State of Silence: The Espionage Act and the Rise of America's Secrecy Regime (Hardcover)
An "essential guide" (Beverly Gage, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of G-Man) to how the Espionage Act gave rise to a vast American security state that keeps citizens in the dark
In State of Silence, political historian Sam Lebovic uncovers the troubling history of the Espionage Act. First passed in 1917, it was initially used to punish critics of World War I. Yet as Americans began to balk at the act’s restrictions on political dissidents and the press, the government turned its focus toward keeping its secrets under wraps. The resulting system for classifying information is absurdly cautious, staggeringly costly, and shrouded in secrecy, preventing ordinary Americans from learning what their country is doing in their name, both at home and abroad.
Shedding new light on the bloated governmental security apparatus that’s weighing our democracy down, State of Silence offers the definitive history of America’s turn toward secrecy—and its staggering human costs.
Sam Lebovic is a professor in the department of history and art history at George Mason University. He is the author of the award-winning Free Speech and Unfree News and A Righteous Smokescreen. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Boston Globe, Washington Post, and more. He lives in Washington, DC.
“A timely new book….argues, with some urgency, that the act should be replaced.”—New Yorker
“A riveting account of the rise of the national security state and its ongoing distortion of American politics.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred)
“A vital investigation of a ‘controversial, confusing law.’”
“Lebovic is a conscientious historian who has clearly researched his subject in minute detail. Ardent students of the history of espionage will find much of interest in the detailed chronicle.”
“A thoughtful and much-needed study of one of the most controversial laws in United States history. From World War I through the Trump indictments, the Espionage Act has shaped some of our most dramatic political moments. Sam Lebovic’s book is an essential guide to this history of trial and error—and to the law of unintended consequences.”
—Beverly Gage, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of G-Man
“From one of the finest historians writing today, State of Silence is a deeply disturbing and utterly fascinating account of the US government’s disastrous addiction to secrecy. A spectacular achievement.”
—Daniel Immerwahr, author of How to Hide an Empire
“In State of Silence, Lebovic provides a fast-paced and eminently readable history of the role that secrecy plays in America’s national security regime, and of the complex and controversial law that lies at the heart of it, the Espionage Act. Invaluable reading for anyone wrestling with the tensions between secrecy and national security on the one hand, and democracy and freedom of speech on the other.”
—Scott R. Anderson, Brookings Institution