From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the advent of the Web, everywhere you turn you are told that we live in age of unparalleled freedom. In You Can’t Read This Book Nick Cohen argues that this view is dangerously naïve. This is not an account of interesting but trivial disputes about freedom of speech: the rights and wrongs of shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre, of playing heavy metal at 3am in a built-up area or articulating extremist ideas in a school or university. Rather, this is a story that starts with the cataclysmic reaction of the Left and Right to the publication and denunciation of the Satanic Verses in 1988 that saw them jump into bed with radical extremists. It ends at the juncture where even in the transgressive, liberated West, where so much blood had been spilt for Freedom, where rebellion is the conformist style and playing the dissenter the smart career move in the arts and media, you can write a book and end up destroyed or dead.
Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer. He does occasional pieces for many other publications, including Standpoint and New Humanist. Cruel Britannia, a collection of his journalism, was published in 1999, and Pretty Straight Guys, a history of Britain under Tony Blair, was published in 2003. What’s Left? , the story of how the liberal-Left of the twentieth century ended up supporting the far Right of the twenty-first, was published in 2007. This was followed by Waiting for The Etonians: Reports from the Sickbed of Liberal England (2009) and You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom (2012). Visit his website at nickcohen.net.
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