More than any other people on earth, Americans are free to say and write what they think. The media can air the secrets of the White House, the boardroom, or the bedroom with little fear of punishment or penalty. The reason for this extraordinary freedom is not a superior culture of tolerance, but just fourteen words in our most fundamental legal document: the free expression clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution. In Lewis's telling, the story of how the right of free expression evolved along with our nation makes a compelling case for the adaptability of our constitution. Although Americans have gleefully and sometimes outrageously exercised their right to free speech since before the nation's founding, the Supreme Court did not begin to recognize this right until 1919. Freedom of speech and the press as we know it today is surprisingly recent. Anthony Lewis tells us how these rights were created, revealing a story of hard choices, heroic (and some less heroic) judges, and fascinating and eccentric defendants who forced the legal system to come face-to-face with one of America's great founding ideas.
About the Author
Anthony Lewis (1927-2013), a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, was a columnist for the New York Times op-ed page from 1969 through 2001. In addition to his long and distinguished career with the Times, Mr. Lewis was, starting in 1983, the James Madison Visiting Professor at Columbia University. He was the author of two other books, Gideon's Trumpet and Make No Law.
"[A] heroic account of how courageous judges in the 20th century created the modern First Amendment."
—Jeffrey Rosen, New York Times Book Review
Mr. Lewis does a remarkable job of presenting the history and scope of freedom of thought...a concise and wise book."
"[Lewis] 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 First Amendment that is always illuminating and sometimes rollicking."
—Los Angeles Times
"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."
—Christian Science Monitor
"It's hard to imagine a book about legal history reading like a page-turner, but this one does. The Supreme Court justices whose decisions have shaped our country emerge as conflicted and principled human beings. 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."