy, with many of the rare books in its library - though in this case the arsonists did not specifically target the books, but rather sought to destroy indiscriminately everything belonging to Irish Catholic immigrants.

Edmond Potonie's papers (by French Police)

In 1868 the French police, under Napoleon the Third, seized the extensive papers and Europe-wide correspondence of the Parisian Pacifist and Social Reformer Edmond Potonie. The papers, which might have been of considerable value to historians, have disappeared irrevocaly and are assumed to have been destroyed.

Ivan Bloch's research on Russian Jews (by Tsarist Government)

In 1901 the Russian Council of Ministers banned a five-volume work on the socio-economic conditions of Jews in the Russian Empire, the result of a decade-long comprehensive statistical research commissioned by Ivan Bloch. (It was entitled "Comparison of the material and moral levels in the Western Great-Russian and Polish Regions"). The research's conclusions - that Jewish economic activity was beneficial to the Empire - refuted antisemitic demagoguery and were disliked by the government, which ordered all copies to be seized and burned. Only a few survived, circulating as great rarities.

Leuven University Library (by World War I German Army)

On August 25, 1914, in the early stage of the First World War, the university library of Leuvenmarker, Belgiummarker was destroyed by the German army, using petrol and incendiary pastilles, as part of brutal retaliations for the extensive activity of "francs-tireurs" against the occupying German forces. Among the hundreds of thousands of volumes destroyed were many irreplaceable books, including Gothic and Renaissance manuscripts.

 At the time, this destruction aroused shock and dismay around the world.

Valley of the Squinting Windows (at Delvin, Ireland)

In 1918 the Valley of the Squinting Windows in Delvinmarker, Ireland. The book criticised the village's inhabitants for being overly concerned with their image towards neighbours.

Irish National Archives (in Civil War)

At the culmination of the April 1922 fighting in and around the Four Courtsmarker in Dublin, as the Republican forces hitherto barricaded in the building were surrendering, the west wing was obliterated in a huge explosion, destroying the Irish Public Record Office located at the rear, with nearly one thousand years of irreplaceable archives being destroyed. Responsibility for this act was bitterly debated for years afterwards, the government accusing the Republicans of having deliberately perpetrated the destruction of the archives while they rebutted that it was completely accidental.

Jewish, anti-Nazi and "degenerate" books (by the Nazis)

In 1933, Nazis burned works of Jewish authors, and other works considered "un-German", at the library of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft in Berlin.
The works of some Jewish authors and other so-called "degenerate" books were burnt by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. Richard Euringer, director of the libraries in Essenmarker, identified 18,000 works deemed not to correspond with Nazi ideology, which were publicly burned.

On May 10, 1933 on the Opernplatz in Berlin, S.A.marker and Nazi youth groups burned around 20,000 books from the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft and the Humboldt Universitymarker; including works by Vicki Baum, Bertolt Brecht,Heinrich Heine, Helen Keller, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx, Erich Maria Remarque, Frank Wedekind, and H.G. Wells. Student groups throughout Germany also carried out their own book burnings on that day and in the following weeks. Erich Kästner wrote an ironic account (published only after the fall of Nazism) of having witnessed the burning of his own books on that occasion.

In May 1995, Micha Ullman's underground “Bibliotek” memorial was inaugurated on Bebelplatz square in Berlin, where the Nazi book burnings began. The memorial consists of a window on the surface of the plaza, under which vacant bookshelves are lit and visible. A bronze plaque bears a quote by Heinrich Heine: “Where books are burned in the end people will burn.”

Theodore Dreiser's works (at Warsaw, Indiana)

Trustees of Warsaw, Indianamarker ordered the burning of all the library's works by local author Theodore Dreiser in 1935.

Pompeu Fabra's library (by Spanish troops)

In 1939, shortly after the surrendering of Barcelonamarker, Franco's troops burned the entire library of Pompeu Fabra, the main author of the normative reform of contemporary Catalan language, while shouting "¡Abajo la inteligencia!" (Down with intelligence!)..

André Malraux's manuscript (by the Gestapo)

During the Second World War the French writer and anti-Nazi resistance fighter André Malraux worked on a long novel, The Struggle Against the Angel, the manuscript of which was destroyed by the Gestapo upon his capture in 1944. The name was apparently inspired by the Jacob story in the Bible. A surviving opening part named The Walnut Trees of Altenburg, was published after the war.

Załuski Library at Warsaw, Poland (during suppression of anti-Nazi uprising)

During the Nazi suppression of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 the Załuski Library - oldest public library in Polandmarker and one of the oldest and most important libraries in Europe - was burned down. Out of about 400,000 printed items, maps and manuscripts, only some 1800 manuscripts and 30,000 printed materials survived. Unlike earlier Nazi book burnings where specific books were deliberately targeted, the burning of this library was part of the general setting on fire of a large part of the city of Warsaw.

Books in Kurdish (in north Iran)

Following the suppression of the pro-Soviet Kurdish Republic of Mahabadmarker in north Iranmarker in December 1946 and January 1947, members of the victorious Iranian Army burned all Kurdish-language books that they could find, as well as closing down the Kurdish printing press and banning the teaching of Kurdish.

Comic book burnings, 1948

In 1948, children — overseen by priests, teachers, and parents — publicly burned several hundred comic books in both Spencer, West Virginiamarker, and Binghamton, New Yorkmarker. Once these stories were picked up by the national press wire services, similar events followed in many other cities.

Judaica collection at Birobidzhan (by Stalin)

As part of Joseph Stalin's efforts to stamp out Jewish culture in the Soviet Union in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Judaica collection in the library of Birobidzhanmarker, capital of the Jewish Autonomous Oblastmarker on the Chinese border, was burned.

Communist and "fellow traveller" books (by Senator McCarthy)

In 1953 United States Senator Joseph McCarthy recited before his subcommittee and the press a list of supposedly pro-communist authors whose works his aide Roy Cohn found in the State Departmentmarker libraries in Europe. The Eisenhower State Department bowed to McCarthy and ordered its overseas librarians to remove from their shelves "material by any controversial persons, Communists, fellow travelers, etc." Some libraries burned the newly-forbidden books. President Dwight D. Eisenhower initially agreed that the State Department should dispose of books advocating communism: "I see no reason for the federal government to be supporting something that advocated its own destruction. That seems to be the acme of silliness." However, at Dartmouth Collegemarker in June 1953, Eisenhower urged Americans concerning libraries: "Don't join the book burners. Don't be afraid to go in your library and read every book…."

Wilhelm Reich's publications (by U.S. Food and Drug Administration)

Noted psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich was prosecuted in 1954, following an investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in connection with his use of orgone accumulators. Reich refused to defend himself, and a federal judge ordered all of his orgone energy equipment and publications to be seized and destroyed. In June 1956, federal agents burned many of the books at Reich's estate near Rangeley, Mainemarker. Later that year, and in March 1960, an additional 6 tons of Reich's books, journals and papers were burned in a public incinerator in New York. Reich died of heart failure while in federal prison in November 1957.

Burning of Jaffna library

In May 1981 a mob composed of thugs and plainclothes police officers went on a rampage in minority Tamil-dominated northern Jaffnamarker, Sri Lankamarker, and burned down the Jaffna Public Library. At least 95,000 volumes — the second largest library collection in South Asia — were destroyed, including a very rare collection of ancient palm leaf volumes.

The Satanic Verses (in the United Kingdom)

The 1988 publication of the novel The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie, provoked angry demonstrations and riots around the world by followers of political Islam, some of whom considered it blasphemous. In the United Kingdom, book burnings were staged in the cities of Boltonmarker and Bradfordmarker. In addition, five U.K. bookstores selling the novel were the target of bombings, and two bookstores in Berkeley, Californiamarker were firebombed.

Abkhazian Research Institute of History, Language and Literature & National Library of Abkhazia (by Georgian Troops)

Georgian troops entered Abkhaziamarker on 14 August 1992, sparking a 14-month war. At the end of October, the Abkhazian Research Institute of History, Language and Literature named after Dmitry Gulia, which housed an important library and archive, was torched by the invaders; also targeted was the capital's public library. It seems to have been a deliberate attempt by the Georgian paramilitary soldiers to wipe out the region's historical record.

Books "contrary to the teachings of God" (at Grande Cache, Alberta)

In the 1990s congregants of the Full Gospel Assembly in Grande Cachemarker, Albertamarker, Canada burned books with ideas in them that they did not agree with, or that they deemed to contain ideas contrary to the teachings of God.

Abu Nuwas poetry (by Egyptian Ministry of Culture)

In January 2001, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture ordered the burning of some 6,000 books of homoerotic poetry by the well-known 8th Century Persian-Arab poet Abu Nuwas, even though his writings are considered classics of Arab literature .

Books of Falun Dafa teachings

According to a 2004 UN report, the Chinese government seized and publicly destroyed hundreds of thousands of Falun Dafa books and materials as part of its anti-Falun Gong campaign.

Harry Potter books (in various American cities)

There have been several incidents of Harry Potter books being burned, including those directed by churches at Alamogordomarker, New Mexicomarker and Charleston, South Carolinamarker. See Controversy over Harry Potter.

Cuba book burning

Cuba has burned books and publications, such as copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Iraq's national library, Baghdad 2003

Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Iraq's national library and the Islamic library in central Baghdadmarker were burned and destroyed. The national library housed rare volumes and documents from as far back as the 16th century, including entire royal court records and files from the period when Iraqmarker was part of the Ottoman Empire. The destroyed Islamic library of Baghdad included one of the oldest surviving copies of the Qur'an.

Inventory of Prospero's Books (by proprietors Tom Wayne and W.E. Leathem)

On May 27, 2007, Tom Wayne and W.E. Leathem, the proprietors of Prospero's Books, a used book store in Kansas City, Missourimarker, publicly burned a portion of their inventory to protest what they perceived as society's increasing indifference to the printed word. The protest was interrupted by the Kansas City Fire Department on the grounds that Wayne and Leathem had failed to obtain the required permits.

New Testaments in city of Or Yehuda, Israel

In May 2008, a "fairly large" number of New Testaments were burned in Or Yehudamarker, Israelmarker. Conflicting accounts have the deputy mayor of Or Yehuda, Uzi Aharon (of Haredi party Shas), claiming to have organized the burnings or to have stopped them. He admitted involvement in collecting New Testaments and "Messianic propaganda" that had been distributed in the city. The burning apparently violated Israeli laws about destroying religious items.

For a different motive: Guru Granth Sahib

An example of ceremonial book burning with a completely different motive is that, in the Sikh religion, any copies of their sacred book Guru Granth Sahib which are too badly damaged to be used, and any printer's waste which has any of its text on, are cremated with a similar ceremony as cremating a deceased man. Such burning is called Agan Bhet. (For similar reasons, observant Jews bury damaged Torah scrolls and hold for them a funeral similar to that for a human being.)

Big unintended burnings

Old St Paul's Cathedral, London, 1666

In 1666, as the Great Fire of Londonmarker advanced, many booksellers who had stores in London put their books in Old St Paul's Cathedralmarker's stone-lined crypt for safety. But as the cathedral burned falling heavy masonry broke through into the crypt and let the fire in and all the books burned. A contemporary description said that was the biggest burning of books since the burning of the Alexandria Library.

In literature and film

  • Prior to his death, Franz Kafka wrote to his friend and literary executor Max Brod: "Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me ... in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others'), sketches, and so on, [is] to be burned unread." Brod overrode Kafka's wishes, believing that Kafka had given these directions to him specifically because Kafka knew he would not honor them — Brod had told him as much. Had Brod carried out Kafka's instructions, virtually the whole of Kafka's work - except for a few short stories published in his lifetime - would have been lost forever. Most critics, at the time and up to the present, justify Brod's decision.
  • In his autobiography, Soviet writer Ilya Ehrenburg recounted how during a severe winter in his childhood his family burned books from a village library for heating, but the young Ehrenburg was allowed to read some of them before they were thrown into the fire.
  • A much-quoted line in Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita is "manuscripts don't burn" ( ). "The Master", a major protagonist in the book, is a writer who is plagued by both his own mental problems and the oppression of Stalin's regime in 1930s Moscow. He burns his treasured manuscript in an effort to hide it from the Soviet authorities and cleanse his own mind from the troubles the work has brought him. The character Woland (a mysterious magician who is in fact Satan) later gives the manuscript back to him, saying, "Didn't you know that manuscripts don't burn?" There is an autobiographical element reflected in the Master's character here, as Bulgakov in fact burned an early copy of The Master and Margarita for much the same reasons.
  • Carlo Goldoni in known to have burned his first play, a tragedy called Amalasunta, when encountering unfavorable criticism.
  • The notable Hassidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov is reported to have written a book which he himself burned in 1808. His followers, up to the present, mourn "The Burned Book" and seek in their Rabbi's surviving writings for clues as to what the lost volume contained and why was it destroyed (see [23528]).
  • The short story "Earth's Holocaust" from Nathaniel Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse, is about about a society that burns everything that it finds offensive, including its literature.
  • The first part of Don Quixote has a scene in which the priest and the housekeeper of the eponymous knight go through the chivalry books that have turned him mad. In a kind of auto de fe, they burn most of them. The comments of the priest express the literary tastes of the author, though he offers some sharp criticisms of Cervantes' works as well. It is notable that he saves Tirant lo Blanc.
  • In Part II of the play Tamburlaine, by Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine (the protagonist) burns a copy of the Qur'an after having conquered Asia Minormarker and Egyptmarker. His book-burning and declaration of independence from any deity leads to his fatal illness, and subsequently the end of the play.
  • In the introduction of the 1967 Simon and Schuster book club edition of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury implies that the Nazi book burnings drove him to write the short story "The Fireman" which was the precursor along with the foundation for his novel Fahrenheit 451 (451 °F being the temperature at which paper autoignites), stating, "It follows then that when Hitler burned a book I felt it as keenly, please forgive me, as his killing a human, for in the long sum of history they are one and the same flesh."
  • In one episode of The Simpsons, Lisa Simpson sees a bookmobile being driven by Reverend Lovejoy, however the letters behind a tree reveal that it actually reads Book-Burning-Mobile.
  • In Anne of Green Gables, Anne watches in horror as her caretaker burns her book containing the poem "Lady of Shallot" as punishment for reading instead of doing her chores.
  • In one episode of Fullmetal Alchemist, in order to prevent Edward from getting information on the Philosopher's Stone, the homunculi burn down one section of the library.
  • In the Myst series of computer games and books, the only way to destroy the link to an Age is to destroy its Descriptive Book, usually by burning it.
  • In the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones journeys to Berlin in order to retrieve his father's diary, which gives information about finding the Holy Grail. He retrieves it during a Nazi book burning rally (although it was not targeted for burning itself), where it is inadvertently signed by Hitler himself. At another point, his father makes a comment to a Nazi interrogator: "Goose-Stepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them."
  • In the film Pleasantville, the people who are still black-and-white burn all the books in the library to keep people from becoming colored.
  • In the future depicted in Brian Stableford's "The Halcyon Drift", one of the leading planets in the Galaxy is "New Alexandria", whose inhabitants are dedicated to the preservation and extension of knowledge, and are brought up to regard the destruction of books as the most heinous of deeds. Nevertheless, a protagonist agrees to help the Khor-Monsa, an alien species, in destroying books and records of their remote ancestors which were found in a drifting spaceship - since the books contained a shameful secret whose publication might have led to the present Khor-Monsa losing their social status and becoming targets of discrimination.
  • At the conclusion of the novel "Auto da Fe" by Nobel-Prize winner Elias Canetti, the bibliophile protagonist immolates himself on a pile of his own library.
  • In an episode of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, the townspeople burn some of the books from Dr. Quinn's library.
  • The Crusade episode "The Needs of Earth" depicts a world that has burned its entire cultural heritage — all art, music, and literature — and hunts the person who has the last remaining copies.
  • The 2002 film Equilibrium depicts a dystopian society which has eliminated human emotion, and burned all cultural influences that can cause emotion.
  • In the 2004 film The Day after Tomorrow, to avoid freezing to death, the main character suggests burning books to survive, much to the horror of two librarians, with the main characters choosing to avoid the wooden furniture, which would have burned hotter and longer, for plot reasons.
  • In the Family Guy episode "Not All Dogs Go to Heaven", Meg takes Brian to the church to burn books on science and evolution, citing them as "harmful to God".
  • The Japanese novel Toshokan Sensou is about the conflict between two military organizations after the Japanese government passed a law in which allows the censorship of any media deemed to be potentially harmful to Japanese society, including book burning.
  • In a key scene of the film "Der alte und der junge König"(The Old and the Young King), a German Historical film made under Nazi rule in 1935, King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Pussia is shown throwing into an open fire the beloved French-language books of his son, Crown Prince Friedrich (the future Friedrich II), as well as the Prince's flute. The film - banned after the fall of the Nazis as a piece of propaganda making manipulative use of history - presents this book burning as a positive and necessary act, which was needed in order to "educate" and "toughen up" the young prince, so as to "prepare him for becoming a great ruler".

See also

External links


  1. NPNF2-04. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters
  2. Noted in Touring Club Italiano, Roma e Dintorni 1965:344.
  3. * Jing Liao, A historical perspective : the root cause for the underdevelopment of user services in Chinese academic libraries, The Journal of Academic Librarianship, vol.30, num. 2, pages 109–115, march 2004.
  4. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Protagoras (c. 490 - c. 420 BCE), Accessed: October 6, 2008.
  5. Cicero, de Natura Deorum, 1.23.6
  6. John Burnet, "Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Plato", 1914
  7. "Ant." xx. 5, § 4; "B. J." ii. 12, § 2.
  8. Curious arts (WebBible Encyclopedia) - ChristianAnswers.Net
  9. Ta'anit iv. 6.
  10. Michael von Albrecht, and Gareth L. Schmeling, A history of Roman literature (1997), page 1744
  11. The Alexandrian Library"
  12. " Caliph Omar"
  13. Volume 6, Book 61, Number 510
  14. Mozarabic Rite, by Henry Jenner in the Catholic Encyclopedia.
  15. Arnold's life depends for its sources on Otto of Freising and a chapter in John of Salisbury's Historia Pontificalis.
  16. The Story of Early Indian Civilization by Gertrude Emerson Sen. Orient Longmans: 1964
  17. The Spanish Inquisition, Henry Kelsea, London, White Lion, 1965, p.98
  18. Eastern Wisdome and Learninge. The Study of Arabic in Seventeenth-Century England, G.J. Toomer, Oxford, 1996, p.17
  19. In Praise of Boys: Moorish Poems from Al-Andalus, Erskine Lane, 1975
  20. Dictionary of National Biography, volume LVI (1898), scanned volume from Internet Archive.
  21. Baldwin, Neil: Legends of the Plumed Serpent: Biography of a Mexican God, HarperCollins Canada, 1998 ISBN 978-1891620034
  22. Clendinnen, Inga. Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517–1570. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 69-70.
  23. Roys, Ralph L. Review of Landa's Relacion De Las Cosas De Yucatan: A Translation by Alfred M. Tozzer, by Alred M. Tozzer. The American Historical Review (October, 1943): 133.
  24. Clendinnen,70
  25. Wells, Allen. “Forgotten Chapters of Yucatán's Past: Nineteenth-Century Politics in Historiographical Perspective.” Mexican Studies / Estudios Mexicanos (1996): 201.
  26. Folan, William J. and Fletcher, Laraine A. “Fruit, Fiber, Bark, and Resin: Social Organization of a Maya Urban Center.” Science (1979): 697.
  27. Maltese Languague Academy on landmarks in the languague's developement
  28. See A. Hessayon, «Incendiary texts: book burning in England, c.1640 – c.1660», Cromohs, 12 (2007): 1-25, [1].
  29. Christopehr Clark, "The Iron Kingdom" (London, 2006), pp. 254–5.
  30. Tim Balnning, The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648–1815, Penguin, 2007, p.388
  31. Recognition of the Braille Code, American Foundation for the Blind
  32. "Patriotic pacifism: waging war on war in Europe, 1815–1914" by Sandi E. Cooper, Chapter 2, p. 32 [2]
  33. Jennifer A. Jordan. Structures of memory: understanding urban change in Berlin and beyond, Stanford University Press, 2006. P. 103. ISBN 080475277X
  34. Edward Rothstein. In Berlin, Teaching Germany’s Jewish History, The New York Times, May 1, 2009
  35. ALA | 20th Century
  36. Sami Moubayed, "Roots of the Kurdish struggle run deep" in Asia Times online (Middle East Section), Nov 3, 2007 [3]
  37. Hajdu, David. 2008. The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pp.114–125
  38. The Wilhelm Reich Museum: The burning of Reich's Publications
  39. Abkhazia: Cultural Tragedy Revisited, Caucasus Reporting Service, Institute for War and Peace Reporting
  40. Al-Hayat, January 13, 2001
  41. Middle East Report, 219 Summer 2001
  42. "China's Rule of Law"
  43. Harry Potter And The Ministry Of Fire -
  44. BBC NEWS | World | Middle East | Prized Iraqi annals lost in blaze
  45. [4]
  46. Mark Bixler, " Hundreds of New Testaments torched in Israel", CNN (May 28, 2008).
  47. Quoted in Publisher's Note to The Castle, Schocken Books.

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