Beacon Press: From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act
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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 free speech in America for a general readership, from a respected historian and free speech activist

A 2007 Book Sense Selection

Christopher M. Finan received Eli M. Oboler Memorial Award for 2008. The award is presented for the best published work in the area of intellectual freedom. Eligible books were published between 2006 and 2007. Click here to read more.

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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“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.” —Booklist, starred review

“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 right to free and uncensored discourse.” —Senator Bernie Sanders

“A marvelously readable account of the struggle for free speech in the United States . . . It is a story every American should know, for it is our nation’s greatest achievement.” —Geoffrey R. Stone, author of Perilous Times

“Finan’s colorful narrative . . . shows how much progress we have made-and how far we have to go.” —Nadine Strossen, president of the ACLU and professor of law, New York Law School

“In this masterful work, Chris Finan deftly chronicles the challenges to free speech in the twentieth century; an accessible, thought provoking history that not only informs, but also engages the reader.” —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. A timely addition to bookshelves as the United States wrestles with issues of privacy and personal freedoms in an age of terrorism tied to an unpopular war.” —Kenton Oliver, Intellectual Freedom Committee Chair, the American Library Association

“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

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.” —Deseret Morning News

“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.” —

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.” —Alternet

“an insightful history of the long struggle for free speech in America.” —Publishers Weekly

“Based on original research as well as secondary sources, this timely book will be of interest both to general and academic readers. Highly recommended.” —Library Journal

“A book with enormous relevance for post-9/11 America.” —Gene Roman, America Magazine


Review by: Nan Levinson, Columbia Magazine - March 1, 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
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)

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From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act

ISBN: 978-080704429-2
Publication Date: 5/1/2008
Pages: 360
Size:6 x 9 Inches (US)
Price:  $26.00
Format: Paperback
Availability: In stock.
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