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Dangerous Ideas: A Brief History of Censorship in the West, from the Ancients to Fake News

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A fascinating examination of how restricting speech has continuously shaped our culture, and how censorship is used as a tool to prop up authorities and maintain class and gender disparities Through compelling narrative, historian Eric Berkowitz reveals how drastically censorship has shaped our modern society. More than just a history of censorship, Dangerous Ideas illumina A fascinating examination of how restricting speech has continuously shaped our culture, and how censorship is used as a tool to prop up authorities and maintain class and gender disparities Through compelling narrative, historian Eric Berkowitz reveals how drastically censorship has shaped our modern society. More than just a history of censorship, Dangerous Ideas illuminates the power of restricting speech; how it has defined states, ideas, and culture; and (despite how each of us would like to believe otherwise) how it is something we all participate in. This engaging cultural history of censorship and thought suppression throughout the ages takes readers from the first Chinese emperor's wholesale elimination of books, to Henry VIII's decree of death for anyone who "imagined" his demise, and on to the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the volatile politics surrounding censorship of social media. Highlighting the base impulses driving many famous acts of suppression, Berkowitz demonstrates the fragility of power and how every individual can act as both the suppressor and the suppressed.


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A fascinating examination of how restricting speech has continuously shaped our culture, and how censorship is used as a tool to prop up authorities and maintain class and gender disparities Through compelling narrative, historian Eric Berkowitz reveals how drastically censorship has shaped our modern society. More than just a history of censorship, Dangerous Ideas illumina A fascinating examination of how restricting speech has continuously shaped our culture, and how censorship is used as a tool to prop up authorities and maintain class and gender disparities Through compelling narrative, historian Eric Berkowitz reveals how drastically censorship has shaped our modern society. More than just a history of censorship, Dangerous Ideas illuminates the power of restricting speech; how it has defined states, ideas, and culture; and (despite how each of us would like to believe otherwise) how it is something we all participate in. This engaging cultural history of censorship and thought suppression throughout the ages takes readers from the first Chinese emperor's wholesale elimination of books, to Henry VIII's decree of death for anyone who "imagined" his demise, and on to the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the volatile politics surrounding censorship of social media. Highlighting the base impulses driving many famous acts of suppression, Berkowitz demonstrates the fragility of power and how every individual can act as both the suppressor and the suppressed.

30 review for Dangerous Ideas: A Brief History of Censorship in the West, from the Ancients to Fake News

  1. 4 out of 5

    Steve Dustcircle

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book, chronologically documenting centuries of both fiction and science, and both speech and historical papers, being censored by those afraid of disagreement, dissent, and distastefulness. Usually it was religious, superstitious people, but sometimes it was businesses and political leaders. But usually religion, patriarchy, and bigotry were the deep roots of silencing art, music, literature, or experimentation meant to express oneself or to further society's progress. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, chronologically documenting centuries of both fiction and science, and both speech and historical papers, being censored by those afraid of disagreement, dissent, and distastefulness. Usually it was religious, superstitious people, but sometimes it was businesses and political leaders. But usually religion, patriarchy, and bigotry were the deep roots of silencing art, music, literature, or experimentation meant to express oneself or to further society's progress. A book of shameful events, really, but an entertaining read nonetheless.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Debbie Baker

    Given my interest in intellectual history, I was expecting to love this, but it was a huge disappointment.  I don't know how you can take a subject so inherently sexy (controversial ideas, government suppression, heroic resistance, intellectual history) and make it so boring...  Bleh.   The organization is poor and there's little overarching narrative to tie things together.  It is a chapters and chapters long string of "and then" "and then" "and then".  It reads like a catalog of events in the h Given my interest in intellectual history, I was expecting to love this, but it was a huge disappointment.  I don't know how you can take a subject so inherently sexy (controversial ideas, government suppression, heroic resistance, intellectual history) and make it so boring...  Bleh.   The organization is poor and there's little overarching narrative to tie things together.  It is a chapters and chapters long string of "and then" "and then" "and then".  It reads like a catalog of events in the history of censorship (and even so, there are some events I knew of from other sources that I'm surprised weren't included), without any judicious choice in what is included and why.  There were long, meandering accounts of, e.g., the rise of iconography, which never tied into the supposed subject of the book.  It admittedly gets a bit more coherent in dealing with the 18th and early 19th centuries, but then gets very scattershot again. Also, the author harped almost non-stop on how "futile" the efforts at suppression were and how suppression simply causes more interest.  I'm sure someone else (more articulate and careful than I) will come along and thoroughly review the problems in such a single-minded approach, but here are a few that struck me: (1) Selection bias: we of course only know of the efforts that were, ultimately, futile.  Anything successfully suppressed is, well, suppressed.  (2) An enormous amount of texts and knowledge - that we actually do know about - WERE permanently lost.  (3) Citizens WERE successfully subdued for centuries upon centuries.   He really, really soft pedals any damage done here and mostly just makes fun of the government officials who failed, ultimately, in the (very) long run, to stop the rise of more enlightened thought.  I think he's missing a bit of the point and certainly protests a bit too much in his quest to convince the reader that censorship is not the answer. And look, I can't stand Trump myself, but given the overall scope of this book, he simply did not deserve the pages and pages and pages dedicated to his idiocy.   This was not rigorous and scholarly and responsible in its claims, nor was it interesting and approachable as a popular book should be.

  3. 5 out of 5

    John Davis

    Dangerous Ideas, by Eric Berkowitz;Beacon Press: Boston; $29.95 hardback Censorship is perhaps the one issue we deal with every day. Every reader is to some extent influenced by some form of it. Every writer knows his limits and pushes the frontiers of what's acceptable at his own risk. Eric Berkowitz, respected author, renowned journalist, and careful lawyer presents a truly wonderful gift, a study of censorship which is not polemical. It is rather a straightforward, honest, and surprisingly co Dangerous Ideas, by Eric Berkowitz;Beacon Press: Boston; $29.95 hardback Censorship is perhaps the one issue we deal with every day. Every reader is to some extent influenced by some form of it. Every writer knows his limits and pushes the frontiers of what's acceptable at his own risk. Eric Berkowitz, respected author, renowned journalist, and careful lawyer presents a truly wonderful gift, a study of censorship which is not polemical. It is rather a straightforward, honest, and surprisingly consistent argument which illustrates the point that censorship doesn't work. Why this is true will be argued clearly and cogently, illustrated with remarkable, not to say shocking revelations. He has much to work with. Berkowitz offers a survey of primarily Western attitudes toward censorship. We discover how the ancients saw words as issuing from the gods. Thus they were not only influential but illustrative of virtue, or when used improperly, vice. Yet as he contends, and by extraordinary examples makes abundantly clear, in this 'brief history of censorship in the West, from the ancients to fake news', censorship reinforced authority. We follow this thread of the degree of the use of censorship as a sign of stability, or the lack of a sense of security, in governments or institutions of power. Berkowitz demonstrates that when censorship is not needed, there is virtually no challenge to the ruling authority, class, or social structure. He shows however that when there is rumbling of disaffection, antagonism or revolution, then censorship is employed. Its manifestations can be tremendous and varied. Incredible tortures for religious challengers during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, persecutions of revolutionaries after the invention of the type face by Gutenburg, or exile during the European 1930s are some examples. The revolutions in France, throughout Europe in the 1800's, and even upheavals to this day reflect how a social system or nation responds to tough questions which challenge its legitimacy. Berkowitz shows how leaders such as Jefferson, Lincoln and modern American presidents dealt with challenges to their policies. We follow with simple astonishment at how our censorship laws evolved. No one who interests himself in modern communication should miss this book. It is insightful, honest, and can be a powerful influence for those who consider censorship a wise idea.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Alan Zafran

    Wow! I thought that I understood the challenges relating to censorship, and the pros and the cons of silencing dissenting voices if/as deemed warranted. Boy was I wrong! Eric Berkowitz has crafted a terrific and engaging historical analysis of stifling opinion and just how misguided this becomes. Kudos to Eric for highlighting the importance of this issue and challenging all of us to think more carefully and intensively about the implications of censorship for all of us.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Stuart Jennings

    A very powerful read... Covers the leadership of nations from times long ago to today...and the suppression of our rights...specifically speech...in all of it's forms... One of the most powerful books on this subject that I've ever read... Eric Berkowitz has done a magnificent job writing this... Highly recommended! A very powerful read... Covers the leadership of nations from times long ago to today...and the suppression of our rights...specifically speech...in all of it's forms... One of the most powerful books on this subject that I've ever read... Eric Berkowitz has done a magnificent job writing this... Highly recommended!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Debrah Roemisch

    A well researched and written history of censorship. I really think everyone should read this book! I don't totally agree with the author's conclusions but he did a great job with this important book. A well researched and written history of censorship. I really think everyone should read this book! I don't totally agree with the author's conclusions but he did a great job with this important book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Worth a read, especially if you care about censorship and the role that has played throughout history. I didn’t find the modern time analysis as coherent as the first 2/3rds of the book, but I still found the presentation thought provoking.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Well researched and argued, written with wit and insight, Berkowitz's tour through the history of censorship is as necessary as it is timely. Required reading for every citizen concerned for the future of free expression in our nation and world. Well researched and argued, written with wit and insight, Berkowitz's tour through the history of censorship is as necessary as it is timely. Required reading for every citizen concerned for the future of free expression in our nation and world.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Laura Mazer

    A beautiful writer. I've long wanted to read such an insightful and clarifying examination of censorship in all its insidious forms. To anyone who thinks censorship isn't steering our lives every day, I encourage you to read this book. A beautiful writer. I've long wanted to read such an insightful and clarifying examination of censorship in all its insidious forms. To anyone who thinks censorship isn't steering our lives every day, I encourage you to read this book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Shana Yates

    4.5 stars

  11. 4 out of 5

    Andréa

    Note: I accessed a digital review copy of this book through Edelweiss.

  12. 4 out of 5

    John

  13. 4 out of 5

    Vincent Myers

  14. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Folk

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jodie

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lira

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ron

  18. 4 out of 5

    Hicham

  19. 5 out of 5

    Aniolka Doremus

  20. 4 out of 5

    Allessa

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen O'Neal

  22. 5 out of 5

    Krishna

  23. 4 out of 5

    Christine Hensley

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tom Kutt

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mike Segal

  26. 5 out of 5

    Vishwani Gupta

  27. 5 out of 5

    Seasean

  28. 4 out of 5

    Harry O'Sullivan

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lily Potter

  30. 4 out of 5

    Eduardo Enríquez

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