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Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous Hardcover – November 4, 2014

4.3 out of 5 stars 69 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Winner of the 2015 American Anthropological Association's Diana Forsythe Prize awarded by the Society for the Anthropology of Work (SAW) and from the Committee on the Anthropology of Science, Technology and Computing.."

"Her writing style is as irreverent and occasionally as profane as her subjects, drawing the reader in with a casual amiability, as if sharing the wild stories of impossible and unreliable acquaintances. Interviews, chat logs, leaked documents, and personal recollections help construct one of the most accessible and most illuminating profiles possible of a group that, by its very creed, can't easily be defined or categorized. This all-access pass into the dark and wild corners of the Internet is timely, informative, and also frightening." Publishers Weekly

"For such a frenzied collective defying easy categorization, Coleman's diligent and often sensationalistic spadework does great justice in representing the plight of these "misfits of activism" and their vigilante mischief. An intensive, potent profile of contemporary digital activism at its most unsettling--and most effective." Kirkus Reviews

"Coleman's book is a perfect mix of scholarly and narrative, with all the excitement of traitors and dawn police raids combined with a sensitive and nuanced understanding of the Anonymous phenomenon." Cory Doctorow BoingBoing.

"Nothing that I have seen or read come close to Coleman's tome, in terms of opening up this world for everyone - from those who have followed the rise of Anonymous to those who know nothing about it - while making the tale entertaining and accessible."
David Gilbert, International Business Times.

"For anyone who is curious about the background to social dissidence online and the emergence of a hacker culture from the 1960s to today, The Many Faces of Anonymous provides is a must read. Coleman also has a wicked sense of humor and her detailed observation of her time within the Canadian secret service headquarters is gloriously witty." Sophia Stuart, PCMag

Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2014

“Easily the best book on Anonymous.”
—Julian Assange

“The US government and its allies have spent years castigating, prosecuting, and jailing members of Anonymous, with the director of the NSA going so far as to warn ominously of the potential of an Anonymous-led power blackout. But Gabriella Coleman’s fascinating history of Anonymous makes clear that almost all of the hacktivism attributed to this global collective has been devoted to exposing wrongdoing, not wreaking destruction, even as she also carefully shows that Anonymous is not a shadowy organization but a loosely knit collection of activists all over the globe, fighting for government and corporate transparency. The NSA’s treatment of Anonymous is disturbing and extreme, and Anonymous’s surprising activist turn is heartening. Essential reading.”
—Glenn Greenwald, author of No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State

“An engrossing, accessible, and intelligent study illuminating the ambiguities of Anonymous and its implications for the future of online political activism.”
Times Literary Supplement

“Coleman charts her own conceptual course, breaking with the standard narratives, particularly the click-baity cautionary tales about the dangers of Anonymous. Her book offers its share of warnings, but ones more nuanced, compelling, and empathetic than the typical hand-wringing about online mobs and the conundrum of virtual vigilante justice. Coleman is no cheerleader...But she also doesn’t wag her finger from some imagined high ground.” 
—Astra Taylor, Bookforum

“This is the ultimate piece on Anonymous. It’s a notoriously difficult subject to write about, but Gabriella Coleman has succeeded where others have failed, and the result is a masterpiece that is informative, interesting, and funny. A fine example of what an investigative book should be.”
—Mustafa Al-Bassam, alias “tflow,” former member of LulzSec

“In Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy, Coleman reveals the group in all its complexity ... this in-depth account might leave readers in awe of the sheer scope of the group and how much they have achieved while shunning the traditional trappings of leaders, hierarchy and individual fame-seeking.”
 —Financial Times

“Anyone hoping to understand this mostly hidden world will find [Coleman's] book crucial and even prescient.”
 —Boston Globe

“Meticulously researched, eminently readable.”  
 —Maclean's Magazine

“Coleman takes us on a thrilling journey into the uncharted landscape of hackers, trolls, and Anonymous activists who live among us. It’s both a perfect initiation for all those n00bs out there still wondering what a ‘n00b’ is, as well as an important discourse on the role of anarchy online. Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy shares in the rebellious, even mordant humor of the groups it profiles, but never loses its critical perspective. A hilarious, important piece of hidden history that is very hard to put down.”
—Douglas Rushkoff, author of Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now

“With a perceptive eye and a principled disposition, Coleman dives into the eclectic world of Anonymous to reveal the humor and political significance of this polarizing network. Following her journey through this maze and reveling in her analysis is both insightful and awe-inspiring. This book will shake up assumptions at the core of academia, industry, law enforcement, and the media. It’s a must read!”
—danah boyd, author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens

“Exhaustively researched and devilishly readable, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy tells the story of Anonymous’s rise from 4chan to taking on governments. If there could be a definitive writer on a movement like Anonymous, Coleman would be it.”
—Molly Crabapple, artist and author of the forthcoming Drawing Blood

“[An] eye-opening ethnography ... This all-access pass into the dark and wild corners of the Internet is timely, informative, and also frightening.”
Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Verso; 1 edition (November 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781685835
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781685839
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #358,398 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David Wineberg TOP 500 REVIEWER on November 4, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Anonymous is almost certainly not what you think it is. You have to live it to understand it, its implications, its functioning, and its place in society. Gabrielle Coleman lived it, as a fully disclosed academic anthropologist. This is her story as much as theirs.

The structure of Anonymous is like the structure of the internet: multiple channels, multiple entry points, self healing patches, and lots of redundancy. (Also lots of swearing, lots of personal attacks, and lots of suspicions. Testosterone is involved.) This enables a totally flat organization to achieve in minutes what giant corporations and government take years to effect. The exhilaration, the joy, the satisfaction participants savor is incomparable. Anonymous is far more than a labor of love; it is idealists executing on their dreams. Everyone should be jealous.

Gabriella Coleman hitched a ride on some of those dreams, and was clearly jealous. She goes so far as to express the compulsion, the adrenaline rush, and the thrill of watching it happen live. The characters are as richly detailed as any in fiction. There are heroes and villains, victims and survivors. There are plot twists and subplots. It covers roughly four years in which Coleman got close enough to many of the characters as to meet in person, something totally alien to the whole concept. Often as not, they confounded her assumptions.

The story is a classic bell curve. At first there is confusion and commotion and random, unconcerted activity. They were in it for the entertainment value. As the participants refined their goals and their skills, they won many battles, notably Scientology, where they earned their stripes. They then took on and down whole governments.
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Format: Hardcover
If I could give this 3.5 stars, I would. It took me a while to put my finger on why, since this book is an excellently written and meticulously researched account of Anonymous. Anthropologist Gabriella Coleman takes a long, detailed look into it--she clearly put a ton of time into this, and teased out the different threads of this loosely associated network/movement. The book is extremely well-researched and detailed, and cleared up a lot of confusing history re: Anonymous by teasing out different factions, fiefdoms, cliques, and even time periods and evolutions within the ragtag group of hackers, activists, tricksters, and trolls.

There were a few aspects I found problematic. First and foremost, this account seemed to have a bit of an identity crisis. It fails as a purely anthropological text. Coleman struggled and in many ways, I believe, failed to maintain academic detachment/journalistic distance from her sources. She seemed very eager to impress them, make sure she had cred, prove that she understood the lulz, etc. When she detailed meetings or conversations with Anons, she seemed extremely close to many of her sources, looked like she was constantly trying to prove herself, and I don't think ever expressed much disagreement. It was unclear whether she was doing this to maintain her sources, or whether her views were colored by her sources, but it still seemed like it may have colored her perspective a bit.

It's of course extremely likely that she was already very sympathetic to Anonymous-- her opinions were likely what drew her to this project in the first place--and it's hard *not* to love Anonymous or at least many of the antics done under that banner.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I would give this more stars if I could. It's one of my best reads for 2014. I loved the writing style and LOVED the working in of broader themes that links Anonymous within the perspective of a society's culture. I was riveted. It was fascinating. It was also shocking at how much they have answered the need for political protest with all the oversteps the government has taken. I'm an old school war protester and I have to say that our generation has had to do some soul searching about effectiveness. What's the point of being on the right side of history if you can't change things? How do you protest things that aren't even explicit or debated upon as a country? How do you bring them to the forefront so they can be debated? It's inspiring to see at least some answers and innovations coming from a younger, vibrant generation. This book introduced me to so many new topics and ways to get involved or at least see what activists are doing for change. Thank you for such a meaningful, thoughtful, and insightful book. I highlighted passages and will re-read for inspiration and ideas!
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Format: Kindle Edition
This is a meticulously researched and documented book about the group Anonymous, including several notorious hackers. The author in an anthropologist and wrote the book in a style (I can only assume) that would be what fellow anthropologists would expect to read. It is very dry and detailed.

When I got this book, I was excited to read about it and learn about Anonymous from a legitimate source. Unfortunately, because it was so dry and detailed, I found myself having difficulty finishing it - I found myself skimming entire chapters and skipping around the book. If you are looking for an exhaustive reference on the topic, this might be an excellent choice. If you are simply interested in the topic, this might not be for you.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing a complementary ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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