Freedom of Speech: Mightier Than the Sword

David K. Shipler. Knopf, $28.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-307-95732-0
Less a sharp blade than a sticky, tangled web is the image conveyed by this nuanced survey of American free-speech controversies. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Shipler (‘Rights at Risk') investigates recent showdowns related to the issue: parents trying to ban novels with sex scenes from high school English classes, the government prosecuting whistle-blowers for speaking up about government surveillance abuses, preachers resisting IRS rules against electioneering from the pulpit, a Jewish theater fighting to retain funding for a play about a possible Israeli atrocity against Palestinians. These aren't all stories of heroic freedom fighters; while Shipler calls himself a near absolutist when it comes to the First Amendment, he allows that much embattled speech is ugly, hateful, or just plain stupid, and his sympathetic reportage recognizes concerns on all sides (sometimes to excess: he tends to let his subjects' rambling speechifying about speech go on for far too long). Shipler wants to show that, even in polarized contexts, an abundance of speech usually prods people a few steps closer to mutual comprehension. In the wake of the ‘Charlie Hebdo' massacre, his probing exploration of quieter confrontations reminds us how America's robust free-speech culture encourages citizens to talk, rather than shoot, issues out. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM. (May 12)
Reviewed on: 02/02/2015
Release date: 05/12/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-307-94761-1
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