For a century, the American Civil Liberties Union has fought to keep Americans in touch with the founding values of the Constitution. As its centennial approached, the organization invited Ellis Cose to become its first ever writer-in-residence, with complete editorial independence.
The dramatic, turbulent, colorful, controversial, and, in many cases, little-known story of how the ACLU responded to the urgent need to defend the Constitution and how it has persisted in that mission for the last hundred years is told in an engaging new book by Ellis Cose ... Cose disclaims any intention of writing 'the definitive story of the ACLU,' although alongside Samuel Walker’s magnificent In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990), he comes very close ... Cose does not attempt to write a 'litigation history of the ACLU.' Instead, by combining a discussion of some of the organization’s most significant court battles with an account of some of its activism in the streets and halls of power, he delivers a fascinating chronicle of one of the most important organizations in the history of the United States. To his credit (and for the benefit of his readers), he does not ignore episodes in the ACLU’s long history when it lost its way, succumbing to the very majoritarian impulses to conform and obey, which most of the time it admirably resisted ... Early on, Cose expresses the hope that his book will help 'to make clear why the defense of civil liberties is the responsibility of all Americans — not just of an organization with civil liberties in its name.' Cose has achieved his goal. The rest of us need to take that responsibility very seriously.
Cose’s book is an excellent choice for anyone seeking to understand the ACLU as an organization and for those wanting to explore how the fight for civil liberties has evolved and helped to shape the society we have today.