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In America we like to think we live in a land of liberty, where everyone can say whatever they want. Throughout our history, however, we have also been quick to censor people who offend or frighten us. We talk a good game about freedom of speech, then we turn around and deny it to others. In this brief but bracing book, historian Jonathan Zimmerman and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Signe Wilkinson tell the story of free speech in America: who established it, who has denounced it, and who has risen to its defense. They also make the case for why we should care about it today, when free speech is once again under attack.
Across the political spectrum, Americans have demanded the suppression of ideas and images that allegedly threaten our nation. But the biggest danger to America comes not from speech but from censorship, which prevents us from
freely governing ourselves. Free speech allows us to criticize our leaders. It lets us consume the art, film, and literature we prefer. And, perhaps most importantly, it allows minorities to challenge the oppression they suffer. While any of us are censored, none of us are free.
About the Author
Jonathan Zimmerman is the Judy and Howard Berkowitz Professor in Education at the University of Pennsylvania. A former Peace Corps volunteer, he is the author of Campus Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know and seven other books. He is also a frequent op-ed contributor to The New York Times, the Washington Post, and other national newspapers and magazines. Zimmerman received the 2019 Open Inquiry Leadership Award from Heterodox Academy, which promotes viewpoint diversity in higher education. Signe Wilkinson was the first female to receive the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1992.
"This engaging and enlightening book is filled with fascinating stories from past and present, with a diverse cast of characters, who all embody the current, urgent importance of robust freedom of speech." —Nadine Strossen, John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law Emerita, New York Law School; Immediate Past President, American Civil Liberties Union, and author of HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship
"In Free Speech and Why You Should Give a Damn, Jonathan Zimmerman offers an accessible, engaging and compelling portrayal of the history of free speech in our nation and why the citizens of a democracy should both embrace and defend it fiercely." —Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Chicago, and author of Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime and The Free Speech Century
"Have you noticed how in the past few years, a certain set have decided that you should be ousted from polite society for opinions that seem ordinary or at least up for discussion? This book will show you with words and political cartoons what's happened and where to go from here." —John H. McWhorter, Professor of Linguistics at Columbia University and Contributing Editor at The Atlantic
"At a time when many young Americans harbor doubts about the value of free speech, Jonathan Zimmerman’s powerful defense of this democratic principle has never been more urgent." —Justin Driver, Professor of Law, Yale Law School and author of The Schoolhouse Gate
"Jonathan Zimmerman's brisk and cheerful trot through free-speech history—enlivened by Signe Wilkinson's zesty drawings—uses humor and passion in equal measure to drive home what's easily forgotten: free speech is the most precious of human rights." —Jonathan Rauch, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institute, and author of Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought
"This pithy, witty and ingenious volume offers an engaging and urgent reminder to young people of why they have a stake in free speech." —Suzanne Nossel, Chief Executive Officer, PEN America
"Jonathan Zimmerman’s book demonstrates how free speech is the backbone of democracy—and how restricting speech can break America." —Cynthia and Sanford Levinson, Authors of Fault Lines in the Constitution
"A lively, informative journey through the history of efforts to restrict speech in the United States." —Carlos E. Cortés, Professor Emeritus of History, University of California, Riverside
"With this short book, Jonathan Zimmerman takes us through a remarkably thorough review of the controversies and history of free speech, always with an eye to our current period." —Mary Beth Tinker, Tinker Tour USA: Empowering Youth Voices Through First-Amendment Activism
"At a time when many are questioning free speech—or are at least skeptical of it—Jonathan Zimmerman and Signe Wilkinson show how it has been central to every movement for equality and social justice in American history." —Anthony Romero, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union
"What an elegant book, warmly written, story-filled, beautifully argued, making the case for entire liberty of speech." —Randall Kennedy, Michael R. Klein Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
"What an elegant book, warmly written, story-filled, beautifully argued, making the case for entire liberty of speech." —Deirdre Nansen McCloskey, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Economics and History, University of Chicago and author of Why Liberalism Works