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Just Words: Lillian Hellman, Mary McCarthy, and the Failure of Public Conversation in America Hardcover – Jun 28 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (June 28 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300167121
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300167122
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 3 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 585 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #970,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“Ackerman does an admirable job of tying this case to the great issues of the mid-twentieth century.  He uses Hellman and McCarthy as a pretext for fascinating digressions about John Dewey’s commission on Leon Trotsky, the history of Latin instruction in America, and the culture’s attitude toward abortion in the 1930s.”—Franklin Foer, The New Republic
(Franklin Foer The New Republic)

"A worthy exploration of the conflicts created when issues of free speech, publicity, and privacy intersect. The book will make a welcome addition to both general academic and law school libraries."—Donna M. Fisher, Law Library Journal
(Donna M. Fisher Law Library Journal)

“A fascinating and highly original contribution that will interest anyone who cares about media, as well as cultural and intellectual history”--Susan Jacoby
(Susan Jacoby)

"When Mary McCarthy said on the Dick Cavett Show that every word Lillian Hellman wrote was a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the,’ was she making a literal statement subject to verification? Producing a hyperbolic remark not meant to be taken seriously? Standing up for truth in a world corrupted by political fabrication? Or insisting on a standard of libel the Supreme Court had moved away from? These are just a few of the questions that Alan Ackerman teases out of this fabled incident in a book that demonstrates how an initially narrow focus can flower into a meditation on the deepest things."—Stanley Fish

(Stanley Fish)

"Lillian Hellman sued Mary McCarthy for libel over a single sentence. Starting with the facts of this case, Ackerman zooms in to scrutinize the meaning of language, the law of defamation, the nature of privacy, the lives and works of the two writers, and, perhaps most important, the political and cultural quarrels of an age, many of which remain with us."—Stephen Gillers, New York University School of Law

(Stephen Gillers)

“For all its roots in the deep past, Ackerman shows [that] the libel case . . . points the way forward to America’s present uncivil discourse . . . U.S. public conversation is now a full-contact sport.”—Brian Bethune, Macleans
(Brian Bethune Macleans)

Book Description

Focusing on Lillian Hellman's infamous 1980 libel suit against Mary McCarthy for her scornful comments on The Dick Cavett Show, this book explores the roles of truth and lying in American public life and considers why civil discourse seems beyond our reach.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Timely Book! Jan. 4 2012
By Barbara - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Just Words" is well written about problems in public speaking. Although it is based on interesting people in the early 1970's, it is timely today in light of modern politics and public discourse. The subject matter and the examples used are very well presented by the author. We all can benefit by the ideas expressed while we learn about the protagonists and the period in which they lived.