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The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier, Bruce Sterling

It would be hard for me to write an unbiased view of this book, so I might as well be up front with why I was predisposed to like it. One, I know Bruce Sterling, count him as a friend, and have always liked his writing style. In fact, I credit Sterling (along with Mike Godwin, about who more later) for helping me to develop my reading palate, that is, to urge me to examine what I was reading with a critical eye, in order to discover a wider variety of interest. Two, although I’m not a hacker, I play one in my mind. Oh, I know that I’m nowhere near the anarchistic fellows of the Legion of Doom–I’m not even in the same class as Gail Thackeray, former assistant attorney General of Arizona and one of the leaders of the “Crackdown” of the title. But ever since my cousin showed me his modem, and what you could do with it, I’ve been a hacker at heart.

So a book like this, that attempts to show me what I’ve been living through for the past ten years, and, more importantly, what I’ve been missing, is like reading a biography of someone you know. In fact, it contains two such biographies among other things: brief sketches of both Sterling himself and Godwin, staff counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and my former unofficial collegiate advisor.

But I don’t think this book is of interest only to me; anyone with an electronic mail account should find this an enlightening study of the burgeoning electronic community. Sterling does an excellent job of linking today’s electronic growth with the rise of the original telephone industry, pointing out some startling similarities. Sterling also comes across very even-handed, even though he admits to the fact that he has a stake in the power games that are being played out over the lines and in the courts.

The best thing about this book, however, is Sterling’s novelististic sensibility–that is, Sterling knows what makes a story, and his non-fiction is structured with plot, dialogue, tension, revelations, and conclusion. If only more non-fiction read like this! Needless to say I strongly recommend this to everyone receiving this message.

[Finished 18 April 1993]


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