Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature

Robert Darnton. Norton, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-393-24229-4
Darnton (The Case for Books), director of the University Library at Harvard, examines the complex relationship between central government censorship and authors, particularly how attempts to control communication and information have both improved and challenged the field of literature. He focuses on three distinct periods: 18th-century France, 19th-century India, and 20th-century East Germany. An intriguing story emerges as censors are presented as both a necessary evil and an authoritarian measure, working with authors as much as against them, and helping to—at least in the censor’s mind—improve literary works even as they force them to conform to certain standards. Acting as voices of the state, as editors, even as coauthors, censors are sometimes subversive and sympathetic, sometimes arbitrary and unyielding. Darnton’s argument is a mixed message, both upholding censors for their influence and bringing them to task for their part in enforcing stricter measures enacted by unforgiving governments. The writing is drily academic and the material often dense and abstract, as he struggles to assign a definition to the murky and wide-ranging concept of censorship. However, the story comes alive when Darnton interviews several former East German government censors to glean their experiences. While the material is sometimes arcane, it’s still a thought-provoking look at a controversial subject. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/02/2014
Release date: 09/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 304 pages - 978-0-393-24230-0
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-393-35180-4
MP3 CD - 978-1-5113-3934-6
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