A timely contribution to an ongoing debate.

DANGEROUS IDEAS

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

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. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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

NIGHT

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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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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