Book Review: The Soul of the First Amendment

Book Review, First Amendment

By: Valerie Nye

Book cover for Soul of the First AmendmentA couple of weeks ago I checked out Floyd Abram’s The Soul of the First Amendment from my local public library to review it for this blog. I returned the book rather quickly, however, because I realized after reading the first ten pages that this was a book I needed to own.  I bought the book and began reading it again, making many notes and underlining entire paragraphs.

Abrams is an attorney serving as Senior Council at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP.  He specializes in First Amendment litigation and recently argued in the controversial Citizens United case in the Supreme Court (a case dealing with corporate spending on political speech).  The Soul of the First Amendment is written in a readable essay format.  It is a relatively short book that can be read in one sitting.

The book covers the unique set of laws and circumstances in the United States that have strengthened freedom of speech.  Abrams positions the beliefs in the United States by explaining how democracies in Europe interpret the freedom of expression and the freedom to information differently than the United States.  He explains how the First Amendment and the importance Americans place on the First Amendment has grown throughout the 20th Century.  He writes, “Until well into the twentieth century, censorship was rampant.  It was as if the First Amendment had yet to be written.  A number of the [New York] Time’s articles, published in the first decade of the twentieth century, are illustrative.  All reported on censorial acts, not one of which was viewed as a First Amendment violation at the time.”

Floyd Abrams sitting at a desk with papers on itAbrams also spends time on relatively new developments in freedom of speech and freedom of information when he explores the European Union’s “right to be forgotten” ruling (a decision that allows individuals to request that their names be disconnected from certain Google searches).  He addresses some of the freedom of speech issues in the 2016 elections and goes into some depth explaining the Citizens United case.

I recommend the book for anyone interested in the First Amendment and freedom of speech issues.  The first half of the book is compelling and timeless while the last half of the book is specific to the current moment and political environment.


Valerie NyeValerie Nye is the Library Director at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. She has been active in local and national library organizations; recently serving on ALA Council, the New Mexico Library Association, and the New Mexico Consortium of Academic Libraries. Val has cowritten or coedited four books including: True Stories of Censorship Battles in America’s Libraries published by ALA Editions in 2012. True Stories is a compilation of essays written by librarians who have experienced challenges to remove material held in their libraries’ collections. She has an MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In her time away from the library she enjoys road trips in convertibles and kayaking.

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