A well-structured and compelling examination of the costs and benefits of free speech.

FREE SPEECH

A HISTORY FROM SOCRATES TO SOCIAL MEDIA

A comprehensive history of free speech from ancient to modern times.

In this well-researched and highly readable book, Copenhagen-based writer Mchangama, host of the podcast series Clear and Present Danger: A History of Free Speech, traces the history of free speech around the world, examining the views of both its advocates and its suppressors. The author effectively demonstrates how much we have gained by the spread of free speech as well as what we stand to lose if we allow its continued erosion. Mchangama begins with ancient civilizations—“Judging from surviving law codes and writings, the great ancient civilizations protected the power and authority of their rulers from the speech of their subjects, not the other way around”—and ends with a discussion of the current content moderation and transparency problems of social media platforms, which allow the spread of disinformation and hate speech. Throughout history, Mchangama shows, numerous groups and individuals have diligently worked on the advancement of free speech, including Socrates, Johannes Gutenberg, John Milton, Franklin Roosevelt, and Nelson Mandela. While fighting for their cause, champions of free speech have faced leaders who have tried to rein in speech when they felt threatened. These efforts at suppression have included the banning of books, distribution of propaganda, attacks on the media, and even the imprisonment or murder of journalists. Today, as we continue to fight to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, censorship, lies, and conspiracy theories abound, and the legitimacy of the current presidency is being erroneously questioned. However, notes Mchangama, “while online expression may sometimes lead to real-life harm, it does not necessarily follow that placing restrictions on free speech is an effective remedy.” At the same time, as the author points out with respect to attempts to overthrow democracy, free speech should be accompanied by “a zero-tolerance policy toward organized threats, intimidations, and violence by groups seeking to establish parallel systems of authority.”

A well-structured and compelling examination of the costs and benefits of free speech.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5416-0049-2

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2022

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A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

THE WAR ON THE WEST

A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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