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Banned Books, Burned Books: Forbidden Literary Works

From Shakespeare to Harry Potter and beyond, trace the history of book banning and censorship in the English-speaking world and see why it continues today.
Banned Books, Burned Books: Forbidden Literary Works is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 40.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comments from a learner I think this is a great set of lectures on how books are regulated in US public institutions. The series got me thinking about which books are appropriate and not appropriate to give to kids and which should and should not be allowed in other public institutions. Because banning books means different things around the world, I think the series should have addressed more how European nations ban books today, as the series mainly focused on the US.
Date published: 2024-05-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Banned Books, Burned Books…… I am deaf and depend upon accuracy in closed caption text. My only…yet frustrating….complaint is that often the captioning stops during the lecture…it always seems to happen just as presenter is coming to an important presentation point….then picks up again. I have troubleshooting, restart from beginning of lecture has helped but not consistent to say “ this is the problem “. Then, I alway know when lecture concluding bc the first 2sentences freeze in place & subsequent sentences become add-ons…so until you catch on that you are re-reading the frozen sentences then finding the new captioning where the frozen sentence is ending….OR….instead of just 2 lines of caption which is good…suddenly you get a stack…2 line then 3..4… then it’s a paragraph. But thank you so much for the close caption…thank thank you
Date published: 2024-04-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation, but one-sided politically Professor Corrigan is an exceptional presenter and has deep knowledge and enthusiasm for the topic, which is always timely, sadly. As the child of a librarian and bookstore owner, actually banning books (not merely categorizing them for age-appropriate audiences), make me furious. But to listen to this lecture series, pretty much all challengers to the literature in question comes from the conservative, or right-wing groups. There are sporadic references to left-wing-led bans or challenges, but even then, it's glossed over quickly. By contrast, the professor uses words like "militant" to describe conservatives, who use new "weapons" in their crusades. A more balanced view of challenges from left and right would be welcome. Also, it grated on my ears when the professor used the nonsense term "Latinx", a made-up word that is no more than an attempt to "fix" Spanish. Spanish is a gendered language, unlike English. Let Spanish be Spanish and English be English. Aside from these criticisms, I really did enjoy the series and learned a great deal. I still strongly recommend it.
Date published: 2024-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I enjoyed these lectures and learned a lot My husband and I watched these lectures together and looked forward to watching several of them each evening. I thought I had known a lot about this subject, but it turned out I did not know as much as I thought I did.
Date published: 2024-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The most in depth series on a fascinating topic I was at awe how much effort and time prof Corrigan must have spend on this important subject—the series was extraordinary.
Date published: 2024-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learned a lot... ... about a subject I thought I knew about. I really didn't know about the challenges to The Grapes of Wrath, Catcher in the Rye, and Harry Potter. I also got pointed to books I knew about but never read (Howl, since read) and books I never heard about but want to read (Fun Home, just arrived today). One of the best Great Courses I've taken. I'm glad the Prof didn't hold back on her opinions -- when they're expert opinions, as they are here, they make a Great Courses course much more interesting.
Date published: 2024-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful and compelling I was very interested in the topic, but a little apprehensive about the expert because of reviews she had done on Fresh Air for so many years. Some of those reviews had been intense and not always interesting. My concerns were quickly dispelled. This is an excellent overview of a difficult subject, and always interesting. She provides a balanced look at the issues - both from the right and the left - and yet isn't afraid to interject her own opinions where appropriate. Perhaps what was the most insightful for me was that she showed how extremists on both sides of the political and moral spectrums can make bad messes out of good books. I live in Florida, and after listening to this lecture series, I've made a New Years resolution to become more active in trying to block book banning - no matter who is the source of the effort. Kudos to Wondrium and the presenter for tackling this tough topic with professionalism and skill.
Date published: 2023-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent History of Book Censorship Really great lectures on the history of censoring books to include burning, banning, and all other forms.
Date published: 2023-12-29
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With Banned Books, Burned Books: Forbidden Literary Works, author and book critic Professor Maureen Corrigan will take you on a tour of some of the most challenged and controversial works of literature, from the plays of Shakespeare to 21st-century best-sellers—even including the dictionary and classic fairy tales. You will explore the common reasons books have been and continue to be banned, including profanity, heresy, illicit or sexual content, racism, violence, and more. And you’ll consider the shifting trends in why books are challenged.


Maureen Corrigan

The impulse to protect impressionable readers runs up against some of our most cherished democratic principles—not just free speech, but also our commitment to the open exchange of ideas.


Georgetown University

Maureen Corrigan is the Nicky and Jamie Grant Distinguished Professor of the Practice in Literary Criticism at Georgetown University. She received her PhD in English Literature from the University of Pennsylvania. She is the book critic for the NPR program Fresh Air and has received multiple awards for her literary criticism. She also regularly writes for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal and is the author of the literary memoir Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading and So We Read On: How “The Great Gatsby” Came to Be and Why It Endures.

By This Professor

Banned Books, Burned Books: Forbidden Literary Works
Banned Books, Burned Books: Forbidden Literary Works


Bowdlerizing the Bard

01: Bowdlerizing the Bard

Begin the course with an introduction to the concept of literary censorship and examine why even authors as influential and esteemed as Shakespeare can fall prey to it. Meet some of the writers and editors who attempted to sanitize the bawdier parts of the Bard’s plays and discover where we get the term “bowdlerism.”

32 min
Ulysses on Trial

02: Ulysses on Trial

James Joyce’s Ulysses is considered the novel that ushered modernism into mainstream literature, yet its introduction to the world was ruthlessly contested. Get a brief overview of Joyce’s life and work, then dive into the story of how his modernist masterpiece was challenged and consider how the legal battles over his work shaped later censorship battles.

36 min
The Defense for Lady Chatterley’s Lover

03: The Defense for Lady Chatterley’s Lover

At the time of his death in 1930, British author D. H. Lawrence was widely viewed as one of the greatest writers of the English language. Yet, as you will see here, this popularity did not prevent some readers from taking offense to his frank depictions of sexuality, resulting in a censorship and an obscenity trial over his final novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

34 min
Censors from the Inquisition to the Puritans

04: Censors from the Inquisition to the Puritans

Step back in time to get the broader historical context for censorship and see how the cases of the 20th and 21st centuries fit into a much larger pattern of religious and moral pressure from the 12th century onward. Here, you will look at the influence of the Catholic Church and the colonial Puritans on the control of printed materials they found troubling or even heretical.

34 min
Anthony Comstock’s Moral Crusade

05: Anthony Comstock’s Moral Crusade

Meet Anthony Comstock, the relentless late-19th-century enforcer of Victorian codes of sexual propriety. His decades-long crusade for moral purity gave us a new term for censorship and his influence shaped the history of censorship in the United States—including the arrests, suicides, and destruction he proudly claimed as part of his legacy.

32 min
Books on Fire: The Reformation to Rushdie

06: Books on Fire: The Reformation to Rushdie

Here, look at the most extreme form of print censorship: the physical destruction of books deemed heretical, dangerous, or subversive. From the Protestant Reformation to Nazi Germany and beyond, you will see how the desire to stop the dissemination of various works has resulted in book burnings, violence, and even murder.

30 min
Allen Ginsberg’s Alarming “Howl”

07: Allen Ginsberg’s Alarming “Howl”

In the 1950s, the Beat Movement in literature and pop culture was well underway. As a movement that set out to rebel from the status quo, it is no surprise that one of its most famous works, Allen Ginsburg’s poem “Howl,” came under fire for its alleged obscenity and radical politics. See how the poem became a generational touchpoint and how the controversy it caused made Ginsburg a literary celebrity.

33 min
Holden Caulfield’s Subversive Voice

08: Holden Caulfield’s Subversive Voice

J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye had an outsized effect on the real world, given that the novel is associated with the death of John Lennon and the attempted assassination of Ronald Regan. Contemplate the power of reading (and misreading) literature as you examine the subversive narrative voice of Salinger’s most famous work.

33 min
Artistry, Morality, and Nabokov’s Lolita

09: Artistry, Morality, and Nabokov’s Lolita

Though many critics and scholars consider Nabokov’s Lolita as one of the greatest English-language novels of the 20th century, it is a novel that elicits extreme reactions in both its fans and detractors. Revisit the creation of this controversial classic, examine its initial reception, and consider why it continues to be one of the most challenged and banned books to this day.

37 min
Authors Who Censor Themselves

10: Authors Who Censor Themselves

Consider the curious history of authors who’ve decided to burn, ban, or censor their own works. While some texts managed to escape the destructive impulses of their creators, there are many other manuscripts that have been lost forever. What drives a writer to bury, burn, shred, or otherwise lay waste to their own work?

33 min
The Hidden Dangers of Fairy Tales

11: The Hidden Dangers of Fairy Tales

Perhaps no other body of literature is so tenaciously scrutinized and policed than books aimed at preschool and grade school readers. Here, you will begin a three-part exploration into the realm of children’s literature with a look at the banning and censorship of fairy tales. As you will see, even the most recognizable tales can fall under the scrutiny of angry parents and school officials.

32 min
Contested Classics of Children’s Literature

12: Contested Classics of Children’s Literature

In this second lecture on children’s stories, move into 20th- and 21st-century controversies over classic children’s books such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Story of Ferdinand, Winnie-the-Pooh, and the works of Roald Dahl. As you examine reactions to these works, you will see the full range of complaints brought against these stories—including some rather absurd accusations.

32 min
New Kids’ Books, Old Objections

13: New Kids’ Books, Old Objections

Begin this look at contemporary children’s books with a consideration of complaints lodged against Dr. Seuss and see how these objections carry over to later works like SkippyJon Jones and Captain Underpants. From potty humor and violence to racial stereotypes and moral panics, discover the many ways children’s literature can spark extreme adult reactions.

33 min
Canceled Authors

14: Canceled Authors

Where do we draw the line between an author’s work and their private life? Examine some striking instances in which authors’ behavior—alleged or confirmed—has resulted in the challenging or banning of their works and see how social justice movements and the internet have changed the nature of censorship, book banning, and free speech in the 21st century.

33 min
Huckleberry Finn and Race in America

15: Huckleberry Finn and Race in America

Examine the creation and legacy of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the most consistently challenged or banned of the great American novels. Why does Huckleberry Finn occupy this dubious pride of place? As you will see, its steady presence on high school reading lists and foregrounding of race collide to create an ideal trigger for censorship.

32 min
To Kill a Mockingbird, Then and Now

16: To Kill a Mockingbird, Then and Now

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most read, most assigned, and most beloved novels in the American canon. It’s also, without a doubt, one of the most challenged and banned books in American libraries and schools. Look back on the creation of Harper Lee’s singular masterpiece and consider why it is both so esteemed and so often challenged.

31 min
Young Adult Fiction and Its Discontents

17: Young Adult Fiction and Its Discontents

Explore the relatively new category of young adult (YA) fiction, one of the most profitable genres in publishing—and also the genre that produces some of the most challenged and banned titles. Define the vast category that is YA and look at some of the notable titles that have been challenged over the years, including works by S. E. Hinton and Judy Blume.

30 min
Attempts to Suppress #MeToo Books

18: Attempts to Suppress #MeToo Books

The online social movement against sexual assault, known as the #MeToo movement, began to gather steam in 2006 and has grown in reach ever since. Here, consider some of the books that have been embraced by or emerged out of the movement and look at how they’ve been challenged, mostly by school boards.

30 min
The Battle over Critical Race Theory

19: The Battle over Critical Race Theory

First, explore some of the ways the Black Lives Matter social movement has influenced the publication and reception of some recent books. Then, look at the ways the movement has triggered fears regarding critical race theory in books and what these fears tell us about the concept of freedom in relation to books and literacy.

31 min
Alice Walker and Toni Morrison under Attack

20: Alice Walker and Toni Morrison under Attack

Alice Walker and Toni Morrison are two of the most prominent Black women writers to enter the literary mainstream in the wake of the civil rights movement. Delve into Walker’s and Morrison’s most celebrated novels and consider the multitudinous ways readers, educators, librarians, and literary gatekeepers have objected to them.

34 min
The Textbook Wars

21: The Textbook Wars

A consistent category of challenges and book bans within school systems are those involving textbooks, especially history textbooks. Begin by thinking about the larger issues at stake in these controversies. Then, investigate some of the specific cases of censorship that have affected education in the United States from the 1970s to more recent controversies.

35 min
The Backlash against Harry Potter

22: The Backlash against Harry Potter

Despite their beloved status and massive financial success, the Harry Potter books have been accused by assorted parents, school district administrators, and librarians of being excessively violent, glamorizing witchcraft and the occult, and being dismissive of traditional family values. See how Rowling’s series widened the focus of censorship to include fantasy narratives.

26 min
Fun Home: An All-Too-Graphic Memoir

23: Fun Home: An All-Too-Graphic Memoir

The growth of the graphic novel genre coincided with—and explicitly mirrored—the social transformations of the 1970s, in regard to race, gender, politics, and sexual identity. See why graphic novels regularly appear on banned book lists, with a look at a particularly contentious tile: the postmodern memoir Fun Home.

31 min
Contesting the Great American Novel

24: Contesting the Great American Novel

Bring the course to a close with a discussion of some of the formal objections to novels commonly nominated as “The Great American Novel.” Look at four works that are perennial contenders for the mantle—The Great Gatsby, Moby Dick, Invisible Man, and The Grapes of Wrath—and consider why they are challenged almost as much as they are revered.

37 min