• Free Speech

  • A History from Socrates to Social Media
  • By: Jacob Mchangama
  • Narrated by: Fajer Al-Kaisi
  • Length: 13 hrs and 24 mins
  • 4.9 out of 5 stars (39 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A global history of free speech, from the ancient world to today

Hailed as the “first freedom”, free speech is the bedrock of democracy. But it is a challenging principle, subject to erosion in times of upheaval. Today, in democracies and authoritarian states around the world, it is on the retreat.

In Free Speech, Jacob Mchangama traces the riveting legal, political, and cultural history of this idea. Through captivating stories of free speech’s many defenders - from the ancient Athenian orator Demosthenes and the ninth-century freethinker al-Rāzī, to the anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells and modern-day digital activists - Mchangama reveals how the free exchange of ideas underlies all intellectual achievement and has enabled the advancement of both freedom and equality worldwide. Yet the desire to restrict speech, too, is a constant, and he explores how even its champions can be led down this path when the rise of new and contrarian voices challenge power and privilege of all stripes.

Meticulously researched and deeply humane, Free Speech demonstrates how much we have gained from this principle - and how much we stand to lose without it.

©2022 Jacob Mchangama (P)2022 Basic Books
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

“The best history of free speech ever written and the best defense of free speech ever made. Jacob Mchangama never loses sight of the trouble freedom causes but always keeps in mind that lack of freedom creates horrors.” (P.J. O’Rourke)

“Freedom of speech has emerged as a major issue of this decade, but most of the discussion consists of outrages over speech or the repression of speech. Missing is the intellectual background: What does free speech really mean? What is its history? How has it played out in world events? Why should we defend it? Jacob Mchangama lays out this context with deep erudition, strong writing, and a light touch.” (Steven Pinker, Johnstone professor of psychology, Harvard University, and the author of Enlightenment Now and Rationality)

“Jacob Mchangama’s history of the world's strangest, best idea is the definitive account we have been waiting for. It teems with valuable insights, lively characters, and the author's passion for the cause he has done so much to advance. Mchangama brings to life the ancient struggles which established free speech and also the modern dangers which embattle it. Free Speech is that rare book which will impress scholars as much as it entertains readers, all while telling the world's most improbable success story.” (Jonathan Rauch, author of The Constitution of Knowledge)

What listeners say about Free Speech

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Great review of free speech and history

Enjoyed the overall look at free speech, free press, and how these freedoms were viewed over time in different cultures. I felt it was a little left leaning, and the details were difficult to remember for an audiobook. I had to rewind and re-listen a few times. Maybe that’s just me.

3 people found this helpful

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A reaffirmation of a key fundamental right

The author does a fantastic job at documenting the conception and application of a right to free speech from Athenian democracy to the 21st century.

The first two thirds of the book are an informative history of the philosophical, legal, and practical contexts for speech in Ancient Greece, Rome, medieval and modern Europe and the Middle East, and the American colonies/United States. It brings detail to the evolution of free speech and the press in the West in particular.

If you follow international news on democratic backsliding, most of the last few chapters of the book won't give you that much new information. Those are nonetheless a vivid and chilling reminder of the threats free speech faces today in the developed and developing world alike, and why we should not let barriers to speech be raised.

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Great book - boring narration

Loved the book, but I really wish Jacob had narrated it for us. The narrator is clear and understandable. My only issue was that his narration as a bit monotone and slow. I listened at 1.4x just to stay awake.

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Reminds you why free speech is the core freedom

The details in this book are many, but the core point that repeatedly hit me was how oftrn people suffer from Milton's Curse, that is, how often people rise to prominence and power via free speech and then very often, almost instinctually, begin to limit free spech in their wake. It is remarkable and never a good thing, as are all efforts to limit speech, even when there is a downside to allowing it, it is the greatest and most important vehicle that exists. Am excellent work chroniclally several thousand years of thought on the subject. Well worth the read.

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very informative

This was a good review of free speech. I enjoyed listening to the history of free speech. it wasn't as dry as one might think

1 person found this helpful