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Against Security: How We Go Wrong at Airports, Subways, and Other Sites of Ambiguous Danger Hardcover – August 26, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069115581X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691155814
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #750,181 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2012 PROSE Award in Sociology & Social Work, Association of American Publishers
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013

"Mr. Molotch . . . present(s) a vivid picture of the ways in which poorly designed security measures can deform everyday life and defeat themselves."--Jordan Ellenberg, Wall Street Journal

"America's obsession with safety makes us angry, alienated, and ultimately less safe, argues this penetrating study of public security. Sociologist Molotch criticizes a range of security structures and protocols: airport security gates that require useless and humiliating body searches while generating long lines that make tempting targets for terrorists; ill-conceived New Orleans water projects that precipitated the Hurricane Katrina flood, and the militarized disaster response that further endangered residents. Even gender-segregated public restrooms (co-ed restrooms, he contends, would be more convenient and safer for women). Molotch recommends simple hardware and procedural improvements, from better stairways and signage to assist evacuations to customer-service regimens that help employees spot trouble. More than that, he argues for a conceptual shift away from rigid, rule-bound 'command and control' toward a security philosophy that empowers ordinary people to handle crises through spontaneous order and mutual aid. Molotch shrewdly analyzes the ways in which anxious, stressed-out people interact with their physical and social environments in a lively, engaging prose that skewers the verities of the post-9/11 security state. The result is a far-reaching re-examination of our culture of public fear, one that stands conventional wisdom on its head."--Publishers Weekly

"The author is concerned with the complex systems that permit us to feel safe in public places. He traces a path from public toilet facilities through subways and airports to the reconstruction of Ground Zero before taking on the catastrophic effects of nature in the hurricane damage and flooding of New Orleans in 2005. Molotch treats each phase of the narrative separately and considers the design and organization of space, entries, and exits, fields of vision and patterns of activity, whether encouraged or not. The author's approach to public spaces as an environment permits an insightful, provocative treatment of whether the security we seek is fostered or not--and if so, how. . . . A humane, well-researched examination of privacy and security issues."--Kirkus Reviews

"Against Security is an interesting book that will appeal to all sorts of readers, published by a prestigious academic press, and retaining some of the trappings of a serious academic study. It never falters in presenting interesting and thought-provoking stories, which will make it attractive to an audience much broader than social scientists."--David E. Spiro, New York Journal of Books

"Terrorism is the weapon of the disaffected; it has been invented; it cannot be disinvented. Public pressure and the politicians' need to be seen to 'do something' will bring more security counter-measures. Molotch is right to say that their conduct must be improved."--Omar Malik, Times Higher Education

"In Against Security, Molotch takes aim at a 'command-and-control' approach to subway and airport safety, flood protection, and the war on terror. He makes a compelling case that security requires 'considered judgments based on empirical evidence cleansed of anxieties of fear and vengeance.' And he suggests specific changes, small and large, to enhance safety without diminishing civil liberties or the everyday enjoyment of life, that deserve our attention."--Barron's

"Molotch is not anti-security; he calls for and offers some suggestions for better designs and architecture. A challenging book, then, to spark thought among all security people."--Professional Security Magazine

"A lot of psychological research has tried to make sense out of security, fear, risk, and safety. But however fascinating the academic literature is, it often misses the broader social dynamics. New York University's Harvey Molotch helpfully brings a sociologist's perspective to the subject in his new book Against Security."--Bruce Schneier, Reason

"This is one of the most significant volumes available highlighting alternatives to the paranoia surrounding the war on terror, and it deserves a place on the shelf of all academic libraries."--Choice

"Against Security is worth the price of admission for Molotch's analysis of the TSA's airport screening system. . . . Reading Against Security is a terrific way for us to re-examine our assumptions and our methods. This is a book that both informs about the microsystems of airport screening, subway platforms, and public restrooms while making us think about the larger societal tradeoffs we make to ensure our safety."

"Molotch's . . . commitment to exploring positive alternatives advances a global debate--one that has only just begun--over the need to invent genuinely progressive arts of security."--Austin Zeiderman, Public Books

From the Inside Flap

"Molotch brings both wisdom and remarkable skills to this compelling book, including a prose style that is rich, lively, and a pleasure to read. With keen eye and gifted hand, as well as clear, hard data, he puts the subject of Against Security into context and offers thoughtful and sensible solutions to the problems he draws our attention to."--Kai T. Erikson, author of A New Species of Trouble: Explorations in Disaster, Trauma, and Community

"This remarkable, original book analyzes the frequently misguided efforts of government to instill in people a sense of security. What makes Against Security so unusual is that it goes beyond critique to sympathetic recognition of people's fears, understanding the motives that lead politicians and the public to act in seemingly irrational ways, and recommending practical measures with which to confront threat without transgressing dignity."--Susan S. Fainstein, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

"A breakthrough--Against Security is an original contribution to social theory and a dazzling critique of how security is managed in everyday life and in situations of crisis."--Anthony Giddens, former director of the London School of Economics and Political Science

"This is a major sociological contribution to public debates about the increased security governments across the world have introduced to anticipate risks and prevent disasters. Molotch skillfully connects public fears about security to the private anxieties and intense inequalities these measures have generated, and he urges alternative human strategies developed from daily routines and mutuality."--Bridget M. Hutter, London School of Economics and Political Science

"A mesmerizing exploration of the things that scare us, Against Security exposes the even more frightening unintended consequences of government actions in response. Molotch takes us from the recesses of public restrooms and subways to the workplace, the Katrina disaster, air travel, and the World Trade Center site. His remedies combine expertise with common sense and imagination. A must-read, this is the book for our time."--Diane Vaughan, author of The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA

"Smart, savvy, and life-affirming, Against Security is the much-needed antidote to today's security regime--a regime that, despite its best efforts, succeeds mostly in making everyone's life worse. With his deeply-researched critique of what goes wrong, and his designer's eye for how things might be improved, Molotch has given us an instant sociological classic that is as enjoyable as it is essential."--David Garland, author of The Culture of Control and Peculiar Institution

"In this extremely important and beautifully written book, Molotch offers a highly original reflection on the current quest for security in the United States. His profound insights point out a plethora of expensive problems we have created for ourselves. He offers a solid list of alternative responses that might well avoid these kinds of devastating consequences."--Christina Nippert-Eng, Illinois Institute of Technology

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ben Rothke on September 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover
In this book, Professor Harvey Molotch argues that the government is worrying about the wrong things, and wasting huge amounts of money in the process. With a focus on post 9-11 events, he suggests that while significantly more security measures are in place, most people do not feel safer, and it is even arguable whether we are indeed safer.

The book takes on a number of very different subjects, including public health via the availability of public restrooms, the 9-11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and more. When it comes to post 9-11 airport security, Molotch shows how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's reactive security programs have done very little to enhance airport and aviation security.

The book provides a fascinating look at the New York subway system and how it dealt with the disaster of 9-11. It also provides a detailed overview of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Not really a fluke, the disaster was expected and predicted. The book notes that numerous water projects, including the creation of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Canal, meant as a way to provide shipping with a shorter route to the Gulf of Mexico, created a scenario that exacerbated the flooding of New Orleans.

For the most part, Dr. Molotch's recommendations for better design and safety are pragmatic. While many make sense, some may be far too radical for Congress or public safety officials. Nonetheless, this contrarian look at many of the security measures we have in place today gives the reader plenty to think about. Perhaps if planners took these ideas to heart, we would be safer and would have spent a lot less on security.
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I'm no expert in security at public places, but this book makes an interesting read for a layman. With such books, one always wonders if the author tells you the truth on the topic or is playing the facts and argument to make a sensational statement. I can't vouch for this book. But it feels to be pretty "decent", so to speak.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By tom stone on January 2, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This should be mandatory reading for all government officials. We could simultaneously reduce the budget deficit, increase quality of life, and increase actual security, by following the advice in this book. The author walks through real life infra-structure and explains how security and usability could be enhanced by stepping back from the knee-jerk "do something" responses we see so often.
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By Jim Goetting on September 22, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Excellent. Well thought out, well detailed.
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10 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
EDIT: There is clearly a huge gap in understanding here. Those interested in "root" are encouraged to search for the following online:

Reference: Expectations of Intelligence in the Information Age with Review by Steele, Now Also Wright 2.8

I'm the former spy and honorary hacker who sounded the alarm on cyber-security in 1994 and who questioned every aspect of the Department of Homeland Security, pointing out that the joint fusion centers would be a waste of money and that, I quote "50% of the dots will be bottom up dots and we have no way of ingesting them." I am also an arch critic of the National Security Agency, which processes less than 5% of what it collects and is generally incompetent at 163 of the 183 languages that matter--it's also largely useless and very late on out of the way threats like Benghazi.

What the author does not realize is that DHS and especially the TSA are not about security. They are a combination of employment programs to reduce the stress of 22.4% unemployment, and an alternative pork fest now that Pentagon pork is starting to wind down. "Top Secret America" is less about invading the privacy of all US citizens, or theater, and more about continuing to spend money in insane ways that reward the industrial complexes and the banks at our expense. The leadership of DHS is not stupid -- they simply do not have a mandate to actually perform in the public interest. The US Government spends money the way the RECIPIENTS of our tax dollars want it to spend money, NOT on what is in our best interests.

The author may also not realize that there are rogue elements within the ultra-secret side of the US Government that are out of control and willing to kill Americans on American soil (as well as overseas) to further perpetual war.
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