Fowler’s Assange biography not really so bad

A couple weeks ago I wrote that Andrew Fowler’s biography of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, The Most Dangerous Man in the World, was failing to impress. I persisted reading, however, and things got better.

My main gripe then was that just 41 pages into the narrative I was getting the distinct impression that Melbourne University Press hadn’t assigned an editor who had the faintest grasp of internet technology, history and culture. I listed a bunch of what, to me, were glaring errors.

However once we get past Assange’s earlier hacker life and into more recent material, which is more about interpersonal relationships and international politics, the book is significantly stronger. Indeed, The Most Dangerous Man in the World does a good job of tying together the various threads of the Assange and WikiLeaks stories, and even buries on page 217 an important revelation — if it is a revelation.

I have been reliably told that ASIO played an active part in the investigation into Assange, trawling through his life and activities in Australia. But what must be just as worrying for him, and has also never been revealed before, is the fact that the inquiry also included officers from ASIS, Australia’s overseas intelligence agency, which has strong links with the US.

Personally I’m not surprised by that news one bit. That’s just the intelligence organisations doing their jobs of investigating perceived threats to national security, as should be expected. But given how some folks get all frothed up whenever they discover that spooks are involved, I’m wondering why this wasn’t given more prominence.

The book still has some curious wording, such as on page 147 where WikiLeaks is described as “a child of the anarchic blogosphere”. I’m not sure that’s the right heritage to stress and, as I wrote before, Robert Manne’s free-to-read essay in The Monthly does a much better job of capturing Assange’s and WikiLeaks’ cypherpunk roots. On page 165 there’s a reference to “what’s known as the DefCon conference”, as if there’s some doubt as to the name of one of the longest-running and most-respected hacker events on the planet. And there’s still plenty of that sloppy editing I referred to, such as the Chaos Computer Club being explained twice.

Nevertheless, reading The Most Dangerous Man in the World will give you the core narratives. Just be aware that the technical and cultural descriptions are wobbly, and use it to get the timelines straight in your head.

Fowler’s Assange biography is failing to impress

Warning! I bought Andrew Fowler’s biography of WikiLeaks front man Julian Assange, The Most Dangerous Man in the World, ‘cos it’s a bestseller with good reviews. But just 41 pages in, I’m feeling like I’ve done my dough.

If I’m paying money for a book — especially when it’s written by someone billed as an “award-winning investigative journalist” and published by a prestigious imprint like Melbourne University Press — I have two basic but very simple requirements. The book should tell me more than I already know. And it shouldn’t tell me things I know to be wrong.

Quite frankly, after the first 41 pages I’m wondering whether MUP had assigned to this book an editor who had the faintest grasp of internet technology, history and culture. Shall we run through some of the problems?

Continue reading “Fowler’s Assange biography is failing to impress”

Weekly Wrap 34

A weekly summary of what I’ve been doing elsewhere on the internets. It’s a bit thin this week, thanks to the Australia Day holiday, clearing junk out of the house before moving, and the ridiculous heat Sydney is experiencing at the moment.

Articles

Podcasts

  • Patch Monday episode 73, “Inside Intel’s second-generation core”. My guest is systems architect Benno Rice.

Media Appearances

  • On Sunday I was a guest on the Parity Bit video podcast. At least the recording was on Sunday afternoon. It’s likely to be the early hours of Monday before the episode appears online. I will update this post to link directly to the podcast once it’s online. And here it is.

Geekery

Corporate Largesse

Elsewhere

Most of my day-to-day observations are on my high-volume Twitter stream, and random photos and other observations turn up on my Posterous stream. The photos also appear on Flickr, where I eventually add geolocation data and tags.

[Photo: Assange’s Truth is Out There, a paste-up on the old post office on Enmore Road, Enmore in Sydney, featuring WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and the old X-Files slogan, photographed 28 January 2011.]

[Updated 8.40pm to link to the Parity Bit podcast.]

[Updated 31 January 2011 to link to the Parity Bit podcast on the program website rather than YouTube.]

Weekly Wrap 27

A weekly summary of what I’ve been doing elsewhere on the internets — very late this week because I just couldn’t be arsed doing blog posts while I was in San Francisco. But here’s the summary of last week. On Wednesday. So I’ll refund your goddam subscription fees.

Articles

Podcasts

  • Patch Monday episode 68, “Wikileaks: the survival lessons”. A panel discussion with network engineer Mark Newton — he described WikiLeaks as “a bespoke cloud-based CDN [content distribution network] that is enabled by the Streisand Effect” — information security specialist Crispin Harris, and platform architect Benno Rice.

Media Appearances

None. What wrong with you people?

Corporate Largesse

Where do you start? This week was all about me travelling to San Francisco as a guest of Salesforce.com. So they paid my airfares, accommodation, food and drink throughout the event, and “networking functions” at the W Hotel and the Palace Hotel. Plus they gave me a Flip HD video camera, a scarf, a t-shirt, a universal power plug thingy and a can of whipped cream. Don’t ask.

Elsewhere

Most of my day-to-day observations are on my high-volume Twitter stream, and random photos and other observations turn up on my Posterous stream. The photos also appear on Flickr, where I eventually add geolocation data and tags.

[Photo: A comparison of real American men with the idealised version portrayed in advertising in a storefront on Market St, San Francisco.]