DANGEROUS IDEAS

A BRIEF HISTORY OF CENSORSHIP IN THE WEST, FROM THE ANCIENTS TO FAKE NEWS

A timely contribution to an ongoing debate.

A history of attacks on free speech.

Lawyer and journalist Berkowitz offers a well-informed chronicle of censorship, from ancient times to the present, arguing persuasively that censorship does not work but instead makes ideas more effective by forbidding them. “Once transmitted,” he writes, “an idea is not easily extinguished” despite fierce coercive power wielded to prevent, suppress, or punish expression. In the ancient world, some words, thought to have magical powers, were considered “so venomous” that they were banned. Athens allowed free speech in the agora but silenced thinkers such as Socrates, whose words were seen as polluting and his trial and death, a means of purification. Societies under stress—war, rebellion, class uprisings, religious dissent—often resort to censorship in the form of conflagrations: From Rome to Nazi Germany, many texts have gone up in flames. In the Middle Ages, the state quashed treasonous utterances by instituting public shaming; severed heads went on display as warnings. Beginning around 1450, the printing press, which circulated ideas quickly and widely, proved a bane to censors. Although, in 1670, Spinoza argued that free speech is a right in a free state, that principle has not been easily upheld. Soon after adopting the First Amendment, for example, the fragile new American nation passed a draconian sedition law. With examples of banned books such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Grapes of Wrath, Berkowitz underscores John Stuart Mill’s contention that an idea that seems harmful one day might be beneficial on another. As much as he champions free expression, Berkowitz sharply indicts social media companies engaged in “surveillance capitalism,” profiting by allowing racism, anti-Semitism, conspiracy theories, and disinformation to proliferate. Still, faced with this challenge, he reminds readers that “policing speech too aggressively risks exactly the kind of overbearing exercise of state power that spells the end of a free society.”

A timely contribution to an ongoing debate.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8070-3624-2

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Awards & Accolades

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  • Kirkus Reviews'
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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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