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Programs & Exhibitions

BANNED AND BURNT BOOKS: A Personal Essay

By Ross Scimeca, Head Librarian, Hoose Library of Philosophy

About five summers ago, I was attending a performance of Puccini’s La boheme at the Staadtsoper in what was formerly East Berlin. During the intermission, I went out to the large plaza, where you can see the opera house as well as Humboldt University’s main library. Looking around, I noticed a large square of glass in the middle of the plaza. I walked up to it and realized that it was a window. Beneath the glass was a room with an empty white bookcase and ashes on the floor. This was truly a brilliant memorial to the events that took place at this very spot in 1933. I knew about the Nazi book burnings, but I never realized that they first took place in Berlin between the opera house and the university library. For me, the opera house and the library are two of the most sacred cultural institutions. To realize that book burnings happened here, in a city known for its liberalism and cosmopolitanism before National Socialism, made me understand that fanaticism can erupt anywhere.

The eighteen cases in Biblioclasm: The Assault on Ideas from Homer to Harry Potter present books that were burned or banned for political, religious, and social reasons. The books in each case were banned or burned for similar reasons by states, institutions, religions, or communities that found their ideas threatening. Follow the links below to learn more about the books displayed in each case of the exhibition.