Little Brother

by Psuke on June 4, 2008

in Bound Up with Books

Bound Up With Books

Little Brother


I had a couple of different ideas of what I was going to review for this column – and then I read Little Brother, and all other contenders just flew out the window. This book simply cannot get too much exposure as far as I’m concerned. It may be the most important book written this decade. That’s not hyperbole – that’s an honest opinion.

For those who’ve been stuck in some sort of black hole – Little Brother is the story of a kid (well, at 17 he’s sort of leaving the kid stage) who uses hacking to take on Homeland Security in the city of San Francisco. That’s the short version, and after reading it the book, that’s the least of it. It’s a how-to on Internet security and privacy, building your own laptop and a little pranking thrown in – and a how-to for finding stuff on Google (to round out what your reading). It’s about the possibilities provided by technology on both sides of the fence. And it’s a dialogue about what ‘security’ means and how it can be actually improved as opposed to cosmetically improved.

One of my favorite moments in the book is when Marcus is having an argument with his father over the idiocy of the arphid (RFID) tagging for finding terrorist groups and making the world safer:

“But most of the people they hold up aren’t doing anything wrong, Dad,” I said. This was getting to me. My own father! “It’s crazy. For every guilty person they catch, they have to punish thousands of innocent people. That’s just not good.”

“Innocent? Guys cheating on their wives? Drug dealers? You’re defending them, but what about all the people who died?…”

Like how Marcus’ father seems to imply that now it’s adulterers who are to blame for the terrorist attack? Suddenly, doing anything that’s even marginally questionable is grounds for suspicion, and whatever the government might do to neutralize (neutralize, what a hygienic word) that even merely hypothetical threat is okay. We’ll leave out the drug dealers, cause that’s another argument – but I tell you what: The day the feds decide that adultery is something they need to be involved in is the day I head for the sewers. I’ll feel more clean down there.

This is a great book on an important topic – a discussion that has in some ways been swept under the rug under the guise of ‘national security’. And it’s good in another way, too – there are days when things seem so bad that on some level I’m actually shocked that this book got published at all. Not completely shocked, mind you. I don’t honestly think we’ve descended into a world of thoughtcrime, but there are days when I think that’s where we’re headed.

So, go read it for yourself (go here for a free electronic copy), google yourself some of the topics in the book, listen to the entertaining interview with Cory Doctorow and the Viking Youth Power Hour, and be glad we do still live in a country where you can talk about this shit without going to jail. Hopefully with some vigilance and work on our parts we can keep it that way.


Bazooka Joe June 4, 2008 at 6:08 pm

I download and printed the PDF and read the book in a day. When I get home this evening I’m going to give it a friend. I’d love to give this book as a gift to my friends’ kids but they’re all pre-teens. Pre-10s, actually.

Psuke June 4, 2008 at 11:27 pm

Yeah, my niece is preteen, too, and I’m not sure how into tech she is (more fantasy oriented) but I’m tempted to give it to her anyway. I doubt her dad will ever discuss this stuff with her.

puredoxyk June 5, 2008 at 10:33 am

Nice, very nice review. I suspect this may be my favorite book this year, and I’m glad we can wallow together in its awesomeness.

I also love that you chose the limited-edition poster for your image…I wanted one of those SO BADLY, but I was too late!

(My daughter, as you know, is five, so I guess I have a year or so to buy a copy…. ;)

Psuke June 5, 2008 at 1:10 pm

Yeah, I really love that image…better than either book-covers (American or British).

It’s odd – I don’t know that it’s my *favorite* book (and not my favorite of the decade) but I definitely think it’s the most important, in terms of the questions it raises and subjects discussed.

Alveraz June 13, 2008 at 2:05 pm

Sold. I’m on my way to buy this now, I’m more than intrigued. Thanks for the tip.

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