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Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
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Little Brother (edition 2008)

by Cory Doctorow

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4,1623451,203 (4.05)2 / 259
You can’t trust Cory Doctorow. He’s 40. What could he know? You just can’t trust him. Of course, you can’t trust me either. I’m over 25. I’m able to run for certain public offices. What could I know?

Nevertheless, whether you can trust Doctorow or me, believe me when I say that his book Little Brother is fantastic. It tells the story of a kid, Marcus, in a not-too-distant post-9-11 future who innovates to overcome the artificial limitations imposed on him by his school and his society. Only, after a bridge blows up, he and his friends are considered “persons of interest” by the DHS.

After this event, like any other event where somebody did something to us we didn’t expect, the people gladly let the government take away their civil liberties until all of the city is one big Airstrip One.

Our protagonist doesn’t like being treated like a criminal without having performed any crimes, so he intelligently (for the most part) fights back using the set of power tools granted to us by the founding fathers in the Bill of Rights.

At times, the story is funny and light hearted. Others, it’s angering and maddening. Still others, it’s almost tear-jerking. I find it a real shame that more books aimed at younger audiences like this don’t exist. I’d love for the youth of our country to be entertained while learning about their so-called unalienable rights, especially since they’re probably only getting one side from their public schools.

If you’re a high school-aged person or are a teacher or parent of such, pick up this book (it’s freely available in e-book format) and give a copy to every teen you know. While you might not agree with every topic covered in this book, it is an excellent primer on basic human freedoms, especially when they’re at odds with an oppressive government, making us take our shoes off at airports and get molested by federal agents “for our safety.”

Today’s children are tomorrows leaders, so let’s give them the whole story before we hand the wheel over to them. That is, if they can still trust us. ( )
  aethercowboy | Jun 21, 2012 |
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An wonderful warning of what could happen should the government disregard privacy. ( )
  ethanlu121 | May 2, 2016 |

Ameno y educativo. Muy recomendable para quien no tenga mucha idea sobre seguridad.
Un poco demasiado peliculero y lenguaje es demasiado simple. ( )
  trusmis | Apr 30, 2016 |
I had never heard of this book before reading it for the coursera SF and F class--so I was shocked to find it my favorite book of the class.

It's YA, but this is high school YA, not middle school.

Fascinating, and I wish I could get my high schooler to read it. After the Bay Bridge is bombed, the DHS goes into SF and begins instituting "surveillance to catch terrorists". Really, they are catching anyone they can and accusing them of being terrorists. High school hackers work to undermine and then expose their methods, lies, and their secret prison on Treasure Island.

Would also be a great book for classroom discussion. ( )
  Dreesie | Apr 12, 2016 |
A fun story that lets you really hate the bad guys and cheer for the good guys. A nice combination of social commentary and hacker culture. Not as good as "Ready Player One" but still pretty good. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
Marcus and his three best friends skip high school to play an ARG, and find themselves in the middle of a terrorist attack on San Francisco. Marcus's best friend Darryl is injured, but when they try to get medical help for him, they are instead arrested as terrorists. Several tense days later, after being denied due process and tormented by the nameless people in charge, Marcus, Jolu and Van are released. But Darryl is not--and so begins Marcus's quest for answers and vengeance.
As modern day revolutions go, this is a pretty good one. Doctorow gets good mileage out of contemporary geek culture (LARPS, social networking, memes) and current technology (rfi tags, mmorpgs, camera phones). His teens feel believable, and the stakes to their rebellion against a burgeoning police state feel high and real. My only problems with the book are the infodumps and strawmen. Everytime Marcus is in school, he has a debate about civil liberties with someone. Several characters (his social studies teachers, Charles and his vice principal) exist only for this purpose. Meanwhile, any time Marcus does something sneaky he explains for paragraphs how the gizmo/crack he's using works. Ugh, either I already know or I'll google it if I care.

Read it online here. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Hmm. I admire this author as a person, and I agree with his message, yet I grew bored reading this book. The main character starts out as cocksure and remains that way, despite torture by a disappointingly typical sadistic female-in-power character. A good book makes me believe what's happening in the story. I just didn't believe it.

Why would the entire Homeland Security Department want to torture innocent teenagers? Surely there is some inherent flaw in the government's approach that leads to massive corruption. But no. These were apparently bad guys just for the sake of being bad guys. They let an evil sadist go wild because, apparently, that's just how they roll. I got halfway through the book, waiting for some hint of insight, but there was none; just a lot of ranting from the main characters about "F the police." That's not good enough for me.

The main character won't tell his sympathetic and loving parents that he was a victim of criminal torture, but he'll tell 500 strangers. Why? Because "Don't trust anyone over 25!"

Uh huh. That's not a character I can care about. After a while, he just seemed stupid. The premise of this book has a ton of potential, but I didn't like how it was handled. ( )
  Abby_Goldsmith | Feb 10, 2016 |
17-year-old Marcus and his friends are in the wrong place at the wrong time and get taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security and held at length and questioned about the role they played in the bombing of San Francisco. Once released, Marcus is a changed boy/man - and he decides to try to take his city back by turning the DHS use of electronic surveillance against them.

Truly amazing!!! This YA novel illustrates why sacrificing our privacy in order to be "safe" (from terrorists, criminals, etc) is always too high a price to pay. Also, it demonstrates clearly why the best kind of security is the kind that is made public - secrets are not good for security. Anyone who cares about civil liberties, electronic freedom or plain old good fashioned privacy needs to read this book! It makes you paranoid - in a good way. And you get to learn all kinds of cool hacks and how different aspects of computers and software work. Some went over my head, but most was just fascinating. Highly recommended!!!! ( )
  chessakat | Feb 5, 2016 |
Wow, what a dense and intense novel. At first glance, it seems to be the perfect book for role-playing nerds and computer tech nerds. But it's really a book for everyone to consider how precious our American freedoms are and how important it is to make sure we never lose them. At first I thought the technology described in the book was fictional, a science fiction story for our time, it seemed so realistic. But apparently the technology stuff mentioned is true. This book is best appreciated by the thoughtful teen. ( )
  Salsabrarian | Feb 2, 2016 |
Privacy, encryption, and social story. What could be better? Well done and a fun read. ( )
  deldevries | Jan 31, 2016 |
Kirby Heyborne, the narrator, did an AMAZING job! I really don't know which was better: the story itself or Kirby's narrating, but I'm sure I would have liked this book less if I had picked it in some other format.
I enjoyed the story and it drew me in right from the beginning. Marcus was a great character, I enjoyed listening to his geeky descriptions on how certain technologies work, the history of Hippies and so on, I enjoyed going through ups and downs of his life. Though at times I disapproved of Marcus's decisions and behavior (I wanted him to be tougher).
One more thing, from a book like this I was kind of expecting something more impressive for an ending than that, but I guess it would have ended like this in a real world, too, so my need for something impressive is not so important in this case. The book left me thinking about a few serious issues like security and privacy and how to balance them.
"Little brother" is one of the books I would gladly reread, re-listen to be exact. ( )
  drakonas | Jan 23, 2016 |
A fast-paced read about a high-school hacker in the near future who becomes embroiled with Homeland Security on the day that a bridge is destroyed in San Francisco. They abuse more than his body and mind, they abuse his Constitutional rights, and he vows revenge. As a Californian with legal background, including criminal law, I tried to insert current protective laws into the mix, but since this is some future dystopian time, those rules clearly no longer apply. It was great fun watching how Marcus and his friends get a bit of their own back. This book is heavy on computer hacking, with explanations for how it all works (necessary for me), but younger readers would probably know some of it and be able to follow it more easily than I did. I would recommend this book to anyone who liked Ready Player One or Armada. ( )
  whymaggiemay | Jan 3, 2016 |
A few months ago I posted a question on Reddit's Print SF forum about three free e-books that I was interested in reading. Accelerando by Charles Stross, Blindsight by Peter Watts and this one, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. I received quite a few replies which are generally very helpful. Since then I have read Blindsight which I found difficult but very clever, attempted to read (but failed to finish) Accelerando which I could not get along with, and now Little Brother which I like best of the three. However, there were some suggestions that I should avoid Little Brother like the plague (there were some positive comments also). This I duly did until I saw Neil Gaiman’s rave review of this book. I like Gaiman’s books a lot so I want to read this, especially at this price tag.

This book seems to be more of a YA techno thriller than sf, the technology seems to be already in existence, although for all I know some aspects may have been imagined by Doctorow. Any way, apart from the fascinating tech the book also has a lot of heart and a plenty to say about liberty and freedom. I would not hesitate to recommend this book. ( )
  apatt | Dec 26, 2015 |
My personal rating is 2 / 5. But this book has certain qualities that for other readers will be important, so overall is 4 / 5.

I have several problems with this book. First, it has too much tech explanation. For those who are acquainted with this tech -- it's rather boring reading. I would prefer smoother narration with footnotes or appendices.
Second problem is too much localisation on San Francisco. It was great to read about this city -- I've never been to the USA -- but it was getting in the way of the main idea. The main idea, as I see it, is like freedom manifesto. To show people that government are ruthless is terrifying their own people. To show that people can struggle and organise themselves with tech. And in my view, this idea should not be localised, because this struggle is universal and international. Maybe I'm not right, maybe it was the idea to show how great and political San Francisco is. But I doubt it.

Thus, I see this book as three separate and not very well fitted together: Freedom manifesto, tech manual, and book about San Francisco. Nevertheless, the idea is great and it will be awesome if more non-tech people will read it. ( )
  aviskase | Nov 26, 2015 |
This book did what all good dystopias should do. It scared the crap out of me. Everything the author wrote about just sounded so completely plausible and doable with modern day technology. Especially considering the bill that is making it's way through congress right now that would allow companies to basically monitor our internet. Marcus is a smart tech savy kid who knows his way around electronics. A combination of being able to do things with a computer that a lot of adults aren't capable of much less wrap their head around and being in the wrong place at the wrong time gets Marcus and his friends picked up and kept by the Department of Homeland Security the day of a terrorist attack. His experiences make him decide to fight back. Sometimes the things Marcus does exacerbate the problem, and you can definitely feel his frustration when things he says, does and sets up are misinterpreted and/or go wrong.

The reason this book is so good and so frightening is that unlike other dystopia's I've read, this doesn't take place in the future, it takes place right now. A lot of the technology that the government uses to turn San Francisco into a police state is similar to tech that we use, available and being used in innocuous ways now. The whole thing just sounds so feasible, like it would be so easy for the government to pull of now. Granted I'm not super tech savy so I could be totally wrong, but still the book makes me think which is really the point. This is one of those books I think everyone should read, even if only to get a different perspective on things and to learn to be more aware of what's going on. ( )
  Rosa.Mill | Nov 21, 2015 |
This book did what all good dystopias should do. It scared the crap out of me. Everything the author wrote about just sounded so completely plausible and doable with modern day technology. Especially considering the bill that is making it's way through congress right now that would allow companies to basically monitor our internet. Marcus is a smart tech savy kid who knows his way around electronics. A combination of being able to do things with a computer that a lot of adults aren't capable of much less wrap their head around and being in the wrong place at the wrong time gets Marcus and his friends picked up and kept by the Department of Homeland Security the day of a terrorist attack. His experiences make him decide to fight back. Sometimes the things Marcus does exacerbate the problem, and you can definitely feel his frustration when things he says, does and sets up are misinterpreted and/or go wrong.

The reason this book is so good and so frightening is that unlike other dystopia's I've read, this doesn't take place in the future, it takes place right now. A lot of the technology that the government uses to turn San Francisco into a police state is similar to tech that we use, available and being used in innocuous ways now. The whole thing just sounds so feasible, like it would be so easy for the government to pull of now. Granted I'm not super tech savy so I could be totally wrong, but still the book makes me think which is really the point. This is one of those books I think everyone should read, even if only to get a different perspective on things and to learn to be more aware of what's going on. ( )
  Rosa.Mill | Nov 21, 2015 |
This book did what all good dystopias should do. It scared the crap out of me. Everything the author wrote about just sounded so completely plausible and doable with modern day technology. Especially considering the bill that is making it's way through congress right now that would allow companies to basically monitor our internet. Marcus is a smart tech savy kid who knows his way around electronics. A combination of being able to do things with a computer that a lot of adults aren't capable of much less wrap their head around and being in the wrong place at the wrong time gets Marcus and his friends picked up and kept by the Department of Homeland Security the day of a terrorist attack. His experiences make him decide to fight back. Sometimes the things Marcus does exacerbate the problem, and you can definitely feel his frustration when things he says, does and sets up are misinterpreted and/or go wrong.

The reason this book is so good and so frightening is that unlike other dystopia's I've read, this doesn't take place in the future, it takes place right now. A lot of the technology that the government uses to turn San Francisco into a police state is similar to tech that we use, available and being used in innocuous ways now. The whole thing just sounds so feasible, like it would be so easy for the government to pull of now. Granted I'm not super tech savy so I could be totally wrong, but still the book makes me think which is really the point. This is one of those books I think everyone should read, even if only to get a different perspective on things and to learn to be more aware of what's going on. ( )
  Rosa.Mill | Nov 21, 2015 |
This book did what all good dystopias should do. It scared the crap out of me. Everything the author wrote about just sounded so completely plausible and doable with modern day technology. Especially considering the bill that is making it's way through congress right now that would allow companies to basically monitor our internet. Marcus is a smart tech savy kid who knows his way around electronics. A combination of being able to do things with a computer that a lot of adults aren't capable of much less wrap their head around and being in the wrong place at the wrong time gets Marcus and his friends picked up and kept by the Department of Homeland Security the day of a terrorist attack. His experiences make him decide to fight back. Sometimes the things Marcus does exacerbate the problem, and you can definitely feel his frustration when things he says, does and sets up are misinterpreted and/or go wrong.

The reason this book is so good and so frightening is that unlike other dystopia's I've read, this doesn't take place in the future, it takes place right now. A lot of the technology that the government uses to turn San Francisco into a police state is similar to tech that we use, available and being used in innocuous ways now. The whole thing just sounds so feasible, like it would be so easy for the government to pull of now. Granted I'm not super tech savy so I could be totally wrong, but still the book makes me think which is really the point. This is one of those books I think everyone should read, even if only to get a different perspective on things and to learn to be more aware of what's going on. ( )
  Rosa.Mill | Nov 21, 2015 |
Doctorow's first foray into YA literature is superb and timely. He accurately captures his teenage protagonists' moods and desires, and the agenda he writes about is very carefully woven into a super-addictive plot.

This book made me furious because everything that happens to the kids is really only an eye-blink away. Doctorow's Marcus is a wonderfully-rounded creation, flawed and inspired at the same time.

Every 13 - 18 year old needs to read this book; every adult should've read this book *yesterday*.

There's much to learn in "Little Brother"--about where our world has been heading for years now; about how to take it back; and about how to start talking about it all. ( )
  VladVerano | Oct 20, 2015 |
Novel about a teenager, a revolution, technology, privacy and the government. Ryan has 20 copies. Borrow one. ( )
1 vote showaelc | Oct 10, 2015 |
Whether intentionally or not (and I suspect that it was intentional), the title of Doctorow’s novel calls to mind the unseen but omnipresent governmental hawkeye of George Orwell’s classic novel 1984. This is, of course, quite a bold allusion for an author to make, and while Little Brother tells the tale of a hacker teenager from San Francisco named Marcus and his unwarranted imprisonment and subsequent torture at the hands of a government agency that oversteps its power, the book falls short of approaching the pervasive sense of paranoia and social horror that Orwell’s novel evokes to this day.

As a Young Adult novel, Little Brother fits the niche—Marcus is an adolescent protagonist facing many of the challenges of urban teenagers. He deals with authoritative school administrators, a school bully, problematic friends, the uncertainty of teenage romance, and the numerous other rites of passage encountered in many YA novels. What makes this story unique is Marcus’ techno-battle with the Department of Homeland Security, which despotically treats Marcus—and many other innocent citizens, including his friends—as a suspected terrorist after an attack on the Oakland Bay Bridge.

I suspect, however, that many young adults will grow tired of the sometimes lengthy and detailed explanations of Internet technology and security systems that are peppered throughout the narrative. These disquisitions on the nuts and bolts of technology are sometimes clunky, despite Doctorow’s best efforts, and they sometimes bring the narrative action to a standstill. For this reason, the novel may appeal only to the small subculture of adolescent techies who are excited by hacking (which Doctorow goes to great lengths to advocate as a way to ensure freedom and safety). ( )
1 vote jimrgill | Sep 24, 2015 |
A decent read, that was sort of like reading a Lonely Planet guide to teenage hacker life in San Francisco with 1984 Big Brother as the threat. Character development arrived about 2/3 through the book. It arrived just when I was getting a little annoyed at the lack of maturity in the 17 year old narrator. :-) Readers can be you critical and judgmental.
If you want a fun story that explores concerns of freedom and privacy in the post 9/11 technology world of today, then pick thisbookup. If you like this, then try Daemon by Suarez and the sequel Freedom. ( )
  wvlibrarydude | Sep 6, 2015 |
Seventeen-year-old master hacker Marcus makes a habit of evading school security with a combination of his cellphone, laptop, WiFinder, resourcefulness, and friends. But while skipping school one day, he is caught near the site of a terrorist attack. After six days of harsh interrogation by the Department of Homeland Security, Marcus is released into an ominous San Francisco with a new awareness of his government's actions. Marcus organizes all hackers and computer geeks to maintain their right to privacy, fight for their civil liberties, and save their city (and country). Marcus is a wonderful hero fighting to change society, defend principles, and rebel against oppression -- in the spirit of The Hunger Games and Divergent. Doctorow's homage to Orwell raises questions in our post-9/11, post-PATRIOT ACT, world.

The afterword includes materials from an acclaimed cryptologist and a well-known hacker as well as bibliography of resources on intellectual freedom, information access and technological enhancements. Little Brother makes a great discussion book for teens and adults alike. ( )
  ktoonen | May 27, 2015 |
Marcus, a San Franciscan teen is was with friends during a terrorist attack that brought the city to a standstill. Trying to wave down help for a friend injured in the attack, the group is black bagged by DHS agents, held for a week, and harshly interrogated. When all but one of the group are dropped off with the warning that they will be watched, and if they tell anyone they will be imprisoned permanently, Marcus decides to take action. Working with xnet, an underground internet group that operates in such a way that surveillance is very difficult, Marcus finds himself accidentally leading a movement opposing the limitless authority given to the national agencies now operating in his city. The book contains numerous interesting historical references and anecdotes, describing the history of cyphers, internet cryptography and hacking.
The novel is heavy handed in both its message and its attempts to identify with young adult readers. The style, relying more on allegory, less on applicability, detracts from the potential of a fully-formed world and may prevent readers from suspending their disbelief. As well, the attempt to simultaneously heroize and victimize the teens creates a DHS that lacks the cognizant domination of Oceania's government (1984) or Norsefire (V for Vendetta). Instead the complete incompetence of the DHS acts as a motivator for the protagonist, but leaves readers confused by how the DHS conclusions were reached (movies like War Games: The Dead Code use similar themes but explain why the protagonist is targeted and how the federal agents deduce what is happening).
The novel focuses on teen protagonists, making them more aware of current events and better able to react to them than adults. Teens are better hackers, organizers, and digital enthusiasts than adults, and employ highly successful methods of civil disobedience and generating chaos. While novels such as Ender's Game utilize child geniuses, in other novels they are often trained by adults and are able to function as adults in an adult society, rather than being the only characters aware of reality.
The novel poses intriguing ideas, but, though conceptualized from US and British surveillance systems and government agencies, it paints an almost comical picture of adult ignorance (without the satire seen in novels like Catch-22). This may appeal to young teens, but will detract from the reading experience of a broader audience or more discerning young adult, particularly given this is meant to be set around 2007 (or in the present), rather than in a future where numerous social, political, and economic forces have changed mindsets and society (as in 1984 and V for Vendetta). ( )
  Ailinel | May 1, 2015 |
Cory Doctorow's Little Brother raises an alarm about our modern surveillance society--a topic that has gained greater relevance with the NSA revelations--but 1984 it ain't. The book is billed as YA fiction, and I may be incapable of judging YA, but with its oversimplicity and lack of subtlety, it just wasn't very good. Doctorow admits in a foreward that he hammered out the novel in just a few months. That's nothing to brag about. He should have spent more time.

Here are just a couple of my objections:

The hero of the book, as might be expected in a YA story, is a 17-year-old. When a terrorist attack in San Francisco leads the Dept of Homeland Security to implement draconian measures, including kidnapping and imprisoning teenagers (even torturing them), it is our hero Marcus and a group of his peers who are left to "fight the good fight." Adults are relatively worthless in the struggle--so much so that Marcus' movement adopts the slogan to "Don't Trust Anyone Over 25." A computer hacker. Marcus uses his skills to organize a resistance movement. His fight is for individualism, privacy, and personal freedom.

My own experience, however, is that in the fight to preserve personal privacy and freedom, it is precisely the adults who are in the forefront. Young people seem more-than-willing to surrender their privacy over social media. Moreover, if the DHS started rounding up innocent citizens in its effort to isolate terrorists, the adults I know would be raising holy hell.

Moreover, the DHS villains and their superiors are caricatures. The face of evil is the President's Chief of Staff who is quoted as saying no one will care what the DHS does in San Francisco because it's just filled with queers anyone. In the real world, evil doesn't triumph because it presents a snarling face, but because it presents a soothing, seductive one.

Doctorow also takes the unusual step of using the beginning of each chapter to honor a bookseller he admires. Among those he salutes is Amazon. Really? A book about the importance of personal privacy celebrates Amazon, which compiles a tremendous database about the habits of his customers? As is the case with sharing so much personal info over social media. I guess letting someone else know all about you is OK if it is a mega-corporation, rather than the government (which likely is tapped into the Amazon database anyway).

I guess there's a book there that's yet to be written. ( )
1 vote kvrfan | Apr 25, 2015 |
I've heard of this more than once - told myself I'd try to read it if it fell into my hands.... Well, it did, at a bookcrossing meeting, and though I'm thankful that I had the chance, I just could not get into it at all. The attitude of the MC was such a huge turn-off for me I couldn't get past that into the story at all. Also, I don't like dystopias. Seems like a winner for a lot of folks, though - probably a big hit in school libraries. I will ship this bookcrossed hardcover gratis (within the US).
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Apr 14, 2015 |
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