four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
34-May-June-2008
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0

A-Freedom for the ThoughtIt would be hard to find a better writer to introduce the First Amendment than Anthony Lewis. A constitutional law expert, civil liberties advocate, and legal affairs writer, he is best known for his accounts of pivotal Supreme Court cases, including Gideon’s Trumpet (1964), about how Americans gained the right to an attorney regardless of ability of pay. In Freedom for the Thought We Hate, the former New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner takes a broader view, telling the story of the First Amendment as it has developed in American courts (the first free-speech case to refer to the First Amendment was heard in 1919). While his book is not a comprehensive history of the idea of free speech, Lewis covers the most important cases and ponders the debates about what the words of the First Amendment actually mean to our democracy. He makes points that will draw cheers from civil libertarians and a few that will surprise them as well.
Basic Books. 221 pages. $25. ISBN: 0465039173

Hartford Courant 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Anthony Lewis recounts dozens of landmark court cases while eloquently conveying the simple majesty and importance of the First Amendment in this splendid account, which ought to be required reading in every high school and college." Bill Williams

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Lewis blends a profound understanding of First Amendment jurisprudence and history with an enjoyable writing style that his readers have long come to admire. In our war-torn era where dissent and open-minded debate have become problematic, Lewis compels us to remember the crucial function free speech serves in our democratic form of government." Chuck Leddy

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Primers are too often both prim and boring. But in my 40 or so years reading Mr. Lewis’ journalism, I have never found him either prim or boring. His vast knowledge and easy writing style make cases I have studied deeply come alive anew." Steve Weinberg

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[Lewis] knows how to parse a Supreme Court decision. At the same time, he looks behind the printed page to scrutinize the experiences and values of the men and women whose utterances are given the force of law. The result is a short history of the 1st Amendment that is always illuminating and sometimes rollicking." Jonathan Kirsch

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"In the 21st century, the heroic First Amendment tradition may seem like a noble vision from a distant era, in which heroes and villains were easier to identify. … Anthony Lewis is right to celebrate it." Jeffrey Rosen

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s hard to imagine a book about legal history reading like a page-turner, but this book does. … The questions that have yet to be settled press impatiently against the book’s pages, reminding us that the First Amendment continues to shift under our feet even as we read." Beth Schwartzapfel

Critical Summary

Though Freedom for the Thought We Hate is a book about dissent, the critics spoke with one voice, unanimously praising it. Their reaction is no surprise, since the author is Anthony Lewis, whom the Dallas Morning News called "perhaps the most talented and experienced journalist in the country who writes about law." Every critic praised his engaging writing and his skill in selecting just the right facts to make a slim volume feel packed with relevant information. Reviewers disagreed, however, on the meaning of Lewis’s survey for the future of the First Amendment. Jeffrey Rosen, a great legal journalist in his own right, pointed out that most upcoming challenges to American free speech will likely stem from conflicts over the power of corporations and the Internet. These issues, Rosen writes, will need to be settled by Congress, so Lewis’s decision to center his account on the Court may be a little misleading. At the same time, Lewis’s book reminded most reviewers of the constant need to defend free speech and to exercise it courageously—particularly in wartime.