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Posts about books (old posts, page 70)

Permanent Record

Permanent Record

Edward Snowden

2019


The story of a dissident. In Snowden's telling he dissented for entirely principled reasons having found evidence of illegal wiretapping and other activities on the part of his employer, the NSA. And it's certainly true that many subsequent events bear out his story, as Congress has shut down or otherwise controlled the activities he revealed – but without pardoning or exonerating the whistleblower.

It's a story that could only happen in America, though, and some americana show through (for Valentine's Day he buys his girlfriend "the revolver she's always wanted"). But it's really a story of conscience followed to its logical conclusion, regardless of the personal consequences. And even having finished the book it's hard to really know what drove Snowden's actions: sacrificing everything to a principle of liberty that he felt wasn't being upheld seems somehow inadequate.

There's a broader message here too, to do with how the privatisation of government has affected the behaviour and loyalty of the people involved. A system where you can leave government services, become a contractor, and earn ten times the money for the same job in the same facility alongside the same people – simply to reduce the headline staff cost (by replacing it with an enormously larger contracting cost). It's a recipe for self-serving, and also for moving government-developed technology and approaches into the private sector for private profit.

4/5. Finished 01 October 2020.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin

In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin

Lindsey Hilsum

2018


Hard to think of a better way to tackle the life of such a complex individual in such complex circumstances. This is an excellent read both for its subject matter and for the general experience of war reporting.

I don't think we ever really get to the bottom of Marie Colvin's complexity. though. Perhaps that's inevitable at such a short distance from the events. Lindsey Hilsum avoids the facile explanations (daddy issues, thrill-seeking), but is left with very little else. She (Hilsum) seems to think that the same basic issues drove both Colvin's reporting and her self-destructive personal life that repeated a pattern of unsuitable men: she even shows how Colvin herself knew this was happening and yet seemed unable to escape the pattern. But as to what drove Colvin to the extremes she went to, reporting on stories that even other war reporters thought were too risky, remains in the shade for now at least.

4/5. Finished 21 September 2020.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Tickbox

Tickbox

David Boyle


A funny and quite damning indictment of tickbox culture and its pernicious effects. Unfortunately slightly short on meaningful prescriptions apart from resisting the temptation to comply (and accepting the possibly unfortunate consequences for others). Should certainly be required reading for anyone in a position to manage the introduction (or termination) of any sort of appraisal scheme.

4/5. Finished 11 September 2020.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)