This quarter’s edition of the New Humanist magazine contains a review of Barefoot into Cyberspace written by my good friend Bill Thompson.
As a technology journalist Hogge knows just how much technical explanation to offer to ensure that the untrained can understand what is being said without boring her more geeky readers, and this helps to make the book both readable and informative, whatever your background in computing.
It’s not online, so if you want to read the rest, you’re going to have to buy the magazine. The review has now been made available to read online.
I’ve flagged the major media reviews of the book already (ZDNet | Independent on Sunday | Guardian), but I’ve also been paying attention to reviews written by readers across the web. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when someone has read your work and taken the time to write about their response to it. Yes, it helps if they liked the book (and many say they did). But just the fact that someone is paying attention is often enough to have me dancing around my study, punching the air.
Here’s a selection of some of the reviews I’ve been reading since the book was published. If you’ve written a review and you think I might not have noticed it, do please prod me in the comments. And if you’ve read the book but haven’t got around to telling the world what you think about it yet, hopefully this might encourage you to go ahead and let it all out.
Terence Eden (the man who had converted the free html version of the book into an ePub file before I’d had time to get my boots on the day Barefoot launched) writes:
I’ve only just started reading the book, but it’s clear that it’s been written in a very accessible way. You don’t need to be a hard-core techie to understand what’s going on.
David F. Flanders writes on his Opening Walled Gardens blog:
The feel of this book as you read it is as a hard hitting documentary where a journalist has managed to hide out with rebel freedom fighters and survived long enough to bring this story back to the world to expose the real injustices that we are experiencing right now (the most obvious example being the continuous lies that the news corps tell us). The book asks its reader a very serious question: are you a hacker (even though you don’t know it) and if so are you going to fight for your right for freedom on the Web?
Luke Siemens tweets:
just finished @barefoot_techie ‘s barefoot into cyberspace. great net view,thoughts on wikileaks and the current cyber-moment
Laura James (whose bid to open a Makespace here in Cambridge I am following with enthusiasm) tweets:
@barefoot_techie wonderful book – congrats on such a clear presentation and compelling message! Will be recommending it :)
Greg at GoodReads writes:
For an instant book, Barefoot into Cyberspace reads remarkably well. Though a little short, it still works as a good first read for those wanting to get a real grasp on the state of internet and why the geek down the street is so incensed about it.
It’s not all back-slapping and adoration. On the Sluggish Software wiki, FuzzGun writes of his disappointment not to learn more about Julian Assange from the book:
It’s a book aimed at a reader who is outside of the hacker culture but curious about the beliefs and motivations behind the various leaks, hacks and other shenanigans of recent times which have made it into the news. This doesn’t present a highly incisive deconstruction of the various ideologies of cyber-utopianism, but it does provide an overview and puts recent events into context as an evolution from earlier countercultural and activist movements.
For anyone obsessed by the cult of personality which is Julan Assange there will be disappointment. Although there is some original Assange material here, it’s not highly enlightening and doesn’t reveal anything significantly additional about his character or beliefs beyond what has already been widely publicised. I’m tempted to use the Pentagon phrase “there is nothing new in this material”, but shall refrain from doing so on this occasion.
It would have been nice if the Assange quotes had been cross referenced with his earlier manifesto narrative, which would have provided some motivational context. Although by definition not much can be said about Anonymous, it might also have been nice to have more of a discussion about it as a current and possibly persistent creature of the political realm.
The book is well written and by its own admission is a zeitgeist book about a particular culture at a particular time…
And Dmytri Kleiner (who I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time at the Chaos Communications Camp this year, but whose reputation preceded him) honoured the book with his own brand of Venture Communist critique:
What makes Hogge’s work interesting is that she employs a healthy amount of skepticism and retains a critical view of the utopian and heroic aspects of hacker activism, clearing seeing it’s failings. Regrettably though, well researched and clever as she is, she never seems to encounter any genuine political analysis of these failings, but rather reacts only with a self-conscious melancholy.
It’s unfortunate that her journey into cyberspace, where she has met and talked with many seminal figures from Stewart Brand to Julian Assange, she hasn’t come across real politics. Richard Barbrook, Matteo Pasquinelli, Geert Lovink and many others thinking politically about network culture do not apear.
Oh politics Politics POLITICS! Dmytri may be amused to discover that the phrase “false consciousness” actually featured in the first draft (in the bit about BoingBoing.net – I’m not kidding), but was taken out on the advice of my editor.
This critique aside, the book stirred some political feeling in other readers. Darren Fuller writes:
Finished reading Barefoot into Cyberspace by +Becky Hogge last night, I’ve been glued to this book since I bought it and glad I did. It reminded me of where the internet and the world wide web has come from, those early ideals and the values to which people are still striving towards. It also made me realise that I’ve become apathetic towards my own ideals, something I now hope to remedy.
It’s a great read giving an insight into the minds of some remarkable individuals and of radical hacker culture.
Jonathan Kent writes a nice review for the ORG-zine:
Frankly anyone who can build the movie Easy Rider into her story, quote Steppenwolf lyrics and name-check the great Enlightenment radical Tom Paine deserves to be read. Just as Paine grasped the great issues of liberty of his day, Hogge is tackling the great issues of liberty of ours and for anyone who cares about our freedom’s future this is a must-read.
Finally, I’m sure Stewart Brand, star of the book and the man who coined the phrase “information wants to be free” would not mind me sharing the (full) text of his private email to me, sent a week after the book launched:
Nice work. It’s a nifty book. Congratulations.