Book Review – Hacking Politics

On January 18th 2012 a multitude of websites blacked out their services to alert users of a new government backed copyright bill that threatened the very nature of the internet.

Prominent sites like Wikipedia went completely dark for the day, while others such as Google changed their homepage to one that was censored.

Google - SopaThis online co-ordinated activism was the largest of its type that has ever taken place, bringing together people from all around the world to unite against the SOPA and PIPA bills. In response to the outrage Senators changed sides and the bills were subsequently defeated, much to the annoyance of the music and film companies that had lobbied for them. It was a moment when the power of the internet community was seen to make a tangible difference in the world of politics, while also taking on the multi-national corporations who wanted to tighten their grip on the entertainment industry.

It is indeed a story worth telling.

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So, it’s no surprise then that someone wrote the book. Well, to be more accurate, several people wrote the book.

Hacking Politics covers the whole SOPA/PIPA uprising in clinical detail by bringing together a number of first-hand accounts, building a literary mosaic of the days leading up to the now infamous blackout.  Writers such as the sadly late Aaron Swartz, David Moon, Patrick Ruffini, David Segal, and Cory Doctorow all share their experiences and areas of expertise in the often confusing world of copyright law and high level politics. It’s packed to the gills with insight and facts…but that might be the book’s biggest problem.

At the beginning there is a prelude that actually takes you though the entire story over forty pages by editing together people’s testimonies. It starts a little disjointed, but soon the reader settles into the pattern of alternating voices and the story unfolds.

With this completed there then follows two hundred and sixty pages that tell you the story again, in greater detail. The problem is that pretty much all of the content included in the opening section is repeated in the larger one. Which gets tiresome very quickly. It also robs the book of any real narrative drama. You know what’s happening, why, and how it will turn out. So what’s the point in reading it?

This is a huge shame as the tale is actually very interesting, and highlights the real threats to the current incarnation of the internet that exist. If you have an interest in the inner workings of the American political system and where it intersects with technology then maybe the depth of Hacking Politics will give you much to think over. But the book left me with the definite feeling that inside the meandering prose and repetitious events was a truly excellent story that remains buried beneath the rubble of lazy editing.

If you do want to try it out for yourself then you can visit the publisher’s website here, where you’ll find some excellent titles, including Cypherpunks by Julian Assange that I reviewed recently.

 

 

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