WIKILEAKS FOUNDER JULIAN ASSANGE’S newest book Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet is intended as an urgent warning, but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Despite boasting publicity blurbs from a curious medley of public intellectuals — Slavoj Žižek, Naomi Wolf, and Oliver Stone among them — Cypherpunks may just as well have sunk to the bottom of the sea. Although Assange is one of the most vital and polemical activists alive, nobody’s talking about Cypherpunks, and nobody seems to have read it. This is a pity, since the book rings a justifiably strident alarm bell over the erosion of individual privacy rights by an increasingly powerful global surveillance industry.

Though Cypherpunks raises issues of pressing concern, its neglect is not all that mysterious. “This book is not a manifesto,” Assange begins. If only it were! The pretense of writing one — especially when widely rumored to be wanted by the US government and an international cause célèbre — would probably have garnered Assange more attention. A good old-fashioned manifesto would have been more readable, too: Cypherpunks is irritatingly structured as a discussion between Assange and three coauthors, the digital activists Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn, and Jérémie Zimmermann. The intention may have been to emphasize the sort of “messy” participatory democracy favored by Occupy, Anonymous, and other emergent political forces loosely affiliated with WikiLeaks and influenced by anarchist political theory. But the “discussion” occasionally slides into pedantic softball-lobs, ego-stroking, and phony-sounding debate that will leave the reader wishing for a more tightly edited and coherent declaration of the trouble Assange thinks we’re in.

Read the full review at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

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