It really pains me to write a negative review for this book. For one, Mark Russinovich is a really smart guy who has been very generous in sharing his knowledge of obscure Windows internals. As a computer security professional, I'm also very eager for thrillers with hacker themes.
Before the downers, if you're an IT person who wants to read a book where computer experts are the central figures and aren't too concerned about the plot, you'll probably enjoy this book any way.
The story was just too weak for me. The technical parts were highly dumbed down and not very accurate, which surprised me because Russinovich is very knowledgeable on these subjects. The interactions were sexualized to the point where it distracted a lot from the plot, in my opinion. There are ways to work sex into stories without beating the reader over the head with it. The attempts at describing relationships seemed very strained to me, like someone trying to fit human interaction into a crude algorithm.
I'm not sure how many of my complaints stem from bad writing to begin with, or bad editing. I hope editors will allow more technically accurate and detailed depictions in Russinovich's future works, and hopefully encourage a lot of coaching in character development and interaction.
This book does a fine job laying-bear the drawbacks of an increasingly militarized CIA and increasingly covert DoD. It also examines the misadventures of using private contractors to do the US government's dirty work, and of becoming involved with unsavory groups or states to achieve short-term goals, which will have long-term negative consequences.
The chronology of the book is sometimes a bit jarring. In a few places it jumps forward or backwards in time suddenly. I think the editing could have been better from a continuity and cohesiveness standpoint. The book also suffers from a little bit of tunnel-vision--it follows the arc of several figures, but doesn't (in my opinion) give a broad assessment or characterization of programs overall. That's understandable, due to the difficulty of getting on-the-record statements from people involved in covert action and the intelligence world, but it does restrict the completeness.
I read the other reviews raving about the narration and told myself "I won't need to comment on that in my review." Guess what? The narration is AWESOME. There are dozens of characters and Wiltsie does them all in highly distinct and very convincing voices, switching back and forth between them with hardly a missed beat.
The story is pretty much what I expected from Stephenson: Futuristic, but in a believable way, weaves in low-level technology concepts via allegories, slightly uncomfortable in places, and fascinating commentary on social systems. Thoroughly enjoyable escapism.
Have I mentioned that the narration is fantastic?
This book has the best first chapter of any book I've ever read.
The story combines computer hacking, sword fighting, corruption, religion, and dystopian future in a way that's easy to imagine. As a hacker I found the book interesting, although the descriptions are simple enough for anyone to follow. I did find some of the etymology a bit tedious, but the historical and mythological elements were enjoyable.
Stephenson did an outstanding job of writing in the voice of his characters, and Davis gave extremely convincing performances for each of them. This is the best narration I've listened to on an audible book yet.
Shane Harris does such a good job of explaining the rationale behind the creation of the modern US surveillance state and the motivations of the people who created it that in the end I felt it was lacking compelling arguments against such domestic spying. Despite that, the book does chronicle the rapid erosion of protections for US persons in the face of comprehensive government eavesdropping. I heartily recommend this book to anyone seeking a better understanding of privacy and surveillance issues.
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