A Parthenon of Banned Books

Artist Uses 100,000 Banned Books To Build A Full-Size Parthenon At Historic Book Burning Site in Germany

You may be surprised to find some of the titles in this beautiful structure,  including some of our favorite classics in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Parthenon overhead Books that have inspired millions, had huge impacts on culture, sparked our imaginations and that of creators to make films and immersive games from them. The list includes titles like Grimms’ Fairy Tales, The Alchemist, Harry Potter, The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity, The Poet in New York, The Metamorphosis, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and The Grapes of Wrath.

parthenon 1

The art exhibition documenta 14 is displaying a replica of the Greek Parthenon made of steel, plastic sheeting, and over 100,000 banned books.  Kassel, Germany has an historic site where the Nazis burned over 2000 books in 1933. A site on which now resides a Parthenon of Banned Books. Created by Marta Minujin, a 74 year old artist born in Argentina. Built with the assistance of the students at Kassel University, this life size monument was built to represent the artist’s resistance to political repression.

Tparthenon bookshere are over 100,000 books in the beautiful wire and book sculpture. It’s a stunning sight, both by day and night, and a massive homage to the ongoing battle for freedom to read. The Parthenon of Books is built behind the Fridericianum museum, home to documenta 14, The quinquennial art exhibition that began in April in Athens, Greece, now continues on in Kassel, Germany.  Every documenta, held once every five years, is limited to 100 days of exhibition, which is why it is often referred to as the “museum of 100 days”.

In preparation for the installation in Kassel, the art festival requested that authors, publishers, and individuals donate their banned books. With the help of professors and students from the University of Kassel, a long-list of 70,000 banned books was compiled.

What are banned, rstricted or challenged books?

  • A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.
  • Censorship is a change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes.
  • Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored.

Books have been banned most often in public and school libraries. Some have been banned by governments, or religious groups. All books in the Parthenon have either been challenged, restricted or banned. Many have been re-shelved due to the efforts of concerned people and organizations like the American Library Association in the U.S., who seek to support the Office of Intellectual Freedom and the Library Bill of Rights. You can easily find information on challenged materials on the ALA website.

Parthenon book

In the U.S. the American Library Association will be celebrating Banned Book Week September 24 – 30, 2017.  Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

The ALA has been keeping records of challenged and banned material since 1990. The OIF, established in 1967. provides confidential support to anyone undergoing a material or service challenge. They offer free consulting services help you prepare for censorship and implement vital intellectual freedom best practices within your library or school. Training is also offered by the OIF with Advocacy and Intellectual Freedom Bootcamp, preparing library communities to advocate for libraries, and webinars to educate librarians and the public about the nature and importance of intellectual freedom.

Banned Fantasy and Science Fiction 

Some classic reading material in Fantasy and Science Fiction has been challenged and banned, often more than once. Here are several examples and some details about when, where and why the following books were banned.



Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein 1961

Banned in the Texas school systems, the book was actually retained after a 2003 challenge in Mercedes, TX to the book’s adult themes. However, parents were subsequently given more control over what their child was assigned to read in class, a common school board response to a challenge.

Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak 1963

Sendak’s work is beloved by children in the generations since its publication and has captured the collective imagination. Many parents and librarians, however, did much hand-wringing over the dark and disturbing nature of the story. They also wrung their hands over the baby’s penis drawn in In the Night Kitchen.

Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling 1997

In some parts of the United States and United Kingdom, the Potter books have been banned from being read in school, taken out of libraries, and even burned in public. The most prominent objections to Harry Potter fall into three categories: they promote witchcraft.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley 1931

The American Library Association ranks Brave New World as No. 52 on their list of most challenged books. In 1932, the book was banned in Ireland for its language, and for supposedly being anti-family and anti-religion. In 1965, a Maryland English teacher alleged that he was fired for assigning Brave New World to students. The teacher sued for violation of First Amendment rights but lost both his case and the appeal. The book was banned in India in 1967, with Huxley accused of being a “pornographer”. In 1980, it was removed from classrooms in Miller, Missouri among other challenges.

Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury 1953

The following are some notable incidents. In 1987, Fahrenheit 451 was given “third tier” status by the Bay County School Board in Panama City, Florida. In 1992, Venado Middle School in Irvine, California gave copies of Fahrenheit 451 to students with all “obscene” words blacked out. Parents contacted the local media and succeeded in reinstalling the uncensored copies.

In a 2007 interview, Bradbury maintained that people misinterpret his book and that Fahrenheit 451 is really a statement on how mass media like television marginalizes the reading of literature.

“There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.” Coda Fahrenheit 451-Bradbury (1979)

100 most frequently challenged books: 1990–1999 

Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009 

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