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Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism

4.23 of 5 stars 4.23  ·  rating details  ·  150 ratings  ·  21 reviews
An investigation into how free speech and other civil liberties have been compromised in America by war in six historical periods describes how presidents, Supreme Court justices, and resistors contributed to the administration of civil freedoms, in an account complemented by rare photographs, posters, and historical illustrations. 20,000 first pri
Hardcover, 730 pages
Published October 1st 2004 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2004)
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I almost never abandon books in the middle of reading them, but I abandoned this one. This is a topic that is quite interesting to me, and one of my students used it as a reference for a research paper. I didn't realize that the four selected examples of attacks on free speech in wartime would be ones that were familiar to me (Alien & Sedition acts, suspension of habeas corpus, etc during the Civil War, the Sedition Act of 1917, etc). I stopped reading after the section on the Civil War, whi ...more
The More Things Change...
A review by Doug Brown

Free speech is something that is nowadays considered an inviolate part of the American experience. However, as Geoffrey Stone elucidates in Perilous Times, it wasn't always so. It wasn't until World War I that the Supreme Court started to truly examine the First Amendment. As each subsequent decision has been made, free speech has slowly evolved into the institution we know now. Dissent wasn't considered necessarily protected until midway through th
This superb book covers a topic that most Americans give lip service to, but rarely comprehend: what freedom of speech really means as described in the First Amendment, and as interpreted by the branches of government during those times when it is most under threat: when the country is on a war footing.

Stone divides his coverage of these periods into six chapters, “The 'Half War' With France” (John Adams, The Federalists, and The Republicans), “The Civil War” (Lincoln, suspension of habeas corpu
Prof. Stone has produced a book that should be read by everyone concerned with the preservation of American Values. Though heavy on court cases and legal opinions this book provides a flavor of the times during which civil liberties were repressed. That during crises demagogues use scare tactics to harass their enemies and suppress opposition is amply shown from the Federalist use of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which, incidentally were set to expire at the end of John Adams term in office, to t ...more
Great reading for two reasons: history and argument. Stone traces the background of First Amendment issues in the face of national emergencies (war, riots, etc.) both real and hyped up. He revolves his discussion around the Sedition Act of 1798, the Civil War, WWI and WWII, the Cold War and Vietnam, and concludes with a lengthy discussion about the impact of various laws and Supreme Court decisions in today's post-9/11 political landscape.

Mr. Stone makes many points. They deserve more weight th
Bookmarks Magazine

Most critics found new legal and critical insight in Stone's examination of the First Amendment and how its principles have been compromised during wartime. But some readers may find Stone's comprehensive, footnote-filled tome too scholarly for pleasurable reading. At least one reviewer__Harvard Law School Professor and civil libertarian Alan Dershowitz__believes Stone "exaggerates the role of war in the history of American censorship." (Boston Globe) But nobody questions the author's credential

Elliot Schott
An engaging analysis of American history during times of conflict. If anyone thought the Bush Administration during War on Terror was the greatest silencing of Free Speech, they need the perspective of policies enacted during World War I. It was interesting to understand that comparatively to other times in history, the Nixon administration during the Vietnam War may have been arguably the most lenient on Free Speech during wartime. Geoffrey R. Stone successfully was able to compile exhaustive c ...more
Free speech in wartime is a subject everyone should read. Even Mr. John Adams comes out of "Perilous Times..." smelling a little stinky after Mr. Stone eruditely describes Adams' use of presidential powers under the Sedition Act of 1798. The thoroughness with which Mr. Stone approaches his subject makes for a lively read. You will say to yourself again and again, "I didn't know that."

PS I met Geoffrey R. Stone at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival. I even had my husband take a picture of Mr. S
A comprehensive review of the challenges to freedom of expression in U.S. history, with close examinations of failures, triumphs and pivotal decisions and precedents. The author notes the tendency for government to try to restrict freedoms in wartime and that although the courts tend to find for the protection of civil liberties, that the challenges presented against those freedoms change through the years, both in approach and inerpretation; and cautions that fear is always the opponent of free ...more
This is a terribly interesting book which shows the progression of the concept of free speech as interpreted by elected official and the Supreme Court. My opinions of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt have been tarnished, but others, Robert H. Jackson, for example, shine through. The book is clearly written and reads well. Law degrees not required!
Tauheedah Najee-ullah
This was a REALLY good book. Show just how much is left out of "conventional" history (ever notice the difference between your 5th grade history lesson and what's being taught today?). A must read for anyone interested in numerous attempts by the government to seize freedoms during war time---and how it was averted by an active citizenry.
I've struggled with this book for at least six months. I have been reading it at the office during my lunch hour. It opened my eyes to an analysis of an area of the law with which I was unfamiliar. This was one of the most thourghly researched histories that I read. I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in civil liberties.
Maureen Mahowald
This was a meticulously researched book on the history of the First Amendment and the exercise of the right of freedom of expression during times of war. It explores the tension between the need for national security and the right of free speech and how the government has acted (or reacted) since the beginning of our country.
Oct 10, 2008 Gloria rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Civil Libertarians
Recommended to Gloria by: Teacher
This is an important book revealing the actions taken during periods of war which threaten civil liberties. Jam packed with examples. It is the history book you wished you had used in school. Most interesting.
Natalie Lin
A masterful work that eloquently reminds us that the struggle for liberty is ongoing. This is a life changing (or, at least, perspective sharpening) book.
Read for Elements of the Law, Fall 2011, taught by the incomparable Geoffrey Stone. I'm admittedly biased, but--

5 stars. Clear and readable.
Apr 30, 2007 Rabya added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
great overview of the history
of first amendment issues in the u.s.
during times of war
and reactionary politics with minority groups
One of my favorite books ever about our constitution. Everyone should read this one!
David Rooker
A counter-weight to the FOX News mythology of US history.
DJ Yossarian
DJ Yossarian marked it as to-read
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Geoffrey Stone is Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at The University of Chicago Law School.

Geoffrey Stone has been a member of the law faculty since 1973. From 1987 to 1993, Mr. Stone served as Dean of the Law School, and from 1993 to 2002 he served as Provost of the University of Chicago. Mr. Stone received his undergraduate degree in 1968 from the University of Pennsylvania and his
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