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Short Synopsis
A gripping intellectual history reveals how Oliver Wendell Holmes became a free-speech advocate and established the modern understanding of the First Amendment.

Full Synopsis
No right seems more fundamental to American public life than freedom of speech. Yet well into the twentieth century, that freedom was still an unfulfilled promise, with Americans regularly imprisoned merely for speaking out against government policies. Indeed, free speech as we know it comes less from the First Amendment than from a most unexpected source: Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. A lifelong skeptic, he disdained all individual rights, including the right to express one's political views. But in 1919, it was Holmes who wrote a dissenting opinion that would become the canonical affirmation of free speech in the United States.

Why did Holmes change his mind? That question has puzzled historians for almost a century. Now, with the aid of newly discovered letters and confidential memos, law professor Thomas Healy reconstructs in vivid detail Holmes's journey from free-speech opponent to First Amendment hero. It is the story of a remarkable behind-the-scenes campaign by a group of progressives to bring a legal icon around to their way of thinking—and a deeply touching human narrative of an old man saved from loneliness and despair by a few unlikely young friends.

Beautifully written and exhaustively researched, The Great Dissent is intellectual history at its best, revealing how free debate can alter the life of a man and the legal landscape of an entire nation.

"Effectively narrated by veteran actor Danny Campbell, the book offers extraordinary insight into the social and intellectual atmosphere of early 20th-century America." ---Library Journal Audio Review

"Danny Campbell begins speaking in a light, slightly raspy voice that becomes clearer and deeper as the book progresses. He paces himself so that listeners can follow the intricate legal arguments, and while he reads authoritatively, he doesn't become overbearing or professorial." ---AudioFile

"[Danny Campbell] did a fantastic job getting the points of the author across in an entertaining, interesting fashion." ---Book Bargains and Previews Audio Review

"Engrossing. . . . An exceptional account of the development of the Constitution's most basic right, and an illuminating story of remarkable friendships, scholarly communication, and the justice who actually changed his mind." ---Kirkus Starred Review

"A beautifully written history, capturing the lively and passionate debate as Holmes came to see the abiding imperative of free speech." ---Booklist

"This is a fascinating look at how minds change, and how the world can change in turn." ---Publishers Weekly
Kirkus Review

Kirkus Bestseller

The Great Dissent

How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind--and Changed the History of Free Speech in America

Author Thomas Healy

Narrated by Danny Campbell

Publication date Aug 26, 2013

Running time 10 hrs 21 min

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