From Publishers Weekly
Finan (Alfred E. Smith: The Happy Warrior
), president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, provides an insightful history of the long struggle for free speech in America. The book is especially apropos for our own age, when, confronted by the Patriot Act, otherwise mild-mannered librarians have morphed into tenacious guardians of civil liberty, refusing to open client records to the FBI. The government has more than once tried to suppress the First Amendment right to free expression of suspected radicals, antiwar activists and labor unionists. In November 1919, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer launched raids during which 4,000 Americans, mostly immigrants, were rounded up because they were suspected of being Communists. In 1923, Upton Sinclair went to jail for the brazen act of reading the First Amendment aloud on Liberty Hill in San Pedro, Calif. Thirty-four years later, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and a City Lights bookstore clerk faced trial in San Francisco for selling Allen Ginsberg's "obscene" book Howl.
Finan's tome is chock-full of would-be tyrants eager to tell others what they might say and think. But it's also chock-full of heroes (from the ACLU to those brave librarians) who have refused to be silenced. (May)
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*Starred Review* It's obvious from this fascinating book that the author, chairman of the National Coalition against Censorship, is passionate about his subject. From the 1919 antisubversive raids launched by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, to early film censorship, to book banning, to the red scare, to the attack on comic books, to anti-NAACP legislation, to television censorship, to the Patriot Act, Finan takes us on a censorship tour of the twentieth century, carefully examining how the right to think and speak out has been repeatedly put to the test. In addition to the usual heroes (Rosa Parks, Edward R. Murrow, Martin Luther King Jr., Clarence Darrow), the book is full of notorious villains, such as Will Hays, the father of film censorship; Fredric Wertham, the psychiatrist whose hatred of comic books changed an entire industry; Joseph McCarthy; and Donald Wildmon, the Methodist minister whose crusade against sex and violence on television garnered worldwide attention. Unlike many commentators, Finan treats the villains fairly, presenting them not as wild-eyed fanatics but as people who thought they were doing what was right. The book is a welcome and much-needed change from the simplistic good-versus-evil treatment this subject often gets. Could be the definitive study of a perpetually complex, contentious issue. David PittCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved