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This Machine Kills Secrets: Julian Assange, the Cypherpunks, and Their Fight to Empower Whistleblowers Paperback – September 25, 2013
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New York Times Editors' Choice
“Greenberg is at his best when on the road — driving through a volcano-ridden Iceland, flying a decrepit Soviet plane with nine hackers, swimming in the Black Sea with fearless Bulgarian journalists. Even seasoned observers of WikiLeaks will find something new and interesting in this book.”— Evgeny Morozov, NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
"Computer hackers haven’t been made into heroes like this since Stieg Larsson created Lisbeth Salander—and luckily Greenberg shares a bit of Larsson’s flair for suspense, too." — SLATE
Greenberg delves eloquently into the magicians of the all-powerful technology that shatters the confidentiality of any and all state secrets while tapping into issues of personal privacy. — PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY
While lawmakers and law enforcers struggle with the philosophy and practicality of these issues, the people Greenberg profiles have made up their minds, and they are a few steps ahead. If you’re wondering who they are and why they feel so strongly, look no further than this book. — NEW SCIENTIST
“…fascinating and well-researched.” –WALL STREET JOURNAL
“Forbes magazine journalist Andy Greenberg takes readers on a terrific and revealing — if considerably unsettling — investigation into the shadowy war rooms behind our computer screens.” –CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER
"A globe trotting exploration into the heart of the contentious world of brilliant, eccentric and erratic game changers who have taken the tools at hand and turned them into powerful weapons that can — and have in some cases — altered the course of history…Greenberg went looking for a story and nailed it." — PAPER MAGAZINE
"A series of moving and deeply complex portraits… In all, Greenberg has created a seriously riveting read." — CAPITAL NEW YORK
Gripping…For all the technical detail (which Greenberg excels at explaining), this book is still about human feats and failings, idealism, trust and betrayal. — IRISH TIMES
About the Author
ANDY GREENBERG is a staff writer for Forbes magazine, focusing on technology, information security and digital civil liberties. His Forbes story on WikiLeaks and the future of information leaks was the first magazine cover story to feature Julian Assange. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, filmmaker Malika Zouhali-Worrall.
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Top Customer Reviews
It's amazing that he managed to interview so many of these (rightly) secretive folks, including Wikileaks' Julian Assange. What's more surprising is that he can convey the principles of hacking and cybersecurity clearly and make those subjects fascinating at the same time.
Greenberg manages to transform the tug of war between prying government agencies and the internet freedom fighters who want to make our lives private again into something compulsively readable, operatic even. The way he weaves different storylines and manages to neither lionize the hacktivists and pillory the state is commendable.
Everything about this book--its writing, its scope and reporting, its ability to show how central hacking and privacy is to our world's future--is tops.
I had a copy on pre-order with Amazon, so it arrived on Sept. 13th. I took it to the County Fair with me and read big chunks of the book while sitting on a bench.
The style of telling parts of life stories (Ellsberg, Zimmerman, Assange, Manning, me, etc.) and then interleaving with the stories of others, gradually moving forward in time, was especially interesting. Almost like a novel, or a musical piece, with themes, counterpoint, fugue-like developments. It gave a panorama of the themes and (some of) the players from the 1960s to the present, with an underlying motif.
I haven't really gotten to the second half of the book, except by skipping around and peeking. It seems more disjointed. Perhaps because I wasn't active in those events, or perhaps because the outcome just hasn't been written yet. Or maybe it's those crazy kids! The level of back-stabbing in Cypherpunks was not a fraction of what seems to have happened in the Wikileaks denouement.
Well done! It reminds me of Tracy Kidder's "The Soul of a New Machine" in a lot of ways.
The second axis is the technical one: here, the reader is left in the dark. The book covers the basics, but does so superficially. Now, this book is not meant to be a technical how-to, but given the subject, I fear this is an oversight - the book appears to give you an explanation, but there are too many gaps. The book should have made clear that these explanations are limited, at best, and should not be relied on. Don't read it for the technology, but do read it for the history and the personal stories.
First of all, let me just say that this is an excellent read. It moves along quickly, like a novel, and Greenberg discusses many of the basic technological capabilities that were invented directly or inspired by the Cypherpunks. It also gives little character portraits developed mainly by direct interaction Greenberg had with some of the key players. Greenberg describes meetings with John Young, Tim May, Julian Assange and others. And those who subscribed to the Cypherpunks mailing list will recognize the characters he has captured in book form: John Young is a (necessarily) paranoid characters who truly believes in freeing information, particularly information owned by the public. Tim May is a cranky old crank who is nonetheless brilliant and has egged on or conceived of many of the key inventions spawned by Cypherpunk thinking. Julian Assange is the self-proclaimed Cypherpunk messiah who is nevertheless hell-bent on exposing some of the worst abuses of both Governments and large corporations. In my opinion, Greenberg captures some aspects of the people without ignoring their contributions.
Where the book falls short of it's very high potential is in the last couple of chapters. Basically, Greenberg ends up spending a lot of time of the gossipy side of how Wikileaks came apart. While some coverage of this part of recent history is probably merited (and showing how Assange may have partly contributed to Wikileaks' loss of clout), Greenberg should have continued the main anti-authoritarian themes developed in the early chapters and discussed (for instance) BITCOIN. Whether Bitcoin itself survives or not isn't relevant, but Bitcoin emodies many Cypherpunkly ideals, including anonymous cash and a decentralized coining mechanism. As such, it is the first of what will certainly be a series of digital forms of cash. Greenberg should have maintained his focus on the core themes of the Cypherpunks and strong crypto and then looked towards the future and (possibly) discussed which of the themes may continue to proliferate (eg, Collapse of governments due to anonymous crypto payments? Probably unlikely. Forcing nation-states to come to terms with far higher forms of transparency? Increasingly likely.)
In my opinion this book is informative, fun-to-read, and even somewhat important. If Greenberg fixes the descent into Gossip in a second edition, then this book could become of lasting relevance.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
1. I read it completely from start to end
2. I found it exremely informative