margaret atwood burning a book

“I had thought America was against totalitarianism. If so, surely it is important for young people to be able to recognize their signs of them. One of those signs is book banning. Need I say more?” asked Margaret Atwood when her book The Handmaid’s Tale was banned, becoming the seventh most challenged book on the American Library Association’s list in 2019.

Quality writing should be acknowledged and discussed, especially when the themes bring food for thought and a commentary on issues people face in their respective societies. A book written 40 years ago foretells the future that we are slowly walking towards.

A copy of the book can not be destroyed by fire and was forged by the author and Penguin Random House. Paying homage to all the knowledge that was lost during book-burning bonfires and raising money to support PEN America’s crucial work to counter the national crisis of censorship is a true representation of the words: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Let’s dive into the details.


Margaret Atwood and her book The Unburnable Book were presented by Penguin Random House.

Those who have read The Handmaid’s Tale have praised it as a modern classic. The novel focuses on the survival and emancipation of women who go through devaluation, enslavement, torture, and genocide.

Many schools, libraries, and even countries have banned it due to these themes. The book has been criticized for being anti-Christian, anti-Islamic, and for its portrayal of sex and violence. The book sheds light on issues that present-day women face within society, making it a symbol of feminist resistance.


It was made from non-reflective aluminum foil paper, metal wiring, and stainless steel.

Hundreds of books are currently facing bans in the US. Between July 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, PEN America documented 1,586 instances of individual books being banned in 86 school districts in 26 states.

The incongruity of free speech is very self-evident. The First Amendment ensures the option to free articulation and affiliation, and that implies that the public authority doesn’t reserve the privilege to restrict individuals from talking their insights, in any case, they must be essential for specific guidelines and subjects, any other way, they may be hushed, due to being seen as ‘destructive’.


One of the top banned books in the US is The Handmaid’s Tale, which is why the project aims to raise awareness.

The most common books to be in the midst of censorship are ones dealing with topics of sexual and mental health, featuring LGBTQ+ protagonists and historical figures, many of which are of color. Why are these topics considered harmful and to whom? I suppose a quote from the Handmaid’s Tale sums it up nicely: “A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.”

Regardless of the debate, let us remember the birth of The Unburnable Book. The fireproof narrative was a joint project among PEN, Margaret Atwood, Penguin Random House, and two companies based in Toronto, the Rethink creative agency and The Gas Company Inc. The fireproof materials and processes were researched and tested by Doug Laxdal.


The book was torched in order to show the strength of the book, paying homage to the knowledge lost in book-burning bonfires.

It is capable of standing up to 1426 degrees Celsius, as reported by Uproxx. When paper is burning, it gets much hotter at around 480 degrees Fahrenheit (248C). The new edition is around 5 times more resistant to fire damage than the old one.

Margaret Atwood torched her work in order to test the book’s longevity. The moment, accompanied by the statement, “Because powerful words can never be extinguished,” pays a homage to all literature that succumbed to the flames of censorship. Although her work has not been burned yet, it brings up the topic of censorship and historical events where knowledge was systematically destroyed due to cultural, religious, or political opposition to the topics or themes in question.

PEN America’s CEO Suzanne Nossel told The Globe and Mail: “There’s just something about this concept of an unburnable book that I think captures the moment and the determination that we all feel to withstand an onslaught.” Whereas Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House stated: “To see her classic novel about the dangers of oppression reborn in this innovative, unburnable edition is a timely reminder of what’s at stake in the battle against censorship.”


The novel was published in 1985 and focuses on the survival and emancipation of women.

“When it comes to projects like this, you don’t have a second shot,” said Mr. Martin, Jared Bland adding, “I knew Margaret would love the idea because it’s a cause that’s important to her and because she loves mischievous things.” It took more than two months for the task to be completed.

The words would be printed on paper. They found non-reflective aluminum foil paper that was painted on both sides when the flame-retardant paper didn’t work. It was unburnable and thin enough to go through the company’s printer without being mangled.

They needed a cover after it was printed. The team ordered fire-retardant cloth from Amazon, but it wasn’t good enough. They used aluminum foil for the outside and phenolic for the board. They needed to stitch the book together once they knew they would survive the torching.


The book is being auctioned off to raise money for PEN America, which is leading the fight against book bans and educational gag orders.

After 7 hours of hand-sewing, the book was close to being done after they replaced the usual thread with metal wire. The project was completed with the addition of decorative head and tail bands, ordered from an electronics supplier.

The book looked almost too authentic, only distinguishable from the original by the silver-page edges and the weight, according to Jeremy. “Absolutely nothing in this book is going to burn,” he said. “If you did take a flamethrower to it, there would be some smoke and some smell. But it would still be a readable book.”


There is a full demonstration of the unburnable book here.


People think that all books should have a copy. Others could see parallels. Leave your thoughts in the comments.