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Living the Bill of Rights: How to Be an Authentic American Paperback – December 1, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0520219816 ISBN-10: 0520219813 Edition: New Ed

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 253 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New Ed edition (December 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520219813
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520219816
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,039,692 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Through portrayals of the famous (Supreme Court Justices William O. Douglas and William Brennan) and the not-so-famous (Anthony Griffin, a black lawyer who, as an ACLU volunteer, defended the First Amendment rights of the Ku Klux Klan), Nat Hentoff pays tribute to American citizens whose lives embody the values and principles of the U.S. Constitution. For Hentoff, that means a strict insistence on individual rights that leaves him opposed to mandatory prayer and pledges of allegiance in schools, the suppression of prisoners' civil liberties, and quota-based affirmative action programs. President Bill Clinton emerges as a particular object of Hentoff's scorn, as much for conducting an official state meeting with the chief architect of the Tiananmen Square massacre as for domestic policies, such as the failed Communications Decency Act, that are an "evisceration of basic liberties." "Unless more Americans know the Constitution and live the Bill of Rights," Hentoff argues, "the future of the nation as a strongly functioning constitutional democracy will be at risk." Although you may not agree with Hentoff's particular authorial focus--First Amendment enthusiasts will be thrilled with his emphasis on free expression, while Second Amendment advocates will have to search elsewhere for their champion--Living the Bill of Rights should make more Americans think about what it means to be an American. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

According to Hentoff's (Speaking Freely, etc.) introduction, the late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan once told the author, "The Bill of Rights never gets off the page and into the lives of most Americans.... But you've got to tell them stories... about people out there now who are not afraid to fight to keep on being free Americans." And in 13 profiles Hentoff does just that, reminding us of the power?and duty?of dissent. He begins with the late Justice William O. Douglas, who, in battling the status quo, filed more dissenting opinions (531) and stayed longer on the bench (36 years) than any other justice. Theres the courageous black lawyer Anthony Griffin, who at the bequest of the ACLU, defended the Ku Klux Klan against the state of Texas?and as a result was fired by the NAACP as its Texas general counsel. Justice Brennan himself is profiled in three of the essays as an idealist who liked to quote from Yeats's Cathleen Ni Hoolihan and who believed that "even the vilest criminal remains a human being possessed of common human dignity." Two essays are dedicated to educator Kenneth Clarke, who played an essential part in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The book is filled out with recent cases that made the national media (such as that of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, a professional basketball player who on religious grounds refused to stand for the national anthem) and plainer folk who have stood up and spoken out. Hentoff has compiled a lively and timely guide to the U.S. Constitution in action.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Overall, I wish I could've given this book 3.5 stars.
Eric Breitenstein
I can't guarantee the authenticity of the rest of the book, however the story about Kathryn Sinclair, beginning on p. 133, did not have its facts checked beforehand.
StephJ
This is a good book for prospective but if your not into the law it could be a bit of a sleep inducing read.
Cin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By robbui@msn.com on October 9, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Americans, since the birth of the country, have in words, stood by the Bill of Rights. Nat Hentoff's book shows us people whose actions display the true meaning of the Bill of Rights. In a very readable style, Hentoff tells the stories of true Americans as they defend the rights that are guaranteed all citizens. One example is the story of Anthony Griffin, a black lawyer, who chose to defend the Ku Klux Klan's right to free speech. Said Griffin, "If you take the First Amendment from the Klan, we, as black folks, will be the next to suffer." While Griffin would not agree with the Klan's point of view, he recognizes that they have the right to voice their opinion no matter how many people are offended. Hentoff's book is notable because it shows us examples of people who live the principles behind the Bill of Rights instead of just talking about them. In addition, you will come to realize how the Bill of Rights is always being challenged by those citizens who try to silence others whose opinions don't agree with theirs. I highly recommend this book to all!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Eric Breitenstein on December 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
I thought this was a pretty good book, which makes one wonder why I only gave it three stars. It's all summed up in the title to the Introduction, "Tell them stories about how our liberties were won and what keep them alive." That comes from the mouth of Supreme Court Justice William Brennan in a conversation with the author.
All in all, Hentoff does a decent job. The first chapter on William O. Douglas was easily the best of the book. A story of a man who was deeply committed to the Bill of Rights for ALL Americans, not just the ones with popular views.
The only reason I gave the book 3 stars was that I just did not agree with all of the stories selected by Hentoff as giving examples of, in the author's words, "authentic Americans." Chapters 6, 7, and 8 come to mind. Chapters 6 and 7 deal with Dr. Kenneth Clark, an integrationist.
Now, I'm no segregationist, but I firmly believe in the right of people to choose to segregate themselves. I don't agree with it, but I also don't believe in using the force of government to make people live, work, and play together. Hentoff and Dr. Clark disagree.
...
All in all, three chapters devoted to this issue was a bit much, although many of the stories in them were valuable. For example, also in chapter 8, was a story about a high school that required people running for homecoming court to disclose their race. Why? Because the court had to be 1/2 white and 1/2 black. Clearly that is wrong: the government should not use race as a factor if people really are equal before the law.
Finally, Hentoff's views on Clinton do not impact the quality of this book.... Just because Hentoff doesn't like Clinton, does not mean one should give his book bad reviews.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 3, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book is excellent because it refuses to align itself with the either side of the spectrum when dealing the blows. Almost every political book today has a sever right or left slant,its nice to see common sense instead of rhetoric. It shows that Nat Hentoff is not afraid to go against the mindless "Political Correctness" of our day give credit where credit is due, even to a president as popular as Clinton. A must read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on December 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book has a very important premise - an examination of how the Bill of Rights, and restrictions on it, can affect the lives of real people. Here that especially applies to the First Amendment, which is Hentoff's specialty. He has great insights into how lack of knowledge among the public of our inalienable constitutional rights can open the door to true modern tyrants who would like to restrict those rights more and more. By profiling courageous Americans, primarily students and teachers who have been persecuted for exercising their rights of free speech, Hentoff brings an important human focus to constitutional issues that most Americans probably think are far-off, lofty theories that don't really apply in real life.
Unfortunately this book tends to drift away from that important premise, and the premise sometimes has to fight to keep its head above water. In profiles of Supreme Court Justices Douglas and Brennan, while correctly praising their work to preserve the Bill of Rights, Hentoff drifts into hero worship that occasionally gets out of hand. The book really loses its focus in the later chapters, as Hentoff starts with important issues in education, religion, and the prison system but then goes off on politically tainted tirades about current events. Examples include generalizing court-appointed attorneys as "less than amateur," and calling Janet Reno "irrelevant." Meanwhile Hentoff's views on the First Amendment's treatment of freedom of religion appear very inconsistent to me (in terms of ground-level applications for students and teachers), though they may be consistent for him in light of his absolutist views on the subject.
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