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Free Speech, By Nigel Warburton

Reviewed,Boyd Tonkin
Friday 13 March 2009 01:00 GMT

Expert, concise but far from bland, Oxford's "Very Short Introductions" series must rank by now as a thinking reader's Wikipedia. For its 200th title, philosopher Nigel Warburton spans two millennia and more of knotty quarrels over freedom of expression and its moral or legal limits – from Socrates' death by hemlock to Salman Rushdie, David Irving and Aayan Hirsi Ali. As he writes, "almost every defender of free speech wishes to draw the line somewhere".

With admirable clarity, this VSI shows us how wobbly, hazy – but unavoidable – that line turns out to be. Warburton notes how internet rage and hate has written another chapter in this always-evolving story. If the art-and-porn section drags him into a quagmire (as it always does), he spares some good thoughts for the copyright wars that, in a digital age, can mean that the consumer's liberty entails the creator's penury.

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