A Brief History of Censorship in the West, from the Ancients to Fake News
About the Book
A Telegraph Best Book of the Year 2021
The urge to censor is as old as the urge to speak. From the first Chinese emperor’s wholesale elimination of books to the Vatican’s suppression of pornography, right up to the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the advent of Internet troll armies in this century, words, images and ideas have always been hunted down by those trying to suppress them.
In this compelling account, Eric Berkowitz reveals why and how humanity has, from the beginning, sought to silence itself. Ranging from the absurd – such as Henry VIII’s decree of death for anyone who ‘imagined’ his demise – to claims by American slave owners that abolitionist literature should be supressed because it hurt their feelings, Berkowitz takes the reader on an unruly ride through history, highlighting the use of censorship to reinforce class, race and gender privilege, and to guard against offence.
Elucidating phrases like ‘fake news’ and ‘hate speech’, Dangerous Ideas exposes the dangers of erasing history, how censorship has shaped our modern society and what forms it is taking today – and to what disturbing effects.
About the Author
Eric Berkowitz is a writer, lawyer and journalist. Before devoting his practice to public interest and asylum law, he practiced intellectual property and civil litigation in Los Angeles for more than twenty years. Berkowitz has published widely throughout his career, including investigative pieces in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and articles in the Washington Post and The Economist, among others. He lives in San Francisco, California.
'Lively, engrossing … Dangerous Ideas shows that conflicts between free speech and censorship are rarely simple or settled for long.' The Economist
‘In his captivating sprint through two millennia of censorship, Eric Berkowitz chronicles some of the more bizarre and egregious episodes, while explaining that the human instinct to suppress speech has rarely waned.’ John Kampfner, Financial Times
‘Compendious and pacy … Few books on the topic are either as entertaining or salutary as this.’ Sunday Telegraph ****
‘This entertaining history of more than two millennia of Western censorship is a level-headed, salutary intervention in today’s overheated rows over free speech.’ Telegraph, A Best Book of the Year (2021)
'Absorbing and comprehensive ... The sweep of Berkowitz’s lively account emphasizes that the fight for freedom of expression has never been won.’ Jo Glanville, The World Today
‘In this vibrant and important book, Eric Berkowitz tackles one of the major issues facing society today and warns of the severe threats that come with the suppression of free ideas.’ Richard Ovenden, author of Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack
‘With impressive scholarship and erudite humour, Eric Berkowitz guides the reader through mental spaces that have been declared off-limits. Read this book if you dare.’ Christopher Ryan, author of Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress
‘Berkowitz untangles censorship’s maddening complexities to reveal core truths behind every book burning, every silencing of dissidents and every removal of online content ... A hugely entertaining and urgently important book.’ Nadine Strossen, former president of the ACLU