Book burning

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A good old fashioned book burning. Nazi style
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.
Noam Chomsky[1]

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.


Lookee ma! We're havin' us a good ol' fashion'd buk burnin'!!
  • The Nazis held large-scale book burnings in the 1930s to destroy all "un-German" or "degenerate" works.[4] See also the degenerate art section in Modern art and architecture. In a 1935, a New York Times editorial decried the Nazi book burnings, noting that the books were burnt because they were critical of the government whereas the concurrent book burnings of allegedly obscene literature in New York City were done so to guard "public morals".[5][6] What the editorial did not say was that the Nazi burnings were also justified under the guise of public morals.[5]
Burning left-wing books during the early days of the Chilean military regime
  • Book burnings in Chile were done by the military following the 1973 coup that installed General Pinochet's dictatorship.
    • Ariel Dorfman co-authored with Armand Mattelart the book Para Leer al Pato Donald in 1972,[7] an anti-Disney and anti-American imperialism comic book that replaced captions in Donald Duck comics with scathing analysis. Dorfman worked in the government during the presidency of Salvador Allende (1970-1973). After the military coup, Dorfman was able to escape to a safe house. They immediately turned on the TV where they saw a live broadcast of a book burning by the military. Dorfman was shocked that there would still be book burnings after the Nazis, but even more shocking he saw his own book being burned. Dorfman believes he may be the first person to have seen his own book being burned on live TV.[8][9][note 1]
    • More tragicomically, the dumb-as-bricks Chilean soldiers even burned books on Cubism because they thought it had something to do with the Cuban Revolution.[11]
  • The ancient Romans burned the entire library of Alexandria, although there are varying accounts of the date and intent of this destruction.[12]
  • A church in Gainesville, Florida ("Dove World Outreach Center") gained notoriety when the pastor, Terry Jones, 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[edit]

  • 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"[14] (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.[15]
  • 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[edit]

Papists burning Martin Luther's works (16th century)
See the main article on this topic: 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[edit]

  • 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[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Sikhism

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.[16] In this case it is more like book cremation rather than book burning.

Burning books as necessity[edit]

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.[17]

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.[18]

Instead of burning books[edit]

Stop book burning (1942).

Burning books is wrong. Instead, you should have them taken out and shot.[19] Banks in fact still has the copy in question. [note 2] Even though it's cheaper, using Kindles in a book burning is not recommended.[20] Alternatively, recycle your books instead.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. The English-translation of Para Leer al Pato Donald, called How to Read Donald Duck],[10] became a test case for the fair use principle of copyright law when a shipment of the books from the UK to the US was seized by customs. The authors prevailed over Disney, but only 1500 copies were allowed to be imported due to an arcane 19th century law.[8][9]
  2. Of course, lethal injection (say, of a concentrated strong acid or base that will destroy the book's medium) might be considered more humane.


  1. Manufacturing Consent, Delivered at University of Wisconsin — Madison, March 15, 1989
  2. - Halloween Book Burning at Baptist Church to Include Copies of the Bible
  3. The Burning of Books 213 BC
  4. A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
  5. 5.0 5.1 Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica, 1920-1940 by Jay A. Gertzman (2011) University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0812205855. p. 142.
  6. "Culture Burns Bright" (March 18, 1935) New York Times, p. 16.
  7. Para Leer al Pato Donald by Ariel Dorfman & Armand Mattelart (1972). Siglo veintiuno Argentina. Second edition: Para Leer al Pato Donald. Comunicacion de Masa y Colonialismo (2010) Siglo XXI Editores. ISBN 6070302338.
  8. 8.0 8.1 This Chilean Writer Put His Life on the Line by Critiquing Donald Duck by Antonia Cereijido (Nov 17, 2017) Latino USA (NPR).
  9. 9.0 9.1 How To Read Donald Trump: On burning books but not ideas by Ariel Dorfman (09/14/2017 01:00 pm ET) Huffington Post.
  10. How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic (1975) by Ariel Dorfman & Armand Mattelart (1975). International General. ISBN 0884770036.
  11. Human Rights in Chile: Hearings Before the Subcommittees on Inter-American Affairs and on International Organizations and Movements of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (1974).
  12. The Burning of the Library of Alexandria, eHistory
  13. A Landover Baptist article
  14. Original line in German: "Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen."
  15. Quotes on Intellectual Freedom and Censorship: Book burning International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
  17. The Guardian — The British Library is destroying thousands of books.
  18. Huffington Post — Bill O'Reilly Book Burned By Soldiers In Afghanistan
  19. (Apocryphal?) anecdote about Fahrenheit 451, comment #38 by error404 (June 28, 2008 6:24 PM) BoingBoing (archived from January 16, 2009). The shooting of Dianetics.