A Brief History of Censorship in the West, from the Ancients to Fake News
About the Book
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.
‘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
‘Free speech good! Censorship bad! Undeniable. Indisputable. Except that Eric Berkowitz denies and disputes with such intellectual agility as to induce cramping of the brain … The point is you’ll enjoy the ride, and the argument has never been more pressing.’ Ted Koppel
‘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
‘The sweep of this book is vast and its judgments thoughtful. Above all, Berkowitz shows that censorship remains tempting for those in power, even as history demonstrates how often it proves futile.’ Richard Tofel, president of ProPublica
‘With impressive scholarship and erudite humour, Eric Berkowitz guides the reader through mental spaces that have been declared off-limits, from the ancient world to the present. Read this book if you dare.’ Christopher Ryan, author of Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress