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You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom Paperback – 19 Jan 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 330 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (19 Jan. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007308906
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007308903
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 13.2 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 280,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nick Cohen was born in Stockport in 1961. He was educated at Altrincham Grammar School for Boys and Hertford College, Oxford. He began working as a journalist at the Sutton Coldfield News and moved on to the Birmingham Post & Mail, Independent and the Observer, where he has been a columnist since 1996.

He has published two collections of journalism, Cruel Britannia and Waiting for the Etonians. Pretty Straight Guys was a full length book on Britain in the Blair bubble. Two other full length books followed: What's Left? on reactionary strains in left-wing politics, and You Can't Read This Book on 21st century censorship.

Product Description


‘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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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 91 people found the following review helpful By MJE4 on 25 Jan. 2012
Format: Paperback
`Do you believe in free speech? Are you sure?' So asks Nick Cohen in this important and timely book. Through a combination of righteous indignation, mordant wit and searing polemic, he shows how the ideals of Milton, Mill and the Enlightenment - those of freedom of expression, conscience and the free, enquiring mind - are being undermined, indeed, deliberately attacked, by a derisory and intellectually inadequate group of religious fundamentalists, oppressive corporations, quack scientists, timid politicians and self-satisfied academics.

Cohen effortlessly takes us through some of the defining freedom of speech issues of our time: the Salman Rushdie and Danish cartoon affairs; the impressive figure of Ayaan Hirsi Ali throwing off the chains of obnoxious religious chauvinism only to encounter the gently ruminating herd of cloistered academia; the near-dictatorial conditions employees face the moment they step into the workplace, and the dangers faced by whistle-blowers in the face of managerial and bureaucratic incompetence; the absurd entity that is Britain's chiropractor lobby; and the vicious counter-attack against the liberating forces of the Internet, reminding us that oppressive nations are perfectly capable of utilising the net as well as its citizens.

Along every step of the way, as Cohen shows, there is seemingly always a constituency just waiting to be offended into action. Readers will already be familiar with perennially grumpy and stony-faced theocrats like the Ayatollah Khomeini, calling as he did for the assassination of a private citizen in a sovereign country for publishing a work of fiction which he had not read, and probably could not have read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Bevan TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 22 Dec. 2013
Format: Paperback
Once you've finished this book, you can be in no doubt: Nick Cohen, journalist on the British `Observer' newspaper, writes with passion, vehemence and considerable panache. He makes the case for old-fashioned liberal individualism (à la John Stuart Mill) as a necessary antidote to our ever-shrinking freedom of thought and expression. He does so with wit, style, and a thumb firmly on the windpipe of self-serving counter-arguments. His analysis of the chilling effects of post-Rushdie `self-censorship' when writers (and cartoonists) speak of (or portray) Islam was thought-provoking, though at times I felt his rather intrusive personal views on religious faith crowded out any space for the sorts of reasoned arguments deployed by more rational religious believers against their own more fundamentalist brethren.

But this is really only the warm-up for arguments about the way that that Britain's libel laws distort journalistic and whistle-blower freedoms, and how the idea of the internet as guarantor of the freedom to `publish and be damned' is a dangerous illusion. Drawing on Mill's thought alongside Orwell's dictum that 'effective' (not total) control is all a Government needs to keep the lid on protest and the search for truth, he ends with some timely advice `for free-speaking citizens', a plea for better libel laws in the UK, and for something like the First Amendment. He makes a strong case. It would perhaps have been stronger if he'd acknowledged that his hero Mill's advocacy of a freedom to do anything short of actual harm has its limitations as a philosophy of human nature. In relying on a coherence between what someone says and how someone else construes it, it assumes people are all alike.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Michael A. Ward on 1 Aug. 2013
Format: Paperback
This book is about freedom of speech.

The simplistic notion of "freedom" in liberal capitalist countries is a notion that has (quite properly) been contested over the years but (while acknowledging such debates) Nick Cohen argues persuasively that there really is a crucially important issue at stake here - whatever your other views on social justice.

But even those who might have always subscribed to Evelyn Beatrice Hall's "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"[Often mis-attributed to Voltaire], still need to read this book. YOU CAN'T READ THIS BOOK is not just some kind of woolly defence of liberal principles, it is a forensic (though highly readable) examination of an eclectic range of contemporary threats to our liberties. I had actually heard of nearly every case presented in this book, but I had no idea of the details and would have never thought to join these cases together in the single thread which Cohen spins. His book was a real eye-opener - even for people like me who try to walk around with their eyes fully open. There are moments when you find yourself thinking "what's he on about now", but in every case he succeeds expertly in tying the stories he presents back to his main thesis.

What is particularly illuminating, is the way Nick Cohen ties together different kinds of de jure and de facto constraints on free expression - from the behaviour of autocratic governments and religious zealots to that of private companies.

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