Keep a close watch on these stories of observation.
No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State
By Glenn Greenwald
Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has been a constant on front-page headlines since his release of classified NSA documents to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras in May 2013. Now Greenwald tells the whole truth of how he found (and nearly lost) the Snowden story, contextualizing the revelatory nature of his subject’s broken silence. In the process, Greenwald emerges a curious subject himself: an intensely confrontational arguer, living in a Rio de Janeiro compound with a phalanx of dogs. Our own Graeme Wood writes of No Place to Hide: “I know of few journalists who would have lunged forward with Greenwald’s relentless zeal and complete lack of self-doubt. Snowden must have suspected that Greenwald would sink his fangs into the leaks in exactly this manner, using the material predictably yet energetically. If there were an industry prize for Canniest Leak, this book shows that Snowden would certainly have won it.”
“One of Verizon’s first customers is the Phoenix Suns basketball team, which wants to know where its fans live. Scott Horowitz, a team vice president, said: ‘This is the information that everyone has wanted that hasn’t been available until now.’ ” That’s Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Julia Angwin, as she expertly diagnoses one of surveillance’s greatest ironies: the degree to which we so often volunteer private information in the name of our own convenience, and the intense marketability and profitability of the companies who buy and sell customer data with ease. If surveillance is a growing concern, argues Angwin, we might first begin to address increasing fears first by acknowledging our own degree of culpability as voracious consumers.
By Cory Doctorow
Every wiseacre teen thinks they have their high school supervisors all figured out, especially the key ways to outwit the administrators tasked with keeping students under their thumb. But in the wake of a devastating terrorist attack, the Department of Homeland Security takes a special interest in Marcus and his friends. Little does Marcus know that this case of mistaken identity will reveal San Francisco to be ruled by an underground police state, in this incisive work of realist science fiction from one of the genre’s most original new voices. Writes BNR columnist Paul Di Filippo, “In the spirit of its dystopian forebears, Doctorow’s novel has a dual goal. First, of course, to entertain with scintillating speculations and an exciting adventure; second, to propagandize on behalf of individual rights, political accountability, and the power of communal action.”
The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I
By Stephen Alford
While modern surveillance is often discussed as the product of modern technology, the activity of spying on and covertly monitoring citizens has been a staple of governance since the days of Elizabethan England (and earlier). Writes BNR columnist Katherine A. Powers of Stephen Alford’s thrilling history of the queen’s gang of “extra eyes:” “Alford shows, in case after dramatically described case, how integral to sixteenth-century English politics were spies, double agents, forgers, and suborners. Elizabeth’s ministers entered into the deepest of undercover schemes, not only to confound enemies at home and abroad but also, with devious practicality, to get around the will of their own monarch.” Don’t be surprised if this world of hubris, turf war vitriol, and scheming self-preservation of Elizabeth’s inner circle rings familiar, as a prototype for the partisanship of today’s U.S. Congress.
Clandestine in Chile: The Adventures of Miguel Littin
By Gabriel García Márquez
When General Augusto Pinochet became Chile’s dictator in 1973, radical film director Miguel Littin — sharply critical of Pinochet and his army — fled to avoid imprisonment. Twelve years later, the homesick and ambitious Littin returned, disguised as a Uruguayan entrepreneur, with a ragtag film crew dead set on capturing the truth of Pinochet’s corrupt government and its often brutal approach to surveillance. Gabriel García Márquez’s grandly detailed prose give Littin the heroism of a conquering knight, and his story has the suspense of a thrilling chase once the local cops catch on to the film crew’s true intentions.
The Crying of Lot 49
By Thomas Pynchon
Despite our potential entry into a devastating surveillance state, Big Brother wasn’t watching hard enough to keep us from sneaking a sixth book onto this list. A major influence on everyone from David Foster Wallace to William Gibson to fake fact-finding comedian John Hodgman, this uncharacteristically slim volume from legendary postmodernist Thomas Pynchon finds heroine Oedipa Mass uncovering a worldwide conspiracy between two secret American postal services, each striving to control information and the means of its distribution. Pynchon’s darkly comic, savagely witty fable foresaw Big Data before there ever was such a thing, and carries a savvy satirical critique that reads today as prescient and disturbingly conceivable.