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You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom (English and English Edition) Paperback – January 19, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


‘Cohen is perhaps the most insightful, thought-provoking and entertaining political writer in Britain today, and comes from the honest tradition of English liberal thought that threads from John Milton to John Stuart Mill and George Orwell’ Telegraph, Ed West

‘Nick Cohen’s books are like the best Smiths songs; however depressing the content, the execution is so shimmering, so incandescent with indignation that the overall effect is transcendently uplifting’ Julie Burchill, Prospect

‘It is useful to have all this material in one place, particularly for the benefit of young people, who must be taught about previous disputes over free expression’ Hanif Kureishi, Independent

‘You can read this book, and you probably should’ Hugo Rifkind, The Spectator

‘Into the space vacated by the controversialist Christopher Hitchens we might recruit the sardonic, sceptical columnist Nick Cohen’ Iain Finlayson, The Times

‘Nick Cohen’s new book is a corrective to the tendency of internet utopians to think that the web has ushered in an “age of transparency” New Statesman

‘Writing with passion, wit and erudition, Cohen draws upon the spirit of Orwell and Milton in his call for a fightback against the onslaught on free speech’ Metro, 4 stars

‘You Can’t Read This Book. You can, OF COURSE. And you should. Cohen is right about everything that matters.’ Standpoint, Anthony Julius

About the Author

Nick Cohen is a journalist and commentator for the Observer and Evening Standard. He is also the author of ‘What’s Left’? – the most important and provocative commentaries on how the Left lost its way.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 330 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (January 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007308906
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007308903
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #723,931 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David Wasley on February 7, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
We believe that we can say, read and hear whatever we want. The author shows that governments, courts, the rich, religious leaders, even some muddle-headed libertarians, often aim or condone the suppression of criticism. A key theme is that criticism that may offend someone, is not the same as that which harms, and is often needed. This book is not a dusty treatise on freedom of speech as its themes are well supported by recent and disturbing case studies.
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Format: Paperback
I commend Nick Cohen's "You Can't Read This Book" as perhaps the most important non-fiction book of 2012. It's about censorship today - all too often, self-censorship, and hence censorship that goes unprotested, unrecorded and unnoticed.

He begins with Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and how shamefully liberals have failed to defend them. (He points out that nobody has dared to publish anything like The Satanic Verses since, and even a sycophantic book, The Jewel of Medina, got suppressed for fear of quite unwarranted Islamist reprisals. This book prompted me to start reading The Satanic Verses, and it is the closest thing we will see in our lifetimes to an Islamic Life of Brian, much more playful than blasphemous. The fatwa against Rushdie should have been laughed off the face of the earth, instead of being cowtowed to by the likes of Roald Dahl and the then Archbishop of Canterbury.)

He draws a sharp distinction between tolerance for religion and respect for religious beliefs.

He covers how terrorists manufacture offence and terrorise randomly; the English libel laws and how the rich and powerful have misused them to silence the powerless, almost without trying; how the obscene "earnings" of money managers contributed to the recent economic collapses and how whistleblowing was suppressed; and how the freedom of the Internet is a double-edged sword. (Julian Assange was not promoting freedom when Wikileaks published a list of informants to the Americans in Afghanistan, for the Taliban to use to compile a death-list.)

The chapter headings give a good idea of its scope:

1 'Kill the Blasphemer'
Rules for Censors (1): Demand a Respect You Don't Deserve

2 A Clash of Civilisations?
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This is possibly one of the most important books I have ever read. And it goes without saying that if you read one book, then read, "You can't read this book", by Nick Cohen (no pun intended). It represents a serious wake up call to all those who voice an opinion, write a blog, upload a picture or even tell a joke, believing they are free to do so. Nick Cohen asks us to consider whether or not we believe in free speech, but more importantly, whether or not we have the courage to practice it. The book is a detailed, informative and a devastating critique, not only for Religion, Politics and Money, but also to the timidity that results when appeasement feeds the beast it seeks to tame. And points out quite rightly that "Censorship is most effective when its victims pretend it does not exist".

There are the usual villains and victims, and some new ones I've never heard of before. Two new key areas that stand out most for me is the level of Self-imposed Censorship in the Work Place, which is seldom ever written about, and the bizarre Legal System that exists in England that allows Litigation for anyone with the wealth and power to silence critics ignoring national boarders. Also of note are the sobering words towards the end of the book for those who think the Internet and Social Media will bring about effective change.

It is pretty clear that the Powers that be are usually one step ahead of us, and don't think for one minute that they don't know who you are or where you live, or even what you think, yes the thought police are looking over your shoulder AKA 1984, and George Orwell.
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This is a reply to the review by Stuart. Stuart in his review misrepresents the views of the author. Apart from that, I think you should read both books of Nick Cohen, What's Left and You cant read this book. So, to respond to Stuart's review:

First, the term 'hypocrite' is not applied correctly in his review. In a book about free speech it would be hypocritical to deny people like anti-zionist or antisemites their right of free speech. Well, Cohen of course doesn't, he criticizes their view. Calling someone a hypocrite because you do not share his opinion makes free exchange of opinions impossible.

Second, the argument Stuart refers to is not in this book, but in the previous "What's left".

Third, it's not even in this book, because Stuart apparently didn't understand Cohen's argument and instead of correctly describing the author's argument, he - by simply calling him a 'zionist' - he implies that Cohen is uncritical of Israel and thinks people criticizing Israel are not only anti-Zionists, but real Anti-semites. Well, he doesn't. He even explicitly says so. Instead he simply criticizes the view, that the establishment of Israel is the 'root cause' of ALL the problems in the Middle East, including the rise of Islamism. To quote him from What's left, Chapter 12, p. 352 (emphasis mine):

"All of these echoes of fascism passed without comment from the majority of the liberal-left. I'm NOT saying their anti-Zionism was the same as classic antisemitism because with a few dishonourable exceptions the Jewish obsession of most people on the Left didn't degenerate into a visceral loathing of all Jews. Rather, they behaved AS IF they were antisemites. When they designated Israel the world's only pariah state and the 'root cause' of terrorism and war, they once again described to Jews the supernatural power to bring chaos."

So, go on and read both of Cohen's books.
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