“”Now, they didn't burn the books, they pulped them, which is more civilized. Also, books don't burn very well actually, I'm told, they're kind of like bricks, but pulping works. And it wasn't just our book that was eliminated, it was all the books published by that publisher.
Book burning is done to express condemnation of the content of certain books (and often also music in the form of LPs or CDs) by piling up the books in question and starting a bonfire with them. It is a symbolic expression of censorship by those who would rather those books be banned outright, but can only do so in a symbolic way. Sometimes book burning is not merely symbolic but a real attempt by a government to remove all copies of books opposed by the government from circulation by destroying them.
The irony is that while burning books is an act of freedom of expression, it is done in opposition to others' use of the same freedoms, and such events are usually viewed as noxious by the general public. The end result is usually negative publicity for those holding the book burning, although publicity of any sort and getting people riled up is probably what they had in mind in the first place.
While in modern times book burning is largely a symbolic act, in centuries past it was a means of completely erasing human knowledge and opinions. Before the printing press, many volumes would have been unique, and burning them would therefore have rendered the contents lost forever.
- The Amazing Grace Baptist Church, a small King James Only believing Independent Baptist church in North Carolina gained international media attention in 2009 for announcing a Halloween book burning of all versions of the Bible other than the King James, plus "Satanic" books by Christian authors like Rick Warren, Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mother Teresa. This brought the idea of book burning into the popular consciousness after a long absence — most people were unaware that burnings still happened, and the shock of the content to be burned was too much.
- The first emperor of China, Qin Shihuangdi, is said to have gathered all of the books (and their authors) that didn't have practical application (literature, history, philosophy, etc.) and had them burned and buried. The accuracy of this story, known as the "burning of books and burying of scholars" or 焚书坑儒, is now widely doubted but there were other book burning events in China.
- The Nazis held large-scale book burnings to destroy all "un-German" or "degenerate" works. See also the degenerate art section in Modern art and architecture.
- Book burnings in Chile were done by the military following the 1973 coup that installed General Pinochet's dictatorship.
- Wilhelm Reich's books were burned in 1956 by court order.
- The ancient Romans burned the entire library of Alexandria, although there are varying accounts of the date and intent of this destruction.
- A church in Gainesville, Florida (one ran by a fan of Wilford "Diabeetus" Brimley's 'stache) gained notoriety when the pastor announced plans to burn the Qur'an on the 9th anniversary of 9/11. When death threats and pleas against the burning from prominent fundies and politicians were lobbed in his direction, he chickened out on holding it… until April 2011, when the church "judged" it and burnt a copy on the barbie. Then, of course, devout Afghan Muslims were whipped into a tizzy over it by shits-for-brains and killed members of a United Nations contingency. Then, of course, Muslim politicians in the Old World called for his execution while Western politicians blamed the old git for the riot deaths.
In popular media
- One quote about book burning comes from the famous Jewish-German poet Heinrich Heine, who wrote in his 1823 play Almansor: A Tragedy a truly prophetic line: "Where they burn books, they'll end up burning people, too" (the line in the play referred to people burning or wanting to burn copies of the Qur'an). About a century later, a certain regime did exactly that. The quote now appears as a memorial inscription at Dachau.
- Several of Jack Chick's comics end with a book burning at a church after a new convert to Christianity renounces his/her former "Satanic" activities, and burns their Dungeons and Dragons materials, Ouija boards, Tarot cards, heavy-metal music, and those filthy romance novels with adultery and bad language.
- In the disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, several survivors camping in the New York Public Library use books as fuel for a campfire to keep from freezing to death. One of the survivors, a librarian, protests this decision, while another survivor suggests that they burn all of the tax books.
- Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451 depicts a future dystopia of hedonism and anti-intellectualism in which books are forbidden. The job=title of "fireman" no longer means a firefighter, but somebody employed to seek out and burn books (with the 451 in the title being the temperature at which book paper catches fire).
- Otis Oracle, a character in the comic Bloom County, is head of the local chapter of the Moral Majority. He holds a book burning which the ever-mischievous Milo Bloom sabotages by bringing some foul and vile Pat Boone records to burn.
In the Bible
- Acts 19:18-20: "And many that believed, came and confessed and shewed their deeds. Many of them also which used curious arts, brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed."
What to bring
- The offensive materials
- Matches and lighter fluid, or other fun pyromaniac instruments
- Fire extinguisher (for when the priest stands too close)
- Chocolate, marshmallows, graham crackers, hot dogs, etc.
- Bible (however, burning the KJV is looked down upon)
- Hymn Book
- Fundamentalist, closed-minded attitude
In the Sikh tradition
The Sikh religion sometimes burns its own holy book by the Guru Granth Sahib (simply the Granth). Sikhs believe the Granth to be an incarnation of their final guru, hence treating it similarly to a living person. In their religion, when a person dies the preferred funeral method is cremation. Hence, when a copy of the Granth becomes unreadable it is considered to have died. Thus, the Granth is burned in a special ceremony. In this case it is more like book cremation rather than book burning.
Burning books as necessity
In order to cut down on stock, libraries sometimes burn books. Although it may be obvious that outdated phone books and other such materials are burned, antiques are sometimes also burned. They cannot simply give the books away in most cases, as any indication of which library the book came from will result in someone trying to return the book down the line.
Outside of libraries, book-burning is necessary for soldiers overseas due to the limited space and lack of return options. Sending them two boxes of your books — instead of, you know, actually useful supplies — in order to self-promote is not recommended.
Instead of burning books
Burning books is wrong. Instead, you should have them taken out and shot. Even though it's cheaper, using Kindles in a book burning is not recommended. Alternatively, recycle your books instead.
- Manufacturing Consent, Delivered at University of Wisconsin — Madison, March 15, 1989
- STLtoday.com - Halloween Book Burning at Baptist Church to Include Copies of the Bible
- The Burning of Books 213 BC
- A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
- The Burning of the Library of Alexandria, eHistory
- A Landover Baptist article
- Original line in German: "Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen."
- Quotes on Intellectual Freedom and Censorship: Book burning International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
- The Guardian — The British Library is destroying thousands of books.
- Huffington Post — Bill O'Reilly Book Burned By Soldiers In Afghanistan
- The shooting of Dianetics. Banks in fact still has the copy in question.
- Of course, lethal injection (say, of a concentrated strong acid or base that will destroy the book's medium) might be considered more humane.