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Figures of Speech: First Amendment Heroes and Villains Paperback – March 1, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-1936227037 ISBN-10: 1936227037 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 1 edition (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1936227037
  • ISBN-13: 978-1936227037
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #981,528 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


In Figures of Speech, celebrated civil rights attorney Bill Turner has crafted a rare gem: a concise, clearly written book that provides a trenchant introduction to the complexities of First Amendment law as well as riveting, behind-the-scenes accounts of some of the most controversial free-speech cases in American history. Anyone interested in politics, the law, and the future of American democracy should read this important, vigorously argued book.”
Robert Perkinson, Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire

“Turner infuses his book with energy and passion for the First Amendment. He tells fascinating stories of unlikely heroes and explains difficult legal issues clearly and concisely, educating and entertaining at the same time.”
Elizabeth Farnsworth, The PBS NewsHour

“William Turner’s compelling stories make you want to shout ‘Hooray’ for the heroes and hiss the villains. And his scholarly history of the First Amendment helps you understand why you are free to run out and do both.”
Elaine Elinson, Wherever There’s a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants, Strikers, and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California

“With these keenly etched portraits of idealists, misfits, and eccentrics, Bill Turner brings the First Amendment alive—just as he has done in the classroom and courtroom for a generation.”
Tom Goldstein, University of California, Berkeley

Book Description

For the last 25 years, William Bennett Turner has taught a course on the First Amendment at UC Berkeley. His book, First Amendment Heroes and Villains, describes the colorful characters who have played roles in important First Amendment controversies. Choosing figures and cases from his own personal experience, Turner illustrates broad First Amendment principles and describes how we’ve arrived at our contemporary understanding of the First Amendment’s meaning.

More About the Author


For the past 29 years, I have taught freedom of speech and the press at the University of California at Berkeley. I continue to teach there and at OLLI@Berkeley and at the Fromm Institute at the University of San Francisco.

I practiced law for 45 years. As a San Francisco lawyer, I specialized in unusual litigation, including constitutional law. I argued three cases before the United States Supreme Court (including two First Amendment cases) and more than 40 cases in lower appellate courts, and I served as lead counsel in many notable state and federal trials.

I graduated from the Harvard Law School in 1963 and, after a Fulbright fellowship in comparative law, I spent three years with a New York law firm. This was followed by nearly ten years with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund doing civil rights law. I returned to teach at Harvard in 1977. I founded my own law firm in San Francisco in 1978 and served as its senior partner until 1992. I was of counsel to the firm of Rogers Joseph O'Donnell from 1992 to 2008.

I have published dozens of articles in various magazines, newspapers, online sites, and law reviews. My work has appeared in the New York Times, Politico, Wired, the San Francisco Chronicle, Harvard Magazine and many others. I also served as Legal Affairs Correspondent for KQED television, winning numerous awards for news and documentaries on legal subjects. I was Legal Consultant to the PBS "We The People" series on the Bicentennial of the Constitution. In 2011 I published Figures of Speech: First Amendment Heroes and Villains (Berrett-Koehler 2011), which sums up much of what I learned doing and teaching First Amendment cases.

There's a lot more on my web site,

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By anita ettinger on May 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
Figures of Speech was a reminder of how important the first amendment is to our considered liberty and working democracy. For a lay person William Turner writes in an accessible manner. He illustrates the importance of the amendment by sharing with us some great stories. Some of it even reads a little bit like fiction.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Henry D. Snyder on May 2, 2011
Format: Paperback
The author's Figures of Speech are an Alice-in-Wonderland set of characters chosen for having said or done something so outrageous that someone was upset - upset enough to argue that those acts ought to be illegal. Then the plot thickens.

The book was given to my wife by a friend. Mildly curious, I began to read and quickly sensed that feeling of outrage - and I understood the upset. As I read on through the various courtroom dramas, however, it began to dawn upon me that "our America" would be better protected by NOT banning those uncomfortable acts. For me, a new idea.

Whatever your politics, Figures of Speech casts a bright light on the importance of the bigger picture. Turner's powerful book takes you there. Who said the First Amendment was dull?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Eric Hirst on March 29, 2011
Format: Paperback
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution seems straightforward, even simple: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ... ," But as William Turner shows in his excellent book, Figures of Speech, the meaning of this statement has changed since first approved more than two centuries ago. These changes are a function of history, current events, technologies, and public attitudes. For example, when we are at war or scared of particular groups (e.g., communists or terrorists), we -- and therefore the federal courts -- are likely to restrict speech. As new communications technologies gained prominence, the definition of speech and of the press needed to accommodate first radio, then television, and now the internet.

Each of the nine chapters in Turner's well-written and fascinating book discusses the role an individual or group, intentionally or otherwise, played in requiring the U.S. Supreme Court to define just what free speech and a free press mean. These characters include a teenage Communist in the 1920s, Jehovah's Witnesses, a convicted bank robber, a 1960s New York Times reporter who covered the Black Panther movement, and a California police chief. Even Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler, merits a chapter because his magazine, although disgusting to many people, merits protection from government interference.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By L.V. on May 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
I must admit that in the past I've allowed my own moral judgments to effect my opinions on some first amendment issues. For example, I don't think executions should be televised, I do believe that convicted felons waive some civil rights and I've never been much a supporter of the porn industry. In this book, Turner educates the reader as to why all of these issues need to be seen as vital in preserving an undiluted first amendment. The book reads like a novel and has inspired many intelligent discussions within my family. I feel like I truly understand that rights are much bigger than an individual's opinion.
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