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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
The 20th century was not a good one for civil rights. During this time the world witnessed some of the grossest crimes against humanity, from Stalin's mass murders to the Holocaust to the recent genocidal killings in Rwanda. In his erudite Shouting Fire, Harvard Law School professor and noted appellate attorney Alan Dershowitz claims that while these injustices were costly and unforgivable, they actually helped to define the parameters of rights today.
In contrast to many other legal scholars, Dershowitz eschews the idea that rights are a "natural" or God-given endowment. Rather, he argues that trial-and-error and watchful advocacy are the wellspring for our rights. Shouting Fire develops this theory in piecemeal fashion, beginning with the U.S. Bill of Rights -- which he calls our "insurance policy against tyranny" -- and moving into an examination of hotly contested civil liberties issues, from euthanasia to free speech. Not surprisingly, Dershowitz has often participated in these debates on the highest level as either attorney or scholar, and he brings keen insights to bear on their nature.
Since many of the articles comprising the book have appeared in print elsewhere, following Dershowitz from one topic to the next involves a significant amount of zigzagging. Thus, Shouting Fire better resembles a meditation on rights for the curious and hungry, rather than a cohesive argument. Still, whether one is interested in organ donation or the visitation rights of grandparents, Shouting Fire delivers with eloquence and, as always, provocative flair. (John Freeman)
John Freeman lives in New York City.