The best books about freedom of speech

2 authors have picked their favorite books about freedom of speech and why they recommend each book.

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Who Paid the Piper?

By Frances Stonor Saunders,

Book cover of Who Paid the Piper? : CIA and the Cultural Cold War

This may be over 20 years old but it is still the best account of the CIA’s massive interventions in culture and politics across the world and domestically in the Cold War. Detailed research and authoritatively written. The full story of the CIA’s intervention in the UK is still not fully told, with its covert operations in the Labour Party and we still do not know who the 50 British journalists were who were paid salaries by the CIA.

James Oliver and I covered the UK’s Information Research Department’s (IRD) mirror operation from 1947-1977 in Britain’s Secret Propaganda War. What this shows was that many ‘leading’ journalists, academics, politicians, and artists were not the best of their generation but were elevated by secret funding, publishing, and promotion because they suited the agenda of Anglo-US intelligence agencies. 


Who am I?

I started researching the way the West’s intelligence services manipulated the public when I was a student in the mid-1970s. I then became an investigative journalist and often returned to the subject in different ways, especially as a national security correspondent. I fully acknowledge the massive manipulation by the Communist Bloc during the Cold War but believe that it is important the public is aware of the manipulation that the West’s Cold Warriors utilized is fully known and recognized as it has left a legacy that has allowed for the rise of ‘fake news’.



I wrote...

Britain's Secret Propaganda War

By Paul Lashmar, James Oliver,

Book cover of Britain's Secret Propaganda War

What is my book about?

Dr. Paul Lashmar has been researching the secret world of the Foreign Office's Information Research Department (IRD) for some five decades and James Oliver (now BBC) for thirty. Although the book was published over twenty years ago it is still considered a groundbreaking account of IRD which was the Cold War cultural war department that worked with MI6. IRD was set up in 1948 and our book includes evidence of IRD's hidden hand in domestic politics, overthrowing left-wing governments and assisting Britain's entry into the Common Market.

The opening chapter reveals IRD’s secret hand in inciting the genocide of over 500,000 Indonesians in 1965, those suspected of being communists, an under-recognized historical event that the authors are still researching. The book discusses the impact of IRD both domestically and internationally. The authors have accumulated a substantial archive of material on IRD and cultural warfare.

Hate Spin

By Cherian George,

Book cover of Hate Spin: The Manufacture of Religious Offense and Its Threat to Democracy

Unscrupulous leaders often stir up mob violence in service to their own ambitions, taking offense at slights that they could choose to shrug off. George charges such groups as the Bharatiya Janata Party in India, the Front Pembela Islam in Indonesia, and ACT! for America in the United States with pursuing power, money, and attention by shrieking that a blasphemous cartoon, a multicultural textbook, or a new house of worship threatens the dominant religion. “Explosions of righteous indignation and incitement are more than the hysteria of mad mullahs and enraged mobs,” argues George. He reminds us to look past the young men throwing rocks and find the movement leaders who stand to gain.


Who am I?

I am fortunate not to have witnessed any major riots myself; the worst I’ve endured was a 1993 street fight in Moscow between parading Communists and the police, with bricks on one side and clubs and water cannon on the other. But even a relatively gentle protest march that draws a police response can be an astonishing spectacle, transforming a familiar, modern city into a medieval battlefield of massed crowds confronting armored men on horseback. And I am fascinated by the place of crowd actions in democratic societies. The right to assemble is embedded in our constitution, but there’s a fine line between public expression and mob rule.


I wrote...

The Fires of Philadelphia: Citizen-Soldiers, Nativists, and the 1844 Riots Over the Soul of a Nation

By Zachary M. Schrag,

Book cover of The Fires of Philadelphia: Citizen-Soldiers, Nativists, and the 1844 Riots Over the Soul of a Nation

What is my book about?

A gripping and masterful account of the moment one of America's founding cities turned on itself, giving the nation a preview of the Civil War to come.

America is in a state of deep unrest, grappling with xenophobia, racial, and ethnic tension on a national scale that feels singular to our time. But it also echoes the earliest anti-immigrant sentiments of the country. In 1844, Philadelphia was set aflame by a group of Protestant ideologues—avowed nativists—who were seeking social and political power rallied by charisma and fear of the immigrant menace.

Free Speech in Classical Antiquity

By Ineke Sluiter (editor), Ralph Rosen (editor),

Book cover of Free Speech in Classical Antiquity

Coincidentally this scholarly collection of essays appeared in the same year as my 2nd Book Pick. The original versions of the papers were delivered at ‘Penn’ (the University of Pennsylvania, Professor Rosen’s home) at the second ‘Penn-Leiden Colloquium on Ancient Values’ (Leiden being Prof. Sluiter’s base). Free speech had two distinct terms and expressions in ancient Greece, one more expansive than the other. Parrhesia could be understood as frankness of expression, not necessarily political. Isegoria, on the other hand, was narrowly political and applied only to adult male free citizens: it’s best translated exactly as equal freedom of public political speech. One reviewer of the collection picked up on the existence of a rivalry between an official/state version of historical facts and the—more truthful—version given by an individual writer, explicitly referencing Salman Rushdie.


Who am I?

My Democracy book was the summation of my views to that date (2018) on the strengths and weaknesses of democracy as a political system, in both its ancient and its modern forms. I’d been an activist and advocate of democracy since my undergraduate days (at Oxford, in the late 1960s – interesting times!). As I was writing the book the world of democracy suddenly took unexpected, and to me undesirable turns, not least in the United States and my own U.K. An entire issue of an English-language Italian political-philosophy journal was devoted to the book in 2019, and in 2021 a Companion to the reception of Athenian democracy in subsequent epochs was dedicated to me.


I wrote...

Democracy: A Life

By Paul Cartledge,

Book cover of Democracy: A Life

What is my book about?

Democracy today, globally, is in crisis—both in the liberal democratic West and in the vast tracts of the globe where authoritarianism or dictatorship are the preferred modes. All democracies today are representative, not direct, and inclusive. The word democracy and the original forms of democracy were invented in Ancient Greece, together with the fundamental concepts of freedom to participate and freedom of political speech. But ancient democracies were direct and exclusive. What if anything can we learn from an accessible study of the ways ancient Greeks did democratic politics? What has immediately prompted me to choose this book and theme is, of course, the near-murder of Salman Rushdie, a victim of the frighteningly illiberal current that dominates especially in non- or anti-democratic cultures today.

Free Speech

By Jacob Mchangama,

Book cover of Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media

Jacob is the founder and executive director of Justitia, a Danish think-tank. He had the brilliant idea of organising and presenting a lengthy and probing podcast series, Clear and Present Danger: A History of Free Speech, and that is the basis of this book—written by himself but adopting and adapting the originally oral contributions of his many online guests. Of whom I was one of the first, since he chose to begin at the beginning with ‘Ancient (that is, Greek) Beginnings’. Rather than free speech being a danger to democracy, it has unique, universal, and enduring importance, as a liberating and equalising principle and force throughout history and around the world. But it also has costs. Was Socrates justly condemned? Jacob thinks not, but I tend to take the side of the majority of his judges.


Who am I?

My Democracy book was the summation of my views to that date (2018) on the strengths and weaknesses of democracy as a political system, in both its ancient and its modern forms. I’d been an activist and advocate of democracy since my undergraduate days (at Oxford, in the late 1960s – interesting times!). As I was writing the book the world of democracy suddenly took unexpected, and to me undesirable turns, not least in the United States and my own U.K. An entire issue of an English-language Italian political-philosophy journal was devoted to the book in 2019, and in 2021 a Companion to the reception of Athenian democracy in subsequent epochs was dedicated to me.


I wrote...

Democracy: A Life

By Paul Cartledge,

Book cover of Democracy: A Life

What is my book about?

Democracy today, globally, is in crisis—both in the liberal democratic West and in the vast tracts of the globe where authoritarianism or dictatorship are the preferred modes. All democracies today are representative, not direct, and inclusive. The word democracy and the original forms of democracy were invented in Ancient Greece, together with the fundamental concepts of freedom to participate and freedom of political speech. But ancient democracies were direct and exclusive. What if anything can we learn from an accessible study of the ways ancient Greeks did democratic politics? What has immediately prompted me to choose this book and theme is, of course, the near-murder of Salman Rushdie, a victim of the frighteningly illiberal current that dominates especially in non- or anti-democratic cultures today.

Freedom

By Orlando Patterson,

Book cover of Freedom: Volume I: Freedom In The Making Of Western Culture

I have met Orlando only once, alas, at the university where he has taught for many years (Harvard), he is both a novelist and historical sociologist. For a Black scholar originating from Kingston, Jamaica, to write approvingly of forms of freedom that he believes ‘made’ Western culture, when that culture arguably in both its ancient Greek and its modern Euro-American modes was also based on slavery, is in itself very remarkable. This is the first of a two-volume study.


Who am I?

My Democracy book was the summation of my views to that date (2018) on the strengths and weaknesses of democracy as a political system, in both its ancient and its modern forms. I’d been an activist and advocate of democracy since my undergraduate days (at Oxford, in the late 1960s – interesting times!). As I was writing the book the world of democracy suddenly took unexpected, and to me undesirable turns, not least in the United States and my own U.K. An entire issue of an English-language Italian political-philosophy journal was devoted to the book in 2019, and in 2021 a Companion to the reception of Athenian democracy in subsequent epochs was dedicated to me.


I wrote...

Democracy: A Life

By Paul Cartledge,

Book cover of Democracy: A Life

What is my book about?

Democracy today, globally, is in crisis—both in the liberal democratic West and in the vast tracts of the globe where authoritarianism or dictatorship are the preferred modes. All democracies today are representative, not direct, and inclusive. The word democracy and the original forms of democracy were invented in Ancient Greece, together with the fundamental concepts of freedom to participate and freedom of political speech. But ancient democracies were direct and exclusive. What if anything can we learn from an accessible study of the ways ancient Greeks did democratic politics? What has immediately prompted me to choose this book and theme is, of course, the near-murder of Salman Rushdie, a victim of the frighteningly illiberal current that dominates especially in non- or anti-democratic cultures today.

Stalked by Socialism

By Jana Kandlova,

Book cover of Stalked by Socialism: An Escapee from Communism Shows How We'Re Sliding into Socialism

This is a captivating, personalized memoir that simultaneously explores the current ascent of socialism in the United States. The author escaped Eastern European communism in 1988, during its decaying stage, and moved to the United States in hope that she would enjoy freedom of speech and individual liberty in this country. Yet, to her surprise, she had to deal with the escalating rise of the left in the United States that has been recently seeking to curtail the freedom of speech and impose a greater regulation, trying to replace equality of opportunity with the equality of outcomes. Designed as a warning for Western audiences, Kandlove’s book samples the miseries of her daily life under socialism in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and the 1980s. She also provides revealing anecdotes of her encounters with various Western “useful idiots” who peddle socialism and do not want to learn from history.


Who am I?

Andrei Znamenski spent 35 years exploring religions, ideologies, and utopias. Formerly Associate Professor at Alabama State University, a resident scholar at the US Library of Congress, and then a visiting professor at Hokkaido University in Japan, he is currently Professor of History at the University of Memphis. Znamenski studied indigenous religions of Siberia and North America, including Shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism. At some point, he became intrigued with Western idealization and romanticization of non-Western cultures and spiritualities, the topic that he covered in his The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination. His Socialism as a Secular Creed, which is a logical follow-up to that project, is an attempt to examine the socialist phenomenon as a political religion of the modern age.


I wrote...

Socialism as a Secular Creed: A Modern Global History

By Andrei Znamenski,

Book cover of Socialism as a Secular Creed: A Modern Global History

What is my book about?

Andrei Znamenski approaches socialism as a form of a modern political religion that arose out of activities of secularized apocalyptic sects, the Enlightenment tradition, and dislocations produced by the Industrial Revolution. He examines how, by the 1850s, Marx and Engels made the socialist creed “scientific” by linking it to “history laws” and inventing the proletariat—the “chosen people” that were to redeem the world from oppression. Focusing on the fractions between social democracy and communism, Znamenski explores why, historically, socialism became associated with social engineering and centralized planning. He explains the rise of the New Left in the 1960s and its role in fostering the cultural left that came to privilege race and identity over class. Exploring the global retreat of the left in the 1980s–1990s and the “great neoliberalism scare,” Znamenski also analyzes the subsequent renaissance of socialism in wake of the 2007–2008 crisis.

Hate Crimes in Cyberspace

By Danielle Keats Citron,

Book cover of Hate Crimes in Cyberspace

Hate Crimes in Cyberspace begins with a series of horror stories, showing in the most compelling and visceral way the harm caused by online harassment. Citron shows us that online harassment is disproportionately focused on women and marginalized people. Far from rare, the harassment is frighteningly prevalent. The harassers make vile threats of rape and murder, post nude photos, engage in doxing, and spew disturbing messages of hate. All the more terrifying is that the people seething with hatred are not in a distant faraway land. They are here among us; they are professionals, students, and others that appear polite in person. 

After opening our eyes to this harrowing shadowy world, Citron discusses how the law ought to respond. She argues that civil rights law can effectively address the problem – but the law must evolve to make this happen.  She also thoughtfully explores how protections against harassment don’t infringe…


Who am I?

I became interested in privacy in the mid-1990s. When I began my career as a law professor, I thought I might write one or two papers about privacy and then move on to other issues involving law and technology. But like Alice in Wonderland, I found an amazing world on the other side of the rabbit hole. I’ve written more than 10 books and 50 articles about privacy, and I have a list of topics and ideas that will keep me writing many more in the future. I recently wrote a children’s book about privacy called The Eyemonger, which is designed to spark a child’s thoughts and understanding about privacy.


I wrote...

Understanding Privacy

By Daniel J. Solove,

Book cover of Understanding Privacy

What is my book about?

In this concise and lucid book, Daniel J. Solove offers a comprehensive overview of the difficulties involved in discussions of privacy and ultimately provides a provocative resolution. He argues that no single definition can be workable, but rather that there are multiple forms of privacy, related to one another by family resemblances. His theory bridges cultural differences and addresses historical changes in views on privacy. Drawing on a broad array of interdisciplinary sources, Solove sets forth a framework for understanding privacy that provides clear, practical guidance for engaging with relevant issues.

Understanding Privacy will be an essential introduction to long-standing debates and an invaluable resource for crafting laws and policies about surveillance, data mining, identity theft, state involvement in reproductive and marital decisions, and other pressing contemporary matters concerning privacy.

The Hemlock Cup

By Bettany Hughes,

Book cover of The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life

I have collaborated with Bettany over many years—in her scholarly documentary filmmaking, including programmes on Socrates of Athens (469-399). Socrates never wrote or published in written form a word of his philosophy, yet through his immediate and succeeding disciples (above all Plato and Aristotle) has been hugely influential. But was he a democrat, as his fellow Athenians understood that term? In 399 a jury of 501 of his peers, chosen randomly by lot, delivered their resoundingnegativeverdict, and condemned him to death by hemlock poison for being undemocratically irreligious and for teaching his pupils undemocratic values. Plato violently disagreed, and the debate over Socrates has continued ever since. Since it can be made to appear that he was convicted by an illiberal jury on grounds of his use of (democratic) freedom of speech, his condemnation has often been used as a stick to beat the ‘tyranny of…


Who am I?

My Democracy book was the summation of my views to that date (2018) on the strengths and weaknesses of democracy as a political system, in both its ancient and its modern forms. I’d been an activist and advocate of democracy since my undergraduate days (at Oxford, in the late 1960s – interesting times!). As I was writing the book the world of democracy suddenly took unexpected, and to me undesirable turns, not least in the United States and my own U.K. An entire issue of an English-language Italian political-philosophy journal was devoted to the book in 2019, and in 2021 a Companion to the reception of Athenian democracy in subsequent epochs was dedicated to me.


I wrote...

Democracy: A Life

By Paul Cartledge,

Book cover of Democracy: A Life

What is my book about?

Democracy today, globally, is in crisis—both in the liberal democratic West and in the vast tracts of the globe where authoritarianism or dictatorship are the preferred modes. All democracies today are representative, not direct, and inclusive. The word democracy and the original forms of democracy were invented in Ancient Greece, together with the fundamental concepts of freedom to participate and freedom of political speech. But ancient democracies were direct and exclusive. What if anything can we learn from an accessible study of the ways ancient Greeks did democratic politics? What has immediately prompted me to choose this book and theme is, of course, the near-murder of Salman Rushdie, a victim of the frighteningly illiberal current that dominates especially in non- or anti-democratic cultures today.

The Breakdown of Higher Education

By John M. Ellis,

Book cover of The Breakdown of Higher Education: How It Happened, the Damage It Does, and What Can Be Done

Ellis chronicles the history of how the university turned from an institution of open inquiry into a political monoculture that requires those in it to adhere to a particular ideology. Ellis is particularly good at showing how the strengths of the traditional university were turned into weaknesses and allowed it to be captured by the adherents of identity politics. Old-style independent scholars are hard to organize, Ellis points out, because they are just that—independent. But these truly independent scholars were no match for the politically organized groups that wanted to use the university to advance a political agenda.


Who am I?

I’m an emeritus professor living in Portland, Oregon, officially retired, but still writing articles and books. Although I am a lifelong US citizen, I spent the heart of my career as the Canada Research Chair of Applied Cognitive Science at the University of Toronto. Most of my books are about aspects of rationality, especially cognitive biases. I have also worked on tools for measuring individual differences in rationality. Lately, I have focused on ways to reduce political polarization by taming the myside bias that plagues all human thought, and by reforming institutions (especially universities) that are currently failing in their role as knowledge adjudicators. 


I wrote...

The Bias That Divides Us: The Science and Politics of Myside Thinking

By Keith E. Stanovich,

Book cover of The Bias That Divides Us: The Science and Politics of Myside Thinking

What is my book about?

Myside bias is the tendency to evaluate evidence, generate evidence, and test hypotheses in a manner biased toward our own beliefs. When studying the cognitive biases that indicate poor thinking, my research group discovered that myside bias was the strangest of all the cognitive biases. Unlike virtually all the other biases, the avoidance of myside bias is not correlated with high intelligence, education, or knowledge. It is just as prevalent among the cognitive elites of society as it is among nonelites.

Faculty in universities don’t recognize their own biases, and this has contributed to declining public trust in university research. It is also a factor in fueling our current ideologically polarized politics. 

The List

By Patricia Forde,

Book cover of The List

This is one of those books I thought about long after I’d finished reading. Through human greed and global warming, the resulting decimation of the planet means food and water are rationed for survival…but so are words. Noa, the leader of the community, believes that words and how they were used, led to the downfall of humanity so allows people to only use a list of specific words. Except for the wordsmiths, who are allowed to know them all. 

As an author whose life is all about words, this was a really interesting book to read – what does it do to a society when ideas, thoughts, creativity are stifled by lack of words? And when everything is rationed – water, food, words, enjoyment – what does that do to a community?


Who am I?

As an author who, in my ‘other’ life, has studied psychology and social work, I love to write about the impact of change on individuals and communities – what do my characters grieve, what relationships become important to them, what are the roles or goals that motivate them now and what do they need to do to survive, both individually and in their new society. And I love to be able to write about a place – a location – that I know well, hence the Sunshine Coast Hinterland as a setting for The Rise. I hope you enjoy the books that I’ve recommended as much as I have!


I wrote...

The Rise

By Sue-Ellen Pashley,

Book cover of The Rise

What is my book about?

Katie James’ life is about to change . . . again. Having survived The Great Rise five years ago, which decimated the land, the former medical student has made a new life for herself under the leadership of the Authority. But her peaceful existence on the edge of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland is shattered when she discovers a body floating in the waves.

Unsure who she can trust, Katie embarks on a mission to discover the truth… even if it puts her on the same kill list. 

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