Cover image for Perilous times : free speech in wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the war on terrorism
Perilous times : free speech in wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the war on terrorism
Stone, Geoffrey R.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton & Co., [2004]

Physical Description:
xx, 730 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
JC591 .S76 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Geoffrey Stone's Perilous Times incisively investigates how the First Amendment and other civil liberties have been compromised in America during wartime. Stone delineates the consistent suppression of free speech in six historical periods from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the Vietnam War, and ends with a coda that examines the state of civil liberties in the Bush era. Full of fresh legal and historical insight, Perilous Times magisterially presents a dramatic cast of characters who influenced the course of history over a two-hundred-year period: from the presidents--Adams, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, and Nixon--to the Supreme Court justices--Taney, Holmes, Brandeis, Black, and Warren--to the resisters--Clement Vallandingham, Emma Goldman, Fred Korematsu, and David Dellinger. Filled with dozens of rare photographs, posters, and historical illustrations, Perilous Times is resonant in its call for a new approach in our response to grave crises.

Author Notes

Geoffrey R. Stone, the Harry Kalven, Jr. Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago Law School, was dean of the law school from 1987 to 1993. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

With growing concerns about national security and free speech as the nation reacts to terrorist threats, this book is particularly timely. With an engaging mixture of history and law, Stone, a law professor, identifies six periods when U.S. government has curtailed free-speech rights: on the verge of war with France, when Congress enacted the Sedition Act of 1789; during the Civil War, when the writ of habeas corpus was suspended; during World War I, when the government prosecuted opponents of the war and the draft; during World War II, when Japanese were interned; during the cold war and the virulent campaigns against Communists; and in the 1960s and 1970s, when the government sought to suppress civil disobedience and demonstrations against the Vietnam War. Stone devotes a section of the book to each period, highlighting the actions of presidents from John Adams to Richard Nixon; Supreme Court justices; and dissenters, including Emma Goldman, Lillian Hellman, and Daniel Ellsberg. Stone cautions that we as a nation have an unfortunate history of overreacting to the perceived dangers of wartime. --Vernon Ford Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

As readers would hope from a book about free speech, this one is filled with glorious insults-the first man charged under the Sedition Act accused John Adams's administration of "unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp... and selfish avarice"-and lucid accounts of the speech that the U.S. government has tried to quiet throughout our history. A law professor at the University of Chicago, Stone delivers rich material in an engaging, character-based narrative. Stone offers deep insight into rhetorical history and the men and women who made it-resisters like Clement Vallandingham, Emma Goldman, Fred Korematsu and Daniel Ellsberg; presidents faced with wartime dilemmas; and the prosecutors, defenders and Supreme Court justices who shaped our understanding of the First Amendment today. His treatment of the war on terror is brief, and his assessment of the Bush administration is judicious but harsh for what he casts as its obsession with secrecy and its effective dismantling of the 1976 Levi guidelines restricting the FBI's ability to investigate political and religious activities. Stone places heavy responsibility on-and gives ample credit to-the American public for upholding free speech even when our leaders tend toward measures that weaken liberty in the name of strengthening it. Comprehensive and consistently readable, this enlightening book arrives at a time when national political debate should be at a fever pitch. 63 illus. Agent, Lynn Chu. (Oct. 25) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Stone (Univ. of Chicago) focuses on threats to free speech during six wartime periods--the Civil War, the two world wars, and the Vietnam War, plus the 1798-1800 Alien and Sedition Acts episode and the Cold War, both more accurately described as foreign policy crises. Although his claim that the government has restricted speech "only" during these six periods is a huge, absurd blunder often contradicted within the book, Stone has ploughed through large numbers of books, congressional and judicial documents, and contemporary newspaper accounts (but far fewer scholarly articles or archival materials) to construct an eminently readable account. While often focusing on colorful individual stories to the detriment of the broader picture, Stone's primary and clearly correct argument is that during foreign policy crises such as 9/11, US civil liberties have been repeatedly violated, often in deliberatively manipulative ways that leave the country with considerable regret in the morning. The book is a good, useful read, but its audience is unclear: the length will put off generalists and deter classroom use, and civil liberties specialists will be well familiar with its main outlines (although less so with much of the color). ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. R. J. Goldstein Oakland University