The Short Life and Curious Death of Free Speech in America

Amistad: HarperCollins. Sept. 2020. 208p. ISBN 9780062999719. $23.99. POL SCI
Speech in the United States has never truly been completely free, maintains Cose, in this latest work after Democracy, If We Can Keep It: The ACLU’s 100-Year Fight for Rights in America. The author describes how, from the early days of the nation, there have been various curbs on speech, both written and oral. Speech is generally placed in a continuum ranging from the harmless to dangerous, sometimes with fairly severe penalties for overstepping the bounds. This concise work gives a relatively brief history of some of the more notable instances, relating them to political and social movements. A constant theme is the degree to which uncomfortable, offensive, or frankly false speech has been permitted or blocked. A number of 21st-century issues dealing with the effectually unregulated internet provide examples for discussion. Cose explains that the question we should be mindful of in a world full of easily transmitted speech is: “What is the purpose of free speech—and at what price, and with what limits, do we protect it?”
VERDICT Popular history suitable for high school and undergraduate reading that does not provide easy answers and warns that one of our most basic rights is under more serious attack than ever.
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