Little Brother (2008)

By Cory Doctorow

Rating: 9/10

This was truly an amazing book, despite a few style flaws.  A couple of typos and some repetitive phrases pretty much rounds out the faults I found in the work; the ending seemed a tad anti-climatic, but I often find that to be the case in books.

Little Brother tackles the relationship between technology, security, and “free” society, pitting a 17 year-old hacker against the DHS.  The book is marketed toward young adults, so the plot may not be overly complicated, but I think there’s another reason why Doctorow wrote it with that audience in mind.  By breaking down the technical details of security, networking, and the Internet, he has made the realm of techno-hackers more accessible to everyone, something he clearly views as vital in an age living under the shadow of the Patriot Act, Gitmo, DHS regulations, and constant government monitoring.  (I had a graduate-level course in public/private keys and Doctorow’s explanation made more sense to me).  The afterwords provide even more resources for the security-conscious should you wish to pursue them.

Little Brother provides a paradigm-shifting revelation about security measures for the average citizen should they choose to take the descriptions to heart.  You’ll never look at the “convenience” of chipped cards (EZ Pass, metro passes, your iPhone) in quite the same way again—and I think that’s a good thing.  Too often we surrender ourselves to technology without critically thinking about what it means for our privacy and, by extension, our freedoms.

I won’t get too much into the plot, but Doctorow drops plenty of allusions to other works, my favorite being a nod to Poe: “Guantanamo-by-the-Bay was in the hands of its enemies.”  This informs a whole other way of looking at the DHS and its methods (in the book), and I’ll post that analysis as soon as it’s evaluated by my peers (via Coursera.org where I had the fortune of discovering this book).

I can’t recommend this book enough to those who want an eye-opening look at the citizen’s role in a free society.

Favorite Quotes:

“Computers can control you or they can lighten your work—if you want to be in charge of your machines, you have to learn to write code. (120)

“I wondered if it was better to be clear-eyed and hopeless or to live in a fool’s paradise.” (135)

“I figured this stuff out by looking at the web and by thinking about it.  If I can do it, terrorists can do it.  They told us they took away our freedom to make us safe.  Do you feel safe?” (238)

“That’s when I knew it—Guantanamo-by-the-Bay was in the hands of its enemies.  I was saved.” (347)

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