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Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  447 Ratings  ·  65 Reviews
More than any other people on earth, we Americans are free to say and write what we think. The press can air the secrets of government, the corporate boardroom, or the bedroom with little fear of punishment or penalty. This extraordinary freedom results not from America's culture of tolerance, but from fourteen words in the constitution: the free expression clauses of the ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published January 5th 2010 by Basic Books (first published December 28th 2007)
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Dec 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
Lewis offers a brief biography of the most oft-cited portion of the American Bill of Rights, the First Amendment. Exploring free speech and expression through the eyes of America's political and social evolution, Lewis presents a well-grounded political and constitutional treatise on the subject. Looking first to the evolution of free speech in the United States, Lewis explores it as a reaction to the lack of such opportunity when the Thirteen Colonies were part of the British Empire. Sedition a ...more
Oct 13, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
See the title? That's the point.
Jan 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anthony Lewis' Freedom for the Though That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment is exactly that: a brief if thorough examination of the development of the legal right of free speech in the United States from the original drafting of the amendment, the century or more of neglect by the courts during the 1800s, on through its rapid elevation by the Supreme Court as one of, if not the, most fundamental rights guaranteed under our Constitution. While the first couple of chapters are organized ...more
Dani Kass
Sep 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lewis's writing is casual and compelling, reading more like a thriller I couldn't put down than a book on the history of the First Amendment. He doesn't get too deep into cases, but still gives a detailed overview of judicial, legislative and cultural history and provides a stream of smart analysis and comparisons which really made me question my core beliefs.

It's very basic for those who already have a good understanding of the First Amendment, but it's a quick read to rejog your memory. For o
Apr 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting review of First Amendment law consumable by laypersons.
Jun 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
This is a solid introduction to the history of the first amendment, and encourages the reader to delve further into the subject. I think it should be required reading for intro to American Government classes.

It's not exhaustive, but no single volume could be. As I said, it's an introduction, but a stirring one.
Nov 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, law
Well-written and interesting study of the First Amendment, and without question worth the read - but it could have been better. It seemed at times a collection of articles rather than single (albeit chaptered) tale, and Lewis's political editorializing in the latter portion of the book, although infrequent, was unexpected and at times jarring.
This book was exactly what its title promised, a thoughtful analysis of the way the first amendment was conceived and how its interpretation has changed throughout the life of this country. Lewis gives the reader the context necessary to understand the step-by-step expansion that each Supreme Court decision gave it and how it became enshrined in our political life. Lewis also does a good job in comparing how the US judiciary’s understanding of free speech differs from the European or Canadian un ...more
Vinay Sridhar
Sep 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating history. Deserves a much longer review (which I'll write soon enough) but loved the contours of what constitutes freedom of speech in the US - pertinent lessons for India as well.
Jonathan Mckay
I liked the overview of the subject, and the author does a good job of illustrating how malleable the concepts around the 1st amendment are, but the organization of the book was confusing, and the author was clearly unable to keep his own biases out of the narrative. Sadly it makes me distrust the rest of the content I read.

**Update** After reading more books on the subject, this seems to be one of the more neutral takes.
Apr 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I’ve had mixed feeling about the First Amendment for a long time, I felt incredibly torn to read about people who got away with outrageous hate speech by citing the First Amendment in one news story & then read about a minority population winning the right to express their views without fear of persecution from the majority in another new story. Sometimes I wondered just WHAT the judges were thinking when their rulings seemed “obviously unjust” to any sane person.
This book answered a LOT of
Aug 09, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, audio, politics
I can't really recommend getting this book on audio. At least for me, the procession of court cases and dates would have been easier to follow in print, and it would have been easier for me to flip back and refresh my memory on cases that had been discussed earlier. Also, the narrative style is a bit monotonous.

However, I would recommend this book, because it's pretty fascinating seeing how our conception of freedom of speech has changed over the years. It really wasn't that long ago that restr
Nov 25, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
AL provides a succinct overview of how the ideas of freedom of speech and press developed in our society and how the judiciary's judgments reflected and sometimes anticipated our conception of this central element of our constitution. Those familiar with the Supreme Court's decisions that rely on the First Amendment will find a passable review of major cases and maybe some new insights in the context AL provides. Those not acquainted with the cases or The Court will probably find it tough sleddi ...more
Jun 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From the pen of many academics, the ideas presented in this book might have seemed confoundingly complex. Anthony Lewis' clear, crisp style not only makes for pleasant reading but also enables us to grasp readily the essential issues that have arisen since the adoption of the first amendment over 200 years ago: how constitutional provision came to weigh more than common-law practice, the origin and evolving interpretation of "clear and present danger", the on-going conflict between freedom of sp ...more
Marcus Vinicius
May 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Liberty of thought and liberty of expression are essential in modern democracies. The path to the implementation of the first amendment and the meanings it assumes in American Law are explained in this book. The author refers U.S. Supreme Court decisions to elaborate in the matter, reflecting about liberty of speech, liberty of expression and freedom of the press. The understanding of this constitutional right, so argues Anthony Lewis, evolves through time, broadening it's scope. Specially atten ...more
Michael Shaw
Aug 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Freedom of Speech did not just happen. Like other freedoms, it was one people had to fight for, discuss, and interpret. Without the provisions of the First Amendment and the people who stood behind those provisions, many of today’s publications, television shows, and even social media posts would be culpable under law. So, through Lewis’s book, I can say that this understanding of the Amendment’s history has given me more appreciation, and even enjoyment, of the freedoms it provides. I recommend ...more
Not bad, but not great either. I still cannot tell who the audience is. It is written in a way that makes it easy to understand, but I don't think it's a book that would be used in college classes or law school like some others have mentioned. I found the book easy to follow but it didn't really present any new ideas. I am mostly familiar with the court cases but I still found the organization of the book to be a little strange. Also, to say this book is about the first amendment is clearly an o ...more
Michael Shaw
Feb 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lewis describes the development and interpretation of the First Amendment, and by consequence, free speech specifically, in the United States. Within this discourse is the evolution of the Court’s opinion on what free speech constitutes, how it is to be provided, and how it is to be balanced or consolidated with other rights.
Lewis gives the information in an accessible but thorough manner, and his work has given me greater appreciation and even enjoyment of the freedoms that the First Amendment
Apr 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All American adolescents and adults
A solid, if unsurprising, history of the First Amendment and the evolution of how it has been understood and applied by the courts, the American public, and the media. Anthony Lewis does a good job of systematically examining this amendment's implications and effects relative to a number of areas of conflict with other rights and some urgent issues. The book is very well organized and its tone is personable and down-to-earth without dumbing down the points being addressed. Excellent, and a good ...more
Harry Steinmetz
Apr 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's like having a conversation with a very smart person. It's. It hard to read, but you are going to get lost on occasion. An excellent history of the First Amendment. You will be shocked how narrowly it was initially interpreted. But it's history is a great example of the constitution being a living document school of constitutional interpretation on "original intent" theorists would want to live in a country where that was true. This book will make you think and appreciate our wonderful count ...more
Pat Healy
Jan 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book works best when Lewis sticks to history, where he does an excellent job of breaking down the various things that we talk about when we talk about "freedom of speech". The few occasions where Lewis injects personal opinions don't really fit in what is largely a brief examination of how the First Amendment has been shaped by the courts over the years. That minor quibble aside, this is a fascinating read, with lots of excellent nuggets from the highs and lows of judicial interpretation of ...more
Shu Lindsey
"But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas - that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.

That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution. It is an ex
John Hodge
Aug 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book is a clearly written, easy to read and very informative history of freedom of speech in America. It reveals how freedom of speech has matured to what it is today from shockingly shaky beginnings. It is quite timely, given the current need for open debate about the course of the nation when "the war on terror" is in danger of gradually expanding to make criminal mere speech and advocacy. It would be great if everyone would read it, including teenagers--and members of Congress.
Jerry Daniels
In examining the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court's historical interpretations of the First Amendment in Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment, Anthony Lewis portrays a country divided not only by competing interests but by their own interpretation of the amendment. While a little light on analysis in the initial chapters, overall the book provides a case for ideas to consider.
Rachel Cheeseman
What a great and succinct book on the first amendment and its history. Reading books like these always re-invigorates my passion for the principles of freedom of speech, thought inquiry and expression. I would recommend this book to the first amendments greatest advocates as well as its greatest critics. It blows Make No Law out of the water, even though like Make No Law, the content of Freedom for the Thought that we Hate is much more tepid than its title.
Informative. I have a better handle on different Supreme Court cases that have shaped the way we think/legislate about freedom of speech issues. Could have done without being (occasionally) preached at. I mean, it reads like information most of the time. But, then, for a paragraph or two, it attempts persuasion.
Sep 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not at all what I expected. I was expecting a sort of rant on the freedom of everyone to their opinion regardless of political or religious ideology. Instead, it was a history of the development of freedom of speech as chronicled through Supreme Court decisions down through the years, not an exciting read but very eye opening.
Joan Lloyd
Sep 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful treatise on the first amendment. I found it amazing how much of what we think has always been the case is so recent. If you are interested in where our freedom of speech and press come from, I highly recommend this book. The author is cogent and not afraid, from time to time, to mention (not pound on)m his views.
Aug 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another great book. This is a good book that covers the basic history of the first amendment, which is at the core of what this country is supposed to be about. I'll need read this again to digest all the details. It abstracts a lot of the details of the legal cases but is very clear and easy to read.
Apr 22, 2012 rated it liked it
An interesting view on the 1st Amendment. Do we deserve the freedom that we are given? With freedom comes responsibility, but not al American Citizens are responsible. Many of the passages in this book prove that people will always find a way to manipulate laws to work in their favor. This was an overall intriguing work which allows you to contemplate American Freedom.
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Anthony Lewis was an American intellectual and columnist for the New York Times.
More about Anthony Lewis...
“there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought—not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.” 2 likes
“Men feared witches and burnt women.” 1 likes
More quotes…