From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act
A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America
Publisher's Weekly, 2007
Finan (Alfred E. Smith: The Happy Warrior), president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, provides an insightful history of the long struggle for free speech in America. The book is especially apropos for our own age, when, confronted by the Patriot Act, otherwise mild-mannered librarians have morphed into tenacious guardians of civil liberty, refusing to open client records to the FBI. The government has more than once tried to suppress the First Amendment right to free expression of suspected radicals, antiwar activists and labor unionists. In November 1919, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer launched raids during which 4,000 Americans, mostly immigrants, were rounded up because they were suspected of being Communists. In 1923, Upton Sinclair went to jail for the brazen act of reading the First Amendment aloud on Liberty Hill in San Pedro, Calif. Thirty-four years later, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and a City Lights bookstore clerk faced trial in San Francisco for selling Allen Ginsberg's "obscene" book Howl. Finan's tome is chock-full of would-be tyrants eager to tell others what they might say and think. But it's also chock-full of heroes (from the ACLU to those brave librarians) who have refused to be silenced.