Nonfiction November: Become the Expert

Back in July, I read Thomas Healy’s The Great Dissent. It is a book that I cannot recommend highly enough. It was informative and engaging. I learned a whole lot about the First Amendment, which, next to the Second Amendment, is probably the most debated amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I am sure that some people today would be flabbergasted if they realized how restricted the freedom of speech was in this country only 70 years ago, and it blows my mind to hear how eager some people today are to give up their freedom of speech, only because they don’t want to hear what others have to say. But I am still grappling with making up my own mind about when or where—and if at all—it might be necessary to curtail freedom of speech. So I want to learn more.

Not surprisingly, there are almost as many books written about the freedom of speech as there are opinions about it. And for every 5-star review praising a book, there is a 1-star review complaining about the bias of the author. So I decided to focus more on books about the history and development of the freedom of speech. Here are the books I want to start out with:

Published in 1859, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty presents one of the most eloquent defenses of individual freedom in nineteenth-century social and political philosophy and is today perhaps the most widely-read liberal argument in support of the value of liberty. It influenced Justice Holmes when he wrote his “Great Dissent.” 

A rich and engaging exploration of the documents that illustrate the origins and development of First Amendment freedoms in American history. Each document is introduced by a historical essay and reproduced in facsimile. Incorporating nearly 40 documents and spanning more than 300 years, First Freedoms is essential for students of American history. I’m looking forward to this one.

Anthony Lewis tells us how the freedom of speech and the press were created, revealing a story of hard choices, heroic (and some less heroic) judges, and fascinating and eccentric defendants who forced the legal system to come face-to-face with one of America’s great founding ideas. This looks like it will go along well with The Great Dissent.

Joseph Russomanno interviewed the people at the core of influential First Amendment cases, and he presents their stories here in a personal, in-depth oral history of First Amendment law. The issues addressed in these landmark cases cover crucial aspects of the First Amendment: freedom of expression, hate speech, libel, privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, promises of confidentiality to news sources, free press-fair trial, commercial speech, broadcast and cable television regulation, and new media. However, it’s been published in 2002, so it might be a bit outdated already.

Floyd Abrams, a noted lawyer and award-winning legal scholar specializing in First Amendment issues, examines the degree to which American law protects free speech more often, more intensely, and more controversially than is the case anywhere else in the world, including democratic nations such as Canada and England. This was published earlier this year, so I am looking forward to the discussion of more recent court cases.

What do you think? Do you have anything to add to my list? 

Thank you to Katie at Doing Dewey, Lory at Emerald City Book Review, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, Julz at Julz Reads, and Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves for hosting Nonfiction November.



  1. By the way, I meant to ask you? Are you self-hosting? If not, what the name of your wordpress theme? In the old days, the name of the theme would show up at the bottom. They no longer do that, too bad, because I would love to change my themes, sometimes I see some I like, but I don’t know how to find the name of the theme. Emma

  2. That all sounds fascinating – I look forward to hearing what you think of them. It’s such a difficult subject – in principle, I’m all for free speech and no censorship, but in practice, it can be as much of a curse as restricting speech can. I’m intrigued to see if any of these change your opinion… I suspect you’ll be able to make me add one or two to my own TBR as you go along… 😀

    • It would be nice if we could just rely on common sense when it came to what to say and what not to say, but there doesn’t seem to be much common sense left in the world…. I am looking forward to reading about the topic; it is very timely.

    • Yes, that would be an interesting reading project. It would be interesting to find out whether anything after the Second Amendment has as much of a historical twist as the first two. It seems to me that with the first two, you can’t even get past the intent of the writers without encountering fierce arguments.

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