You Can't Read This Book Paperback – Feb 17 2012
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‘Cohen is perhaps the most insightful, thought-provoking and entertaining political writer in Britain today, and comes from the honest tradition of English liberal thought that threads from John Milton to John Stuart Mill and George Orwell’ Telegraph, Ed West
‘Nick Cohen’s books are like the best Smiths songs; however depressing the content, the execution is so shimmering, so incandescent with indignation that the overall effect is transcendently uplifting’ Julie Burchill, Prospect
‘It is useful to have all this material in one place, particularly for the benefit of young people, who must be taught about previous disputes over free expression’ Hanif Kureishi, Independent
‘You can read this book, and you probably should’ Hugo Rifkind, The Spectator
‘Into the space vacated by the controversialist Christopher Hitchens we might recruit the sardonic, sceptical columnist Nick Cohen’ Iain Finlayson, The Times
‘Nick Cohen’s new book is a corrective to the tendency of internet utopians to think that the web has ushered in an “age of transparency” New Statesman
‘Writing with passion, wit and erudition, Cohen draws upon the spirit of Orwell and Milton in his call for a fightback against the onslaught on free speech’ Metro, 4 stars
‘You Can’t Read This Book. You can, OF COURSE. And you should. Cohen is right about everything that matters.’ Standpoint, Anthony Julius
About the Author
Nick Cohen is a journalist and commentator for the Observer and Evening Standard. He is also the author of 'What's Left'? - the most important and provocative commentaries on how the Left lost its way.
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Top Customer Reviews
Then I was reading a review by Stuart. The whole review is worth reading but I want to bring attention to this by Stuart: "Now to Cohen's hypocrisy! He has written a book about free-expression and yet doesn't believe in that when it comes to the Israel-palestine conflict! At one point in the book he states that when people use the term zionist, they really mean jew. It follows that anti-zionism is therefore anti-semitism. Anti-zionism means opposition to the colonialism of a state (Israel in this case)not an ethnic group. He accuses the left of anti-semitism later in the book as well. He also took part in a documentary by Richard Littlejohn accusing israel's critics of fighting a war against britains jews. He's not to keen on free speech when it comes to Israel!
This is a very well-written, informative and lucid book. It is recommended for everyone who believes in free speech. Shame it is written by a hypocrite!!"
I thought there is a good chance there is a perspective in this book that would be some food for thought.. a consideration of an idea that would influence my activism and help ground me a bit.. I came away from this book believing this was written for the neo-cons.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
He begins with Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and how shamefully liberals have failed to defend them. (He points out that nobody has dared to publish anything like The Satanic Verses since, and even a sycophantic book, The Jewel of Medina, got suppressed for fear of quite unwarranted Islamist reprisals. This book prompted me to start reading The Satanic Verses, and it is the closest thing we will see in our lifetimes to an Islamic Life of Brian, much more playful than blasphemous. The fatwa against Rushdie should have been laughed off the face of the earth, instead of being cowtowed to by the likes of Roald Dahl and the then Archbishop of Canterbury.)
He draws a sharp distinction between tolerance for religion and respect for religious beliefs.
He covers how terrorists manufacture offence and terrorise randomly; the English libel laws and how the rich and powerful have misused them to silence the powerless, almost without trying; how the obscene "earnings" of money managers contributed to the recent economic collapses and how whistleblowing was suppressed; and how the freedom of the Internet is a double-edged sword. (Julian Assange was not promoting freedom when Wikileaks published a list of informants to the Americans in Afghanistan, for the Taliban to use to compile a death-list.)
The chapter headings give a good idea of its scope:
PART ONE: GOD
1 'Kill the Blasphemer'
Rules for Censors (1): Demand a Respect You Don't Deserve
2 A Clash of Civilisations?
Rules for Censors (2): A Little Fear Goes a Long, Long Way
3 Manufacturing Offence
Rules for Censors (3): Go Postal! [i.e. Terrorise randomly]
4 The Racism of the Anti - Racists
Rules for Censors (4): Say that it is Bigoted to Oppose Bigotry
How to Fight Back: John Milton and the Absurdity of Identity Politics
PART TWO: MONEY
5 The Cult of the Supreme Manager
Rules for Censors (5): People Don't Want to Know
6 A Town Called Sue
Rules for Censors (6): Money Makes You a Member of a Master Race
How to Fight Back: John Stuart Mill and the Struggle to Speak Your Mind
PART THREE: STATE
7 The Internet and the Revolution
Rules for Censors (7): Look to the Past/Think of the Future
8 The Internet and the Counter-Revolution
How to Fight Back: Advice for Free-Speaking Citizens
The first two headings directly, and I now think, rightly contradict one of the shibboleths of 1980s feminism:
1 The political is not personal
[we self-censor all the time in private, but religious and political ideas "are too important to protect with polite deceits" in public.]
2 The personal is not political
[Demands for a right to privacy are justifiable. They will grow as the Net replaces the anonymity of the twentieth century city with a global village]
3 Respect is the enemy of tolerance
4 If you are frightened, at least have the guts to say so
If Nick Cohen is a Zionist, it doesn't show in this book. That's not hypocrisy, it's impartiality. To attack his book for his personal political views is the fallacy of argument ad hominem, attacking the person. I only found one example of self-censorhip (but then, I wouldn't find them, would I?), and that - about a famous film star's well-known sexual orientation - so obvious I think it was meant to be recognised for what it is.
I like having my ideas shaken up. This book did.
There are the usual villains and victims, and some new ones I've never heard of before. Two new key areas that stand out most for me is the level of Self-imposed Censorship in the Work Place, which is seldom ever written about, and the bizarre Legal System that exists in England that allows Litigation for anyone with the wealth and power to silence critics ignoring national boarders. Also of note are the sobering words towards the end of the book for those who think the Internet and Social Media will bring about effective change.
It is pretty clear that the Powers that be are usually one step ahead of us, and don't think for one minute that they don't know who you are or where you live, or even what you think, yes the thought police are looking over your shoulder AKA 1984, and George Orwell. But in all seriousness, Fear is the driving factor of their agenda, and with the Edward Snowden affair hot in the headlines (Which incidentally is not covered, given, that "You can't read this book", was published last year), only makes Censorship even more important.
The key message I think appears on page 171 of my copy, where Nick says "To be Happy means to be free and to be free means to be Brave". So if you care about things like the First amendment, or John Stuart Mill's Harm principle, then Read this Book. I'll finish with a quote, from Benjamin Franklin, which pretty much sums up what is at stake: "Any Society that would give up a little Liberty, to gain a little Security, will deserve neither and lose both"
First, the term 'hypocrite' is not applied correctly in his review. In a book about free speech it would be hypocritical to deny people like anti-zionist or antisemites their right of free speech. Well, Cohen of course doesn't, he criticizes their view. Calling someone a hypocrite because you do not share his opinion makes free exchange of opinions impossible.
Second, the argument Stuart refers to is not in this book, but in the previous "What's left".
Third, it's not even in this book, because Stuart apparently didn't understand Cohen's argument and instead of correctly describing the author's argument, he - by simply calling him a 'zionist' - he implies that Cohen is uncritical of Israel and thinks people criticizing Israel are not only anti-Zionists, but real Anti-semites. Well, he doesn't. He even explicitly says so. Instead he simply criticizes the view, that the establishment of Israel is the 'root cause' of ALL the problems in the Middle East, including the rise of Islamism. To quote him from What's left, Chapter 12, p. 352 (emphasis mine):
"All of these echoes of fascism passed without comment from the majority of the liberal-left. I'm NOT saying their anti-Zionism was the same as classic antisemitism because with a few dishonourable exceptions the Jewish obsession of most people on the Left didn't degenerate into a visceral loathing of all Jews. Rather, they behaved AS IF they were antisemites. When they designated Israel the world's only pariah state and the 'root cause' of terrorism and war, they once again described to Jews the supernatural power to bring chaos."
So, go on and read both of Cohen's books.
The modern version of the loss of free speech often devolves into discussion of the nanny state. Censorship for our own good. Yet this book doesn't focus on that. Rather it focuses on explicit and implicit censorship done in the name of religion, money, and state. The success of censorship tactics isn't just preventing dissenting voices from being heard, but putting enough fear into people that they will willingly withhold their voice. In the case of religion, it meant that people would not dare to publish critiques of Islam. When it came to corporations, potential whistleblowers would fear for their own future livelihoods, or journalists being sued for libel in the UK. And when it came to state, the fear is inadvertently becoming a target by speaking out.
The point with censorship at each point in the Internet age is the same. Powerful groups will use their power to maintain that power when they can.
One of the tragedies the book kept highlighting was the liberal acquiescence on matters of free speech. Free speech fits comfortably into the liberal political discourse, but unfortunately has been eroded by moves towards relativism. Cohen calls it for what it is - racism, where freedom of speech is just fine for us white folk, but it's cultural oppression for anyone else. He brilliantly exposes the double standards of liberal commentators when Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke out in the Netherlands, just as liberal commentators in the UK the previous decades when Salman Rushie drew the ire of Islamic fascists. That people cannot stand up for freedom of expression.
The brilliance of the book is that it's not only a sociological look at particular instances (including the harrowing examples of the global financial crisis and details of Roman Polanski's abominable sex crimes), but drew specific lessons for the reader to be wary of. And perhaps after venting so much moral outrage, his closing chapter on how to fight back gave at least a glimmer of hope.
Everyone should read this book precisely because free speech is so important, and Cohen's sharp polemic is the rallying call free speech needs. We should do more than pay lip service to free speech, it's a vital part of our well being, and the book is full of cautionary tales of how easily it can be whittled away - and how devastating that can be.