From Publishers Weekly
America's national obsession with asserting, and quelling, free-speech comes alive in this collection of profiles of First Amendment firebrands. A journalist and university lecturer, Levinson has chosen an eclectic array of subjects, including a doctor fired from his university position for publishing research on lung disease at a local textile factory; a state department functionary harassed for revealing the CIA's knowledge of human rights abuses in Guatemala; a high school English teacher suspended for assigning books with gay characters; and a porn-star and performance artist whose gynecological stage shows made freedom of speech a fetish. Levinson paints complex portraits of the flawed, courageous and sometimes cantankerous souls willing to take on opprobrium for unpopular ideas. Using their stories as a starting point, Levinson discusses the many fronts in the cultural war over speech, including state secrecy laws and university speech codes. She confronts the blurry line between pornography and art, and between free speech and a "hostile environment," explores the "broken windows" argument that anarchic speech leads to an anarchic society, and considers the corrupting influence of corporate sponsorship on scientific research. The author goes beyond the usual polarized corners of political correctness. Instead, she traces the convoluted, often cynical politics of censorship, in which anti-porn feminists and Christian fundamentalists find themselves odd bedfellows, and transgressive artists, indignant moralists and grandstanding politicians collude in courting controversy so they can "bask equally in the limelight." Levinson is a First Amendment absolutist, decrying censorship campaigns as a kind of "fascist chic" which makes it "not just okay to shut people up, but kind of cool." However, her nuanced treatment of all sides of the debate makes this a revealing exploration of the social meaning of words.
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"Journalist Levinson captures the vibrancy and cacophony of democracy through the stories of 20 protagonists who voiced discordant views and tested society's commitment to free expression.... [t]hese engagingly narrated personal dramas provide a remarkably panoramic view of American society through the lens of free expression issues." - A. B. Cochran, Choice "Through biographical accounts of people in the post-September 11th United States, policies and practices surrounding the First Amendment are explored. The struggle to take full advantage of what many consider an inalienable right is played out in various arenas; from the educational system to the artistic and publishing worlds. The stories remind us of the power and importance of the individual voice." - Women's Review of Books "America's national obsession with asserting, and quelling, free-speech comes alive in this collection of profiles of First Amendment firebrands.... The author goes beyond the usual polarized corners of political correctness.... her nuanced treatment of all sides of the debate makes this a revealing exploration of the social meaning of words." - Publishers Weekly"