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From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act

A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America
Narrated by: Christopher M. Finan
Length: 12 hrs and 31 mins
Categories: History, American
3 out of 5 stars (2 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Christopher M. Finan received the Eli M. Oboler Memorial Award for 2008. The award is presented for the best published work in the area of intellectual freedom. Eligible books were published between 2006 and 2007.

In 1919, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer launched a government roundup of thousands of Russian immigrants and deported 800 of them for their radical ideas, a flagrant violation of First Amendment rights. Decades later, a second Red Scare gripped the US as Senator Joseph McCarthy spearheaded a witch hunt for Russian agents while sneering at "egg-sucking liberals" who defended "Communists and queers".

The nearly century-long battle between heresy hunters and civil libertarians makes the story of free speech in this country a colorful one, filled with dramatic episodes and larger-than-life personalities. Historian and free-speech advocate Christopher Finan introduces us to a cast of characters as varied as a young GI named Hugh Hefner and the ever-vigilant Emma Viets, chair of the Kansas City censorship board, who cheerfully cut scenes that weren't "clean and wholesome" from Hollywood films, shortening onscreen kisses and excluding any image of a woman "in the family way". 

This history has enormous relevance in post-Patriot Act America. At a time when government is warning citizens and the press to watch what they say, the words of Murray I. Gurfein, a judge from another era, have special resonance: "The security of the Nation is not at the ramparts alone. Security also lies in the value of our free institutions. A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know."

From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act traces the fight for free speech from the turn of the 19th century through the War on Terror. Christopher Finan has given us a vital history of our most fundamental, and most vulnerable, constitutional right.

©2007 Christopher M. Finan (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Christopher Finan has given us a marvelously readable account of the struggle for free speech in the United States. Beginning with the birth of the American civil liberties movement during World War I, Finan traces the often grueling battles over free speech in wartime, book censorhip, McCarthyism, and freedom of the press that have marked the gradual evolution of American freedom. It is a story every American should know, for it is our nation's greatest achievement." (Geoffrey R. Stone, author of Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism)

"The Founding Fathers gave us the First Amendment, but we have had to fight for free speech. Radicals, reactionaries, feminists, religious zealots, African Americans, Klansmen, college students, even schoolchildren, have played a role in expanding free speech. They are all present in Chris Finan's colorful narrative, which shows how much progress we have made - and how far we have to go." (Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union and professor of law, New York Law School)

"An accessible, thought-provoking history that not only informs, but also engages the reader in participating in the democratic process." (Joyce Meskis, owner, Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver)

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Required Reading (Listening) for Citizenship

Finan manages to be informative, persuasive, and entertaining -- all at once. If every citizen knew the contents of this book, we would yet enjoy diversity of opinion regarding the precise relationship of security and freedom -- but we'd be able to make progress together rather than cycling in ignorance. Finan's book is thorough, clear, enjoyable, and ultimately useful.

His narration is not quite as polished as might a "professional" narration have been, but his narration is certainly superior to any hired reader.. Finan turns his own phrases deftly, and the occasional minor catches create a sense of intimacy for the listener. Hearing the author's voice makes this audible experience feel more like a conversation.