There are 3 things that I would like to explore in review of this book.
The first is the story.
This book is the autobiography of Edward Snowden, the 20-something man who shot to global fame when he exposed the mass scale surveillance that the US carries out on people through their devices. Every time we look at our phones, log on to a computer, swipe a credit card, we are tracked. And infinitesimally small pieces of information are stored about us. Over time, companies can build a fuller picture of our lives by stitching together this data. When you think of the billions of people and their daily activities, the mind is boggled by the amount of data that is added to data stores across the world every minute. The scale of the ‘privacy problem’ is massive, and leaking it caused the US goverment to start a manhunt for Snowden, who now lives in exile. This is a shared issue that affects all of us and the rules of the game are just being written.
The second is the book.
The book itself is a slow read. There are aspects of it which I found fascinating – like Snowden’s background and the episode about 9/11. It was incredible to read of his time at the CIA and the NSA and the inner workings. But most of all, it was interesting to understand the ethos of the ‘state’ and how we have arrived at mass surveillance being a blase affair. Equally, a number of other bits are slow going. Since the reader already knows what Snowden is going to do, I felt that there was a huge chunk of buildup that I wanted to skim read. When he actually makes the leak public, that’s when his story becomes extraordinary. But between that day and the final intercept in Russia is only a span of a few days, and makes for heady reading.
The final is the man.
It would be amiss to read an autobiography and not form an opinion on the protagonist. I felt that the detail of Snowden’s background added a lot of colour to his final actions. Somehow, it all just made sense, sort of like things do in hindsight. But regardless, it must have taken an immense amount of grit, courage and existentialism to have done what he did with the risks he took. He will live out his entire life in exile, although not alone (thankfully). What a huge sacrifice to make to bring about fundamental shift in thinking, global awareness, and policy changes. I have followed him on Twitter for years and I do truly admire him.