This Machine Kills Secrets: How WikiLeakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World’s Information
by Andy Greenberg
This Machine Kills Secrets charts the rise and fall of Wikileaks. The word “Wikileaks” is no longer the boogeyman it once was. The current public debate about online privacy might indicate that the philosophical roots behind Wikileaks has gained traction with the general populace. This book is a history of said philosophy. The ideological manifestation of this philosophy is a belief in the right to privacy. The pragmatic manifestation of this philosophy is encryption, or the ability to scramble data so only you and those you choose can unscramble it. Those ideologically motivated enough to take pragmatic action wrote encryption software. Of course, encryption and related technologies can be used for anonymous whistle-blowing too. The people who wrote encryption software are either freedom fighters or paranoid wackjobs depending on your perspective. Pick your poison. It makes for great reading. It also makes for strange bedfellows. I was left wondering what gun nuts in Idaho think of Julian Assange. Greenberg works in a biography of Assange, a history of digital encryption, a (sort of) history of hacker collective Anonymous, and how this all led to a quiet revolution in Iceland. I couldn’t put it down.
If this book tickles your fancy, the author recently participated in an “ask me anything” session on Reddit where he answered user questions in depth and revealed more personal opinions about Wikileaks. Check it, and his book, out.
The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood
by James Gleick
This is book is a history of information theory and an examination of how this theory impacted other scientific fields and society as a whole. The gist of information theory is that it measures information quantitatively regardless of meaning. Thinking about information in this way helps a lot when thinking about quantum physics and molecular biology. The theory originated within electrical engineering and it is there; e.g., digital formats, microcomputers, and the internet, that it affects our everyday lives the most. Or maybe it is our DNA where it affects us the most? You will learn a lot about the unsung heroes who created our conceptions of contemporary scientific ideas. Though Gleick profiles a lot of scientists with nova-like minds, it feels like the book is a tribute to Claude Shannon. If you read between the lines, Gleick feels maybe Shannon hasn’t gotten his due in popular culture as much as other one name science icons.
For subject matter as inherently mathematical (and some would say dry as Jeff Fisher’s mouth the day he got fired) Gleick’s book is very engaging. I listened the audio version, so extra kudos to reader Rob Shapiro for enlivening the text. You will learn a heady amount about randomness, codes, symbolic logic and talking drums but Gleick doesn’t do a good enough job tying it all together. Individual chapters will blow your mind but the whole book doesn’t hang together well. Nor does it explain how Shannon’s information theory led to the internet (at least enough to satisfy me) despite the fact the book is marketed as such. Considering the difficulty of the task at hand, I’ll give Gleick a pass. This book will put a new wrinkle on your brain.
Recommended for science nerds, math wonks, snoot librarians, or anyone who made it past the sentence “this book is a history of information theory…”
But yeah, Claude Shannon deserves a postage stamp.