A Fireproof Copy of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ That Even Margaret Atwood Tried (and Failed) to Torch Sells for $130,000 at Sotheby’s

The book was sold off to benefit PEN America, the free speech nonprofit.

Margaret Atwood with flamethrower. Photo courtesy Sotheby's

An un-burnable copy of author Margaret Atwood’s beloved novel The Handmaid’s Tale has fetched six figures in a Sotheby’s auction supporting PEN America.

The sale of the book, which brought in $130,000 for the free speech nonprofit, was also intended to raise awareness about the growing number of book bans plaguing the United States.

“In the face of a determined effort to censor and silence, this un-burnable 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, said in a statement.

“We are thankful to be able to deploy the proceeds of this auction to fortify this unprecedented fight for books.”

Atwood herself tried to burn the single-edition book with a flamethrower as part of the sale’s announcement in May.

“I never thought I’d be trying to burn one of my own books… and failing,” the author joked in a statement.

The Handmaid’s Tale has been banned many times—sometimes by whole countries, such as Portugal and Spain in the days of Salazar and the Francoists, sometimes by school boards, sometimes by libraries,” she added. “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 un-burnable—that they will travel underground, as prohibited books did in the Soviet Union.”

In the last nine months, according to PEN America, 1,586 books have been banned in the United States, affecting 1,145 unique titles. The bans have ranged from the removal of copies from school libraries to blocking books from classrooms.

The organization’s index of banned books includes works by 1,081 authors, illustrators, and translators.

“It is an incredible privilege to offer this unique, one-of-one copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale,” Sotheby’s books specialist Ella Hall said ahead of the sale. “The symbolism of this sale could not be more timely and necessary, and we are deeply honored to support PEN’s longstanding mission of freedom of expression.”


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