Freedom of Speech: Mightier Than the Sword (Paperback)
A provocative, timely assessment of the state of free speech in America
With his best seller The Working Poor, Pulitzer Prize winner and former New York Times veteran David K. Shipler cemented his place among our most trenchant social commentators. Now he turns his incisive reporting to a critical American ideal: freedom of speech. Anchored in personal stories—sometimes shocking, sometimes absurd, sometimes dishearteningly familiar—Shipler’s investigations of the cultural limits on both expression and the willingness to listen build to expose troubling instabilities in the very foundations of our democracy.
Focusing on recent free speech controversies across the nation, Shipler maps a rapidly shifting topography of political and cultural norms: parents in Michigan rallying to teachers vilified for their reading lists; conservative ministers risking their churches’ tax-exempt status to preach politics from the pulpit; national security reporters using techniques more common in dictatorships to avoid leak prosecution; a Washington, D.C., Jewish theater’s struggle for creative control in the face of protests targeting productions critical of Israel; history teachers in Texas quietly bypassing a reactionary curriculum to give students access to unapproved perspectives; the mixed blessings of the Internet as a forum for dialogue about race.
These and other stories coalesce to reveal the systemic patterns of both suppression and opportunity that are making today a transitional moment for the future of one of our founding principles. Measured yet sweeping, Freedom of Speech brilliantly reveals the triumphs and challenges of defining and protecting the boundaries of free expression in modern America.
About the Author
DAVID K. SHIPLER reported for The New York Times from 1966 to 1988 in New York, Saigon, Moscow, Jerusalem, and Washington, D.C. He is the author of six previous books, including the best sellers Russia and The Working Poor, as well as Arab and Jew, which won the Pulitzer Prize. He has been a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and has taught at Princeton, American University, and Dartmouth. He writes online at The Shipler Report.
Selection, Fifteen Books You Need to Read in 2015, The Village Voice
“Chilling. . . . For Shipler, it's essential that we find a middle ground where we can hear one another, where we can debate and disagree with respect. . . . We must participate in the conversation about who we are and who we want to be. That it is unruly, disturbing, scary even, goes without saying; this is also why it's necessary.” —David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times
“[Shipler] takes on everything from the fate of whistleblowers (not good) to how schools deal with books that some parents find objectionable. Thoroughly reported and written with both fairness and passion, it’s a highly readable treatment of a subject that doesn’t get much more important.” —Margaret Sullivan, The New York Times
“Shipler offers an on-the-ground, anecdotal portrait of an eclectic and rich mix of speech controversies. . . . The strength of his book lies in his willingness to investigate the facts and his ability to portray vividly the real-life quandaries that people at the center of free speech battles often face.” —David Cole, The Washington Post
“[Shipler] gets it: The First Amendment is only a starting point. Free expression is a noble ideal that creates continual tension in our society. . . . Shipler’s view of America’s free speech landscape is nuanced and complex. Yes, people say awful things, and sometimes seek to squelch expression with which they disagree. But in his book, good ideas and sentiments hold their own against bad and offensive ones.” —Bill Lueders, The Progressive
“David K. Shipler has written a vibrant analysis of our ambivalent relationship with the single most important right we have under the U.S. Constitution. . . . Shipler writes with crisp, concise earnestness. . . . This book is a pleasure to read both for Shipler’s skill but also because he tells the stories of people bound up in these issues.” —John Pantalone, Providence Journal
“A well-researched and fair treatment of its subject matter. . . . [Shipler] approaches events factually and without bias. . . . He also goes beyond the simple and immediate facts of the situations he describes.” —Eric Barber-Isaac, Portland Book Review
“Illuminating. . . . [Shipler] does his homework.” —Julia M. Klein, Columbia Journalism Review
“By providing intimate portraits of the lives of those who dare to speak against the odds, Shipler enables us to see the human element behind free expression. . . . Shipler pricks the conscience of readers who refrain from telling the truth, or whose selective listening has lead them to disrespect and delegitimize those with whom they disagree.” —Dennis McDaniel, National Catholic Reporter
“Good stories, great interviews, and a potent plea on behalf of vigilant listening.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A broad and deep look at free speech. . . . A fascinating look at one of our fundamental rights.” —Booklist
“David Shipler reminds us in this important book that sometimes we have to listen to things we don’t want to hear. But without freedom of speech, there can be no dialogue, and without dialogue, there can be no democracy. Freedom of Speech is a glorious celebration of its own subject!” —Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed
“At a time when the First Amendment is under siege as never before in our lifetimes, David Shipler, one of the nation’s great journalists, reminds us what we are in danger of losing. His terrific, timely new book, Freedom of Speech: Mightier than the Sword, takes us on a tour—sometimes shocking, often infuriating, always enlightening—of America’s free-speech battlefields.” —Philip Shenon, author of A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination
“Shipler tells real, often Orwellian stories of ordinary people—government workers, teachers, librarians, and playwrights—who risk everything to push the free speech envelope, while challenging us to consider difficult cases when money buys speech and poverty promotes silence. At a time when many civil libertarians despair at the loss of freedom and privacy on so many fronts, Freedom of Speech reveals conflicts that must be understood if free speech is to prevail.” —Barbara Jones, director, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom
“The freedom of speech enjoyed by American citizens is unique in all the world. In this brilliantly insightful and incisive book, David Shipler explores the many and varied facets of our nation’s complex, extraordinary, and fascinating relationship with our most precious freedom.” —Geoffrey R. Stone, author of Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime