The Unburnable Book And What It Stands For

Margaret Atwood and Penguin Random House have released an “unburnable” copy of ‘The Handmaids Tale.’ What does it mean for censorship and the fight against it?

Book Culture Classics

As some of you may know, paper burns at approximately 451 degrees Fahrenheit. After all, it is the entire theme around Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 in which the government burns books to protect a totalitarian world. This seems to be a growing concern in modern America, and it’s exactly why Margaret Atwood and Penguin Random House have released a single unburnable copy of The Handmaid’s Tale just to stand up against censorship.


Often provoking controversy, The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a dystopian world where women are expected to bear children for the elite. But the author and publishing company seem to be using it for good: as an emblem to stand up against censorship in schools, and the continued fight on books that children don’t “need” to read.

And while the book may look like any other normal book, it is actually made of nickel-wire, stainless steel, aluminum and fire-resistant inks and is able to stand up to a flamethrower (as tested by Margaret Atwood herself).


The Banning

PEN America, a literacy and free expression advocacy agency, recently released a statement that nearly 1,586 books have been banned since July 1, 2021. Texas notably leads the states with a whopping 713 books banned. Most of the banned books are a reflection of a wider conservative movement intended to restrict how students learn about sex, sexuality, gender, race and more.

This unburnable book is an emblem of our collective resolve to protect books, stories and ideas from those who fear and revile them.

Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America

In a recent press release talking about the book, Margaret Atwood stated, “‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has been banned many times…Let’s hope we don’t reach the stage of wholesale book burnings, as in ‘Fahrenheit 451’…But if we do, let’s hope some books will prove unburnable—that they will travel underground, as prohibited books did in the Soviet Union.”

The unburnable book will go for auction at Sotheby’s New York on Wednesday and is expected to go for bids beginning at around $100K. Proceeds will go to PEN America.