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Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism
"The constitutional right of American citizens to examine their government has invariably faded in times of violent conflict. This is an ominous precedent because we are now embroiled in a potentially endless battle, whether or not it qualifies as a war. By chronicling the most serious historical deviations from our ordinary constitutional order, therefore, Geoffrey Stone's outstanding book alarms as much as it clarifies. As the current administration flouts the Constitution in genuinely groundbreaking ways, it is also exposing the rest of us to dangers hitherto unknown." Stephen Holmes, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Synopses & Reviews
Geoffrey Stone's Perilous Times incisively investigates how the First Amendment and other civil liberties have been compromised in America during wartime. Stone delineates the consistent suppression of free speech in six historical periods from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the Vietnam War, and ends with a coda that examines the state of civil liberties in the Bush era.
Full of fresh legal and historical insight, Perilous Times magisterially presents a dramatic cast of characters who influenced the course of history over a two-hundred-year period: from the presidents — Adams, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, and Nixon — to the Supreme Court justices — Taney, Holmes, Brandies, Black, and Warren — to the resisters — Clement Vallandingham, Emma Goldman, Fred Korematsu, and David Dellinger. Filled with dozens of rare photographs, posters, and historical illustrations, Perilous Times is resonant in its call for a new approach in our response to grave crises.
"As readers would hope from a book about free speech, this one is filled with glorious insults — the first man charged under the Sedition Act accused John Adams's administration of 'unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp... and selfish avarice' — and lucid accounts of the speech that the U.S. government has tried to quiet throughout our history. A law professor at the University of Chicago, Stone delivers rich material in an engaging, character-based narrative. Stone offers deep insight into rhetorical history and the men and women who made it — resisters like Clement Vallandingham, Emma Goldman, Fred Korematsu and Daniel Ellsberg; presidents faced with wartime dilemmas; and the prosecutors, defenders and Supreme Court justices who shaped our understanding of the First Amendment today. His treatment of the war on terror is brief, and his assessment of the Bush administration is judicious but harsh for what he casts as its obsession with secrecy and its effective dismantling of the 1976 Levi guidelines restricting the FBI's ability to investigate political and religious activities. Stone places heavy responsibility on — and gives ample credit to — the American public for upholding free speech even when our leaders tend toward measures that weaken liberty in the name of strengthening it. Comprehensive and consistently readable, this enlightening book arrives at a time when national political debate should be at a fever pitch. 63 illus. Agent, Lynn Chu. (Oct. 25)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Most timely, and of wide interest to civil libertarians and students of legal history." Kirkus Reviews
"A masterpiece of constitutional history, Perilous Times promises to redefine the national debate on civil liberties and free speech." Elena Kagan, Harvard Law School
"A lively, masterful history — and reminder — of the essential role of the First Amendment during the stresses of war." Bob Woodward, author of Plan of Attack
"Covering the bloodied turf from the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to the current U.S.A. Patriot Act, this book is must reading for every citizen interested in something called the First Amendment." Studs Terkel
"So rich in material is Perilous Times, a chronicle of the tribulations of the 1st Amendment in wartime, that this scholarly yet highly readable book amounts to an anecdotal history of the United States itself, from the Founding Fathers to the present." Los Angeles Times
"This is great, dramatic, and absorbing legal history at its best — beautifully written, highly accessible, and critically important for our time." Jonathan Cole
"One closes this admirable book more than ever determined that the authors of the Constitution were right the first time, and that the only amendment necessary might be a prohibition on the passage of any law within six months of any atrocity, foreign or domestic." Christopher Hitchens, The New York Times Book Review
Book News Annotation:
During times of war, says Stone (law, U. of Chicago), "the line between dissent and disloyalty is elusive, and often ignored." Throughout American history, it has been especially at such times that the First Amendment right to free speech has been most challenged and, not infrequently, completely abrogated. Stone surveys these challenges, discussing the Sedition Act of 1798, President Lincoln's imprisonment of vocal opponents of his policies, the Espionage and Sedition Acts of World War I, McCarthyism, and repression of dissent during the Vietnam War. He explores the choices of presidents facing dissent, the judges called on to rule on First Amendment cases, and the dissenters determined to speak out. He also considers the parallels between his historical examples and the current "War on Terror."
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Stone incisively investigates how the First Amendment and other civil liberties have been compromised in America during wartime, from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the Vietnam War, ending with a coda that examines the state of civil liberties in the Bush era.
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