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From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act

A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America

Author: Christopher M. Finan

The first comprehensive history of the evolution of Free Speech in America for a general readership, from a respected historian and free speech activist.

A June 2007 Book Sense Pick

In 1919, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer launched a government roundup of thousands of Russian immigrants and deported 800 of them for their radical ideas, a flagrant violation of First Amendment rights. Decades later, a second Red Scare gripped the United States as Senator Joseph McCarthy spearheaded a witch-hunt for Russian agents while sneering at “egg-sucking liberals” who defended “Communists and queers.”

The nearly century-long battle between heresy hunters and civil libertarians makes the story of free speech in this country a colorful one, filled with dramatic episodes and larger-than-life personalities. Historian and free-speech advocate Christopher Finan introduces us to a cast of characters as varied as a young G.I. named Hugh Hefner and the ever-vigilant Emma Viets, chair of the Kansas City censorship board, who cheerfully cut scenes that weren’t “clean and wholesome” from Hollywood films, shortening onscreen kisses and excluding any image of a woman “in the family way.”

This history has enormous relevance in post-Patriot Act America. At a time when government is warning citizens and the press to watch what they say, the words of Murray I. Gurfein, a judge from another era, have special resonance: “The security of the Nation is not at the ramparts alone. Security also lies in the value of our free institutions. A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know.”

From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act traces the fight for free speech from the turn of the nineteenth century through the War on Terror. Christopher Finan has given us a vital history of our most fundamental, and most vulnerable, constitutional right.
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“Christopher Finan has given us a marvelously readable account of the struggle for free speech in the United States. Beginning with the birth of the American civil liberties movement during World War I, Finan traces the often grueling battles over free speech in wartime, book censorhip, McCarthyism, and freedom of the press that have marked the gradual evolution of American freedom. It is a story every American should know, for it is our nation’s greatest achievement.” —Geoffrey R. Stone, author of Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from The Sedition Act of 1798 to The War on Terrorism

“The Founding Fathers gave us the First Amendment, but we have had to fight for free speech. Radicals, reactionaries, feminists, religious zealots, African Americans, Klansmen, college students, even schoolchildren, have played a role in expanding free speech. They are all present in Chris Finan’s colorful narrative, which shows how much progress we have made-and how far we have to go.” —Nadine Strossen, President of the American Civil Liberties Union and Professor of Law, New York Law School

“An accessible, thought-provoking history that not only informs, but also engages the reader in participating in the democratic process.” —Joyce Meskis, Owner, Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver

“American history is marred by recurrent episodes of hate—Red scares, super-patriotism, fear of sexual expression. Christopher Finan brilliantly paints that record, and shows how courageous Americans have fought for freedom.” —Anthony Lewis, author of Gideon’s Trumpet and Make No Law

“Concisely detailed and researched, From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act reads like high powered fiction. Characters as diverse as Roger Baldwin, Bernie Sanders, Allen Ginsberg, Fatty Arbuckle, Jane Russell, Anthony Comstock, John Ashcroft, and Dwight Eisenhower share the stage to tell the tale of a nation at odds with its Puritan heritage. “
—Kenton Oliver, Intellectual Freedom Committee Chair, the American Library Association

“At a time when America’s freedoms and liberties are under attack in Washington, Finan’s book is a powerful reminder of why we must carry on the fight to preserve the central underpinning of the American democratic system—the right to free and uncensored discourse.” —Senator Bernie Sanders

“This is one of the most important—and readable—books written about the price of freedom in a democracy. Do we want to pay for our freedom and security with our free speech? Timely and urgent, this is an essential book for citizens, politicians, and government officials to read and embrace.” —Alicia Greene, Olsson’s Books & Records, Washington, DC


Review by: Nan Levinson, Columbia Magazine - December 15, 2008
“Comprehensive tour of free-speech controversies over the past nine decades. Finan writes gracefully about the episodes, and he explains their significance with insight and occasional wit . . . he has drawn a valuable map, with routes and boundaries clearly delineated.” Read Full Review
Review: Choice - March 1, 2008
"a book...which, largely because it is very well-written, may usefully introduce general readers to some key civil liberties struggles during the past 90 years..."
—R.J. Goldstein University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
Review by: Michael Parks, Alternet - June 21, 2007
From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act is an engaging read and tells a story that is as relevant to Americans today as it ever has been.”
Review by: Ronald Collins, - May 21, 2007
“Finan’s engaging book is a work of many well-told stories, all true… Christopher Finan does an admirable job in revealing how America’s most fundamental freedom has too often become its most vulnerable one. From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act is a book to be read and discussed by freedom-loving Americans and by teachers, too. For there—in the classroom—is where Finan’s free-speech stories most need to be read ... and remembered.”
Review by: Dennis Lythgoe, Deseret Morning News - May 20, 2007
From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act is a nicely paced history with a list of fascinating characters…a well-researched and analytical study of the persistent arguments Americans have had regarding the First Amendment.”
Review: Library Journal - April 15, 2007
“Based on original research as well as secondary sources, this timely book will be of interest both to general and academic readers. Highly recommended.”
Review: Booklist, starred review - April 1, 2007
“Unlike many commentators, Finan treats the villains fairly, presenting them not as wild-eyed fanatics but as people who thought they were doing what was right. The book is a welcome and much-needed change from the simplistic good-versus-evil treatment this subject often gets. Could be the definitive study of a perpetually complex, contentious issue.”
Review: Publishers Weekly - March 5, 2007
“an insightful history of the long struggle for free speech in America.”
    Listen to Chris Finan's Interviews:
  • NPR
  • The Wilson Center

  • Interview: Chris Finan talks about free speech in America with Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Agaisnt Censorship

Download an mp3 to your computer (right-click to download)
Listen to streaming audio (requires Real Player)

From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act

ISBN: 978-080704428-5
Publication Date: 4/15/2007
Pages: 352
Size:6 x 9 Inches (US)
Price:  $25.95
Format: Cloth
Availability: Not currently available.
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