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This Machine Kills Secrets: How WikiLeakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World's Informatio n Hardcover – September 13, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Greenberg masterfully portrays a new reality.  Radical transparency for firms and governments is not just a decision but a technological fact of life.” 
—Don Tapscott, bestselling author of The Naked Corporation and, most recently, Macrowikinomics

A must-read for those seeking to understand the decades-long struggle between openness and secrecy, anonymity and attribution—and why that might be the most important struggle of the modern era.  Meticulously researched, Greenberg provides first-hand accounts of the eccentric pioneers who are coding around censorship, repression, and even traditional law. He also captures the relentless distributed nature of the movement that’s powering it all.”
—Daniel Suarez, New York Times bestselling author of Daemon and  Kill Decision

“Andy Greenberg shows us why cryptography has to be the marrow of the Internet. People who have no technical knowledge along with those who live and breathe bytes will gain a new vision of an invisible army of characters….This book will be one of the most important books of the decade.”
—Birgitta Jonsdottir, Member of the Icelandic Parliament and Chairperson of the International Modern Media Institution

“This is the story of a revolution in societal transparency. It’s an expose of the characters who have put secrets in peril. For those that seek transparency, it’s riveting tale. For those who must keep secrets, be warned: This book holds up a mirror to your worst fears.”
—Hugh Thompson, founder and CEO of People Security, Adjunct Professor, Computer Science, Columbia University

“Greenberg’s vivid storytelling makes the forces that culminated in Wikileaks — the people, the politics, and especially the technology — come alive.” ­
—Bruce Schneier, author of Liars and Outliers and Applied Cryptography

“Andy Greenberg tells a vivid story that weaves together compelling characters and powerful technology that could change politics more profoundly than any technology since the printing press. By the time I was finished, I was both inspired and terrified.
—David Bacon, IBM, Watson Research Center

“Points to a future in which few corporate and government secrets are safe. This is the book you must read to understand the WikiLeaks phenomenon and the growing struggle over the most sensitive institutional secrets.”
— Stephen Solomon, Director of the Business and Economic Reporting Program, New York University Carter School of Journalism

"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 in late 2010 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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton (September 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525953205
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525953203
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #281,609 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Andy Greenberg crafts an incredibly compelling tale that begins with the historic Pentagon Papers leak and moves through the next four decades of internet activism, hacking and cyberleaking, always keeping the colorful cast of hacktivists front and center.

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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A gripping read! Very well-told. And for the parts and personalities I am directly familiar with, accurate. (A few tiny errors, a few compressions of events, etc., but generally accurate.)

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.
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Format: Hardcover
I'll rank this book on two axis. The first is the historical narrative, which offers a great perspective on the evolution of how, and what it means to "leak information". The book starts with the Pentagon Papers incident, and then moves forward through several decades of tools, crypto, hacking, activism, and cyberleaking developments. In the process, you'll be introduced to all the major individuals who have left their footprints on the field - this part deserves a solid 5/5 stars. Great, engaging stories and well written.

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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
OK, finished THIS MACHINE KILLS SECRETS by Andy Greenberg.

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.
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