Coders seeking to do good in the world will find much inspiration here.

CODING DEMOCRACY

HOW HACKERS ARE DISRUPTING POWER, SURVEILLANCE, AND AUTHORITARIANISM

Facebook and Amazon may be in the business of selling us to the highest bidder, but not without good guys fighting to keep the internet free and safe.

Webb, a Vancouver-based labor attorney and activist, once hoped that democratic constitutions around the world would roll back the wave of governmental and corporate intrusions on privacy. Unfortunately, “when you take stock of the pervasive illegality states and corporations are engaged in with their uses of digital tech, it is manifest that the law is collapsing.” Leave it, then, to the white-hat hackers of the world to deliver us from technological evil. The author traces the hacker ethic to MIT programmers in the late 1950s who stole mainframe time when the authorities weren’t looking, then to the Bay Area libertarians who would launch the computing revolution. Valuably, Webb ranges far beyond that American-centric story—even as, she notes, most internet traffic passes through and most of the internet’s backbone resides in the U.S.—to examine the long history of hacking in Europe, courtesy especially of the Berlin-born Chaos Computer Club and a tech culture “aligned more with the advent of personal computing than with the development of early mainframe computing.” The CCC gave rise to other hacking movements, such as the Spanish ensemble of coders who linked the financial collapse of 2008 as it played out in their country with misdoings on the parts of bankers and government officials, and the Five Star Movement in Italy, with its hearty mistrust of the status quo. While making allowances for black-hatters such as Julian Assange, Webb asserts that the goal of hackers and “hacktivists” is profoundly on the side of ordinary people. “The goal they share,” she writes, “is to distribute power to the people, to put the people’s hands on matters as local, national, and global citizens.” And the overarching task, she concludes, is no less daunting—namely, to “build a new condition of freedom.”

Coders seeking to do good in the world will find much inspiration here.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-262-04355-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: MIT Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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