“Mchangama’s conclusions, presented in a crisp and confident march through Western history, are sobering.” – Economist
“The best history of free speech ever written and the best defense of free speech ever made.” – P.J. O´Rourke
“A well-structured and compelling examination of the costs and benefits of free speech.” – Kirkus, Starred Review
“Free Speech is addressed especially to the well-meaning among would-be censors. They should know how rarely censorship goes as planned.” – Wall Street Journal
Free Speech – A History from Socrates to Social Media
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.
“The best history of free speech ever written and the best defense of free speech ever made”
“A provocative exploration of a transformative political right.” – Booklist, Starred Review
“Engrossing and comprehensive” – Washington Examiner
“That rare book which will impress scholars as much as it entertains readers.” – Jonathan Rauch
“Tour de force” and “so essential” – Washington Monthly
“Jacob Mchangama lays out this context with deep erudition, strong writing, and a light touch.” – Steven Pinker
“Given its breadth and depth, Mchangama’s work may well prove to be one of the most important books on free speech published in our lifetimes — an extraordinary achievement!” –
“[Free Speech makes] a persuasive argument that free discourse is essential to democracy, breaking down systems of oppression, and challenging existing social hierarchies…” – Publishers Weekly
“A compelling case for the unique, universal, enduring importance of free and equal speech.” – Nadine Strossen
Freedom of speech was too hard won to be cavalier now about censorship
Free speech is the essential liberty, if you can keep it.
A history of free expression charts its seesawing progress
Free Speech’ Review: How Dare You Say Such Things
Joe Rogan, Spotify and the dangers imposed by private threats to free speech
What will Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter mean for free speech?
Will Banning Hate Speech Make Europe Safer?
A new EU plan targeting extremists ignores history’s lessons about the danger of restricting unpopular views.
The War on Free Speech
Censorship’s Global Rise
Interviews and talks
How free speech is under attack in the U.S.
Listen to the show (from 02:36:00)
Free speech: a brief, contentious history
Counterpoint with Amanda Wanstone – Tulips and clogs?