This post started off as an e-mail to a friend, but others may be interested.
I’m by no means a book critic, but I’m always happy to recommend books I’ve read. By my count, I’ve read about 25 books about privacy/surveillance/cypherpunks — here’s a distilled list of 9 recommendations. (If you think I’m missing something really obvious, do me a favor and tweet me?)
(If you want my tl, dr recommendations: Read Little Brother, then No Place to Hide, then The People’s Platform, in that order.)
Links are to Amazon, but aren’t affiliate, which means I get nothing if you click through and buy them. I also link to legal free online versions, where I found them.
Privacy/Big Data/Digital Lives
The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age, by Astra Taylor. (Link.)
I read this on break from college, finished it, and then turned back to the first page and reread the entire thing. Billed as a dismantling of techno-utopianism, I found it refreshing because it asked questions others didn’t — if the Internet’s such a democratizing force, what does it mean that women write less than 15 percent of Wikipedia articles, despite using the site as much as men do?
Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance, by Julia Angwin. (Link.)
“Who’s watching you, what they know and why it matters.” A great journalist turns a critical eye toward data silos and what it means that we’re constantly tracked online. I was really impressed with how critical and deep the research was.
Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion, by Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis. (Link.)
Not particularly topical, but I found the book gave me a long list of scenarios-you-mightn’t-have-considered when it comes to privacy and other database-related worries.
Specifics: Snowden, Wikileaks
No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, by Glenn Greenwald. (Link.)
A good look at the story from a journalist’s perspective — the reporting questions and the reaction post-publication, not to mention the fun details of being in the Hong Kong hotel room with Snowden. Helpfully split into three main sections: Greenwald’s background and Snowden making contact; the substance of the leaks, and the response to them.
The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man, by Luke Harding. (Link.)
I have some problems with this book — Luke Harding wasn’t in Hong Kong (but does work for The Guardian) so it’s “inside” but not “inside” in the sense that Greenwald’s book is. That said, it’s not a long book, it’s an easy read, and contains some fascinating details I haven’t found elsewhere. (Apparently Snowden once said that Ireland was nice apart from a “socialism problem.”) It’s very much the “zomg real world political thriller” it promises to be, but once you realize that and read other things to round out your knowledge, it’s alright.
This Machine Kills Secrets: Julian Assange, the Cypherpunks, and Their Fight to Empower Whistleblowers, by Andy Greenberg. (Link.)
By my count, I’ve read seven books with “Wikileaks” or “Assange” in the title, and this was the best thing I read, including things written by Assange himself. Greenberg’s currently doing great reporting with WIRED. It also charts the history of the cypherpunks, which you should read once. (And preferably only once — features a lot of nerdy white libertarian types.) If you want a second book on Assange, WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy, by David Leigh and Luke Harding is my tentative second recommendation. If you can, stay away from things written on the topic by anyone with a vested interest in either Wikileaks or The Guardian — it can descend into mudslinging at times.
Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, by Gabriella Coleman. (Link.)
Quite simply the book on Anonymous, the hacker/activist collective. Coleman is an anthropologist and without being hyperbolic, is probably the world expert. Not required reading if you’re more into the Snowden side of things, but an excellent book all the same.
Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow. (Link.)
I first read this as a 14-year-old, and where it really succeeds is getting you interested in this area without being designed to do so. First and foremost, it’s a YA novel, and a damn good one at that. I’d read this as an example of fiction featuring a lot of cypherpunkish lines of thoughts/habits. You can read the other books on this list to get specific angles, but this is a great overview. (Doctorow also has free versions on his site.)
1984, by George Orwell. (Link.)
The word “chilling” gets thrown a lot in the free speech debates, but Orwell’s London is haunting in what feels to me like a very subtle way — it’s undeniably violent, but in a way that’s not at all overt. The book’s always described as “prophetic” but I don’t actually think it’s particularly useful as a road-map of NSA surveillance or way of making sense of the USA in the 21st century. Read it to get a sense of panopticons (a system where everyone can be under surveilled at any time, and so act as if they’re monitored constantly) and a society under oppressive surveillance. (You can read online here.)
Blogs I Follow
To keep up with news on these topics, here are the authors I try not to miss anything from: