Book Review: Permanent Record

by @edent | # # #

Edward Snowden, a geek in glasses, looks away from the camera.

Edward Snowden, the man who risked everything to expose the US government’s system of mass surveillance, reveals for the first time the story of his life, including how he helped to build that system and what motivated him to try to bring it down.

I'm a civil servant in the UK. Luckily, I suppose, I don't often have access to TOP SECRET information. I suppose I could leak the canteen's lunch menu, but that won't make headlines.

What drives a person to jeopardise their career, their family, their life, and - depending on who you believe - their country and its allies?

This is a good book, badly written.

The opening few chapters are a bore. I suspect it's to "prove" he's a genuine, mom-and-apple-pie, red-blooded American. But that's not really why we're here - you can happily skip the first third of the book. I'd recommend skimming from there to about the halfway point.

Even then, it's flabby. Meandering descriptions which go nowhere. He conflates wasteful public spending with mass surveillance. There's a page randomly dedicated to what the word "whistle-blower" means in different languages. And some pedantic nitpicks of what sort of software career he had. It becomes a mish-mash of political ideas and workplace gripes.

The end is spectacular. A gripping description of the emotional and practical side of exfiltrating data and going on the run.

I've seen Snowden speak (via telescreen) at a conference. He's articulate and passionate. His knowledge and persuasive manner make him a fascinating character. But the book feels like half autobiography and half political manifesto - without doing either particularly well.

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