Archive for the 'eBooks' Category

A Few Reviews

Reviews of the book have been very interesting.

Max Hastings in the Sunday Times.

Niall Ferguson in the FT

Conor Gearty in the Guardian

Jonathan Derbyshire in the Literary Review

Dan Jones in the Spectator

Peter Wilby in the New Statesman

Boyd Tonkin in the Independent

Terry Eagleton’s review in the LRB is restricted to subscribers. But here is a flavour:

What Price Liberty? is an erudite, eminently readable account of British liberties from Stuart monarchy to multiculturalism, written in the conviction that as a society we have ‘lost the means to talk about liberty’ and urgently need to rediscover it. One of the most admirable aspects of What Price Liberty? is it’s refusal to play the Whiggish game. It is this which sets it apart from Dawkins’s The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great and A.C.Grayling’s Towards the Light. As this book demonstrates, liberties wax and wane, one person’s freedom is another’s restraint, political rights might be cancelled by economic ones, what you see as an inalienable right, I view as outrageous licence , and civilisation and barbarism march hand in hand’.


I was very keen in the book to show that liberties are won and maintained by constant negotiations within politics and society. I am glad that reviewers have picked up on this. Here is an example from Peter Wilby’s review:

This book is a brilliant, subtle and erudite account (astonishingly, its author is not yet 30) of how, from the 17th century onwards, we developed our liberties, and how we lost them. There is nothing starry-eyed, romantic or Whiggish about it; Ben Wilson is well aware that Britain was always stronger on rhetoric than reality, that protestations of liberty often allowed the propertied classes to maintain privilege and control, and that modern threats to freedom come as much from corporate interests as from the state, and that the two frequently act in concert … Liberty, as Wilson points out, cannot be bottled for all time. There is “no such thing as liberty in an absolute sense”, he writes. It needs continual rethinking and renegotiation, and means different things in different times and places.


I’m just as glad that Dan Jones has brought to light an incident involving me, a Cambridge courtyard and a ton of turf hitherto veiled in mystery. And his review was generous and thoughtful as well.


A welcome to the ebook campaign from Ben Wilson

Liberty thrives on discussion. If we want to reverse the erosion of our personal rights and the wider liberties of our society we need to create and recreate arenas for debate. Key to this is an informed citizenry, conscious of its rights and knowledgeable about the history and traditions of liberty.

What I find most worrying today is that this kind of knowledge is in danger of being lost—and as a result governments have found it easier to meddle with fundamental aspects of our political culture and personal life. There is a danger that new generations will become accustomed to all kinds of intrusions and abuses because they can no longer have the breadth of knowledge to perceive the full possibilities of a free society.

What Price Liberty?—and this website—aims to capture this sense of liberty as an accumulation of experience and argument. My publisher—Faber and Faber—have taken the radical and exciting step of offering the text as a ‘pay what you think is fair’ ebook—the first time (as far as I am aware) this has happened in publishing.

Good. The essence of my argument is that the traditions of liberty should be part of the common currency of a culture. The more outlets there are for this kind of discussion the better. Extending access by seizing upon new technology and adapting to new reading habits can only help. This is especially true if it bring ideas of liberty to a new audience ready to experiment with reading texts on e-readers and i-phones.

Perhaps you will read What Price Liberty? on a Sony Reader or an i-phone. Or maybe you will download it as a PDF and read it on your computer screen. In June it comes out as a conventional book. However you decide to read it you have the chance to sample it for a price you believe to be fair. If you think this is a valuable enterprise, my ideas are worth something, or if you simply learn something you didn’t know before, then pay what you believe to be right.

Of course I’d love it if you dig deep into your pockets, especially if you relish liberty and arguments and if you want such an experiment to become, some day, a common experience. But who am I to say? Do as you damn well think best.

From my point of view, as a writer, when a debate about the future of publishing and technological innovation is not just held in isolation but tied to real, essential issues then something really interesting can happen. We all know that competition for our time, attention span and disposable income is fierce these days. Grab people when and how you can! Putting a value on liberty involves an investment—of time, if not money. How much you decide to invest of either is up to you.

But if you are already concerned about the future of freedom, or are coming to this issue for the first time, I hope you will reflect on the wider context. How much—as a society, as communities, as individuals—do we value liberty? Whether you decide to part with your cash and leisure time now—or whether you pass on to another book or discussion about liberty—I hope you share with me the conviction that such conversations are vital, and long overdue.

Soon after he took office, Gordon Brown said: “The character of our country will be defined by how we write the next chapter of British liberty – by whether we do so in a way that respects and builds on our traditions, and progressively adds to and enlarges rather than reduces the sphere of freedom.”

Well, that’s the challenge. I haven’t seen much evidence of it yet. But then liberty is rarely doled out from above. They are our liberties to make for the future.