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Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
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Little Brother (edition 2008)

by Cory Doctorow

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3,8973171,317 (4.06)2 / 243
aethercowboy's review
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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I got this book as a present from my son who felt I would enjoy it given our similar feelings on the over reaching of the government and NSA encroachments. I have to admit that I was very much hesitant to read this book given that the last time my son told me about one of the best books he had ever read, it was Crooked Little Vein. I am sure he is still snickering about luring me into reading that one. Thankfully, this book is in a totally different realm, so I shan't need nearly as much therapy to get over it.

Little Brother is an excellent book about what happens when the government gets out of hand and dismisses the people's bill of rights. Not too far removed from so very much of what we see happening in the world right now with the NSA and other government agencies that have been allowed to sidestep personal privacy and encroach on people's lives.

The story is told through the eyes of a group of high school kids who are playing a game and are in the wrong place at the wrong time when a bomb blows up the Bay Bridge. They wind up in the hands of Homeland Security on Treasure Island where they are interrogated for days with methods that are barbaric and criminal. When they are finally release, they are given threats of what will happen to them if they speak to anyone of what happened to them.

Through Marcus' eyes, you watch the transformation in the adults in his life as they find ways to accept and cope with the loss of freedom they are subjected to as their city becomes a police state run by Homeland Security. Marcus and his friends decide to wage an electronic war with the government and it becomes a cat and mouse game throughout.

Its a good story and one that needs to be told and needs even more to be read. The biggest problem I have with it is that it is written to the young gamers and computer geeks. Though he does try at times to explain the geek speak in many of the areas, it takes up a very large chunk of the novel and will cost him the readership of many people that don't share the vocabulary and interest in such things as role playing games and such. If his goal is just for the crowd that understands this, then it is fine. Because maybe he is plying to them to spur them into action to change the things he sees happening in the world. If that is his intent, then he has done an excellent job. But, if he wanted to reach a wider audience, he would need to cut some of the geekdom out of the book. The problem is that it is hard to tell which of the two he wants because at one turn he seems to be speaking to the young adult readership and then a few pages along, he seems to be addressing the rest of the readership.

My son tells me that the second book is even better than this one and has also sent that to me. So, when I get to it, I will see if he has made up his mind what his readership is in it. I will hope that it is the more general readership as he has a story to tell that I think needs to be told. He is a very good writer and I did enjoy the book. Particularly, the knowledge that much of what he refers to in the book is actual technology that we currently have. For those that think that people are being paranoid and our privacy is not being encroached upon at an unreasonable level, they really need to read this book. For those that he calls to action in the jacket of the book, I hope they take heed and take up the challenge.
SephiPiderWitch
http://sephipiderwitch.com/little-brother-cory-doctorow/ ( )
  sephibitchwitch | Dec 7, 2014 |
A great book. I plan to read more Cory Doctorow and love his web site Boing Boing. Also this book invoked a sort of need to learn how to program, I have lost that need, but this book reopened my need to learn to write code. So today I went and bought a book on HTML Code. So hoping for new things this year. A book that changed my year! ( )
  Gregorio_Roth | Dec 5, 2014 |
A great book. I plan to read more Cory Doctorow and love his web site Boing Boing. Also this book invoked a sort of need to learn how to program, I have lost that need, but this book reopened my need to learn to write code. So today I went and bought a book on HTML Code. So hoping for new things this year. A book that changed my year! ( )
  Gregorio_Roth | Dec 5, 2014 |
real fun book, about teenagers, and written so a teenager would enjoy it, but it also has themes of Down With The Man, and anti goverment sentiments. Real fun read! ( )
  Mrdrewk | Dec 2, 2014 |
Little Brother is a fairly entertaining book about 16 & 17 year olds in San Francisco turned into a police state by the Department of Homeland Security, how they fight back by subverting the security apparatus's own technology, and ultimately save the day for Truth, Justice, and the Constitution.

That sounds kind of snarky, because the story isn't bad, but it's also only about 1/2 of the novel. The other half is Cory Doctrow explaining basic encryption, RFIDs, data mining, andsurveillance technology along side trying to convince you to worry about your own information security and resist panopticon government. Chance are, if you're reading his book you already know a bunch of that anyway.

Probably the best audience for this book is a friend of yours, in their teens or 20s who doesn't think there is anything wrong with government information drag-nets because "innocent people have nothing to hide" and "it's for our protection" but still might be persuaded otherwise. ( )
  grizzly.anderson | Nov 14, 2014 |
I was disappointed in this book. It has some compelling things to say about national security, government surveillance, and computer security.

The characters lack any nuance are all starkly grouped into good or bad. The protagonist is a high school student living in San Francisco when a terrorist attacks the city. Government security and surveillance is heightened to a ridiculous and for me, unbelievable level. ( )
  dougcornelius | Oct 9, 2014 |
Fun and all too relevant. This will be a mainstay of my gift-giving for kids. ( )
  lquilter | Oct 5, 2014 |
The book had a lot of potential, but just seemed to fall short. I enjoyed the concept, though at times it felt a bit flat. There was definitely a tendency towards telling, as opposed to showing. If you aren't willing to read through a number of info-dumps, this probably isn't the book for you. (admittedly I found the info in said dumps interesting; the problem is when they interrupt the flow of the story)

All of that said, it does prompt us to examine our privacy, rights and the "price of freedom" in a post-9/11, Patriot Act country

( )
  zephyrsky | Sep 30, 2014 |
An interesting idea and the novel has its good areas (well, at least one), but there are far too many boring parts and the plot ends up very predictable and silly. ( )
  piersanti | Sep 28, 2014 |
Honestly I was expecting something more like a novel and less like one of Cory Doctorow's blog posts. There's a lot of infodumping in this - good info, but the whole first half of the book has more info than story.

And...well, books like this always date, but I feel like this one has dated badly in just a few years. Not the technology, that's all still pretty good, but the social situation. Reading about an upper-middle-class white kid going to war against the government in the wake of everything happening in Ferguson, Missouri makes me want to pat him on the head and give him a cookie. (Doctorow does address the race disparity once - but only once.) ( )
  jen.e.moore | Sep 11, 2014 |
This review and others posted over at my blog

Marcus and his three friends cut school early to play their favorite online/scavenger hunt game when the San Francisco Bay Bridge gets blown up in a terrorist attack. Caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, they’re picked up by the Department of Homeland Security and imprisoned for days. When Marcus is released under surveillance and warned never to speak of what he endured, the city is on lockdown and every citizen is treated as a potential threat. Bristling at the lack of their rights and freedoms, Marcus and other teenagers start an internet revolution to outsmart the technology of the DHS and take back their city.

What I liked:
I want to apologize now – I have a million stickies in this book and there are a lot of things I’d like to discuss, but I also don’t want this review to be incredibly long, so I’ll try to keep my thoughts organized. Just in case I don’t though…sorry!

Doctorow’s writing immediately grabbed me – I really loved Marcus’ voice. He was very smart for his age, yet not overly so, as he made his fair share of mistakes. He’s very tech savvy too, but each time he introduces a new phrase or gadget to the reader, Marcus explains it in a way that makes sense (well…except cryptology) but doesn’t feel overbearing. There’s a lot of technology in this book and honestly, I’m sure more of it exists then I realize. Marcus talks about gait recognition cameras that monitor the way kids walk through hallways to try to match their gait to a personal profile and tracking devices in library books because the government wouldn’t authorize putting tracking devices on students themselves. There are school-issued laptops that record every keystroke and only allow access to sanctioned websites. Debit cards, subway passes and fast passes in cars track the daily movements of the citizens who use them, creating more profiles that can be monitored for “abnormalities.” There are truancy apps that adults can use to post photos of the kids when they’re out and about during the school day, and other crazy inventions that really set the tone and gave me a “big brother is watching” feel that I enjoyed. In fact, it made me a little paranoid about my current use of technology (so many books making me paranoid this year – a sign that I’m reading a lot of excellent writers!)

Doctorow clearly did a lot of research on technology and it shows in a positive way. I was engrossed in both the plot and the new technological developments being thrown my way. There’s also a large focus on freedom and what that means to residents of the United States. When the bomb goes off and the city goes into lockdown, a lot of personal freedoms are sacrificed for safety and the general message is that we should not have to give up privacy for safety or security.

When Marcus is first captured he’s in shock and comments on terrorist in a way that made me realize I’m of a similar mindset: “I knew that in the abstract there were terrorist somewhere in the world, but they didn’t really represent any risk to me. There were millions of ways that the world could kill me – starting with getting run down by a drunk burning his way down Valencia – that were infinitely more likely and immediate than terrorist. Terrorist kill a lot fewer people than bathroom falls and accidental electrocutions. Worrying about them always struck me as about as usefully as worrying about getting hit by lightning.”

In the aftermath of this attack Marcus is questioned by the DHS as a possible terrorist himself and is told that “honest people don’t have anything to hide,” in keeping with the theme of sacrificing all personal privacy for the sake of stopping terrorism. There are a lot of great quotes on this subject, like “Imagine if someone locked you in the back of a police car and demanded that you prove that you’re not a terrorist.”

Doctorow also talks about freedom through Marcus and I enjoyed his perspective: “I can’t go underground [...] waiting for freedom to be handed to me. Freedom is something you have to take for yourself.”

“[...] no matter how unpredictable the future may be, we don’t win freedom through security systems, cryptography, interrogations and spot searches. We win freedom by having the courage and the conviction to live every day freely and act as a free society, no matter how great the threats are on the horizon.”

What I didn’t like:
While Marcus made mistakes and couldn’t constantly outsmart the DHS, I do feel like he was a bit of an over-hero. Yes, I realize there are teenagers out there who understand technology the way Marcus does and there are creative hackers who can outsmart any system if they put their mind to it. But Marcus still felt a little too perfect. He did have help from some friends, both in real life and via the internet, so this is just me nitpicking.

I was also greatly confused by cryptology. That was a topic that Marcus brought up several times and in great detail. I understand it was part of his character; he was very interested in it and understood it well, so that showed. But at times I was reading paragraphs about public keys and private keys and formulas and I felt like my head was spinning. I had to skim through some sections because I just felt the level of detail Doctorow was giving wasn’t of interest to someone who has no background in crypto and I really wasn’t interested in learning all the Doctorow was trying to teach me. But there were only a few sections muddied down by crypto so it wasn’t something that annoyed me throughout the whole book.

~

Overall I really enjoyed this book and I look forward to reading the sequel, Homeland. I would recommend this for anyone who is into young adult books with a tech-savvy spin, as well as those who are into more modern dystopias, if you will. ( )
  MillieHennessy | Aug 19, 2014 |
Cory Doctorow's novel, "Little Brother," a high-tech book about government surveillance and terrorism, is a kind of weird agitprop/YA mixture. Didn't care for it myself, but maybe I'm just too old and cynical to be reading books for Our Young People. Read the rest: http://thegrimreader.blogspot.com/2014/08/i-dont-think-little-brother-will-every... ( )
  nohrt4me2 | Aug 14, 2014 |
Little Brother takes place in a not-too-distant future in San Fransisco. There are four friends who are skipping school when someone blows up the Bay Bridge--giving the Department of Homeland Security(DHS)all the authority it needs to spy on people, harrass, and detain people without any real cause or habeus corpus (ability to see a judge). And a group of teenagers fight back with the slogan, "Don't trust anyone over 25!".

There were a lot of great things in this book, but I feel the need to relate what keeps it from being a four or five star book. It takes place in the future, I think....? There is no date for the book given, and that's not REALLY a problem, but the problem was I didn't understand if all the technological stuff that Doctorow talked about was real, or not? I got confused. The only other thing holding it back was the way too deep explanations of all the technical stuff--not needed. I'm not going to read the book and all of a sudden become a technical genius, I just want a book that talks about the US gov messing things up. :)

I would DEFINITELY recommend for anyone who doesn't know all of the powers that DHS has--because those, although they seem scary and untrue, ARE the truth in our post 9-11 world. The government can tap our phones and detain us without giving us a right to see a judge, attorney, or make a phone call. It's scary. ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
Little Brother takes place in a not-too-distant future in San Fransisco. There are four friends who are skipping school when someone blows up the Bay Bridge--giving the Department of Homeland Security(DHS)all the authority it needs to spy on people, harrass, and detain people without any real cause or habeus corpus (ability to see a judge). And a group of teenagers fight back with the slogan, "Don't trust anyone over 25!".

There were a lot of great things in this book, but I feel the need to relate what keeps it from being a four or five star book. It takes place in the future, I think....? There is no date for the book given, and that's not REALLY a problem, but the problem was I didn't understand if all the technological stuff that Doctorow talked about was real, or not? I got confused. The only other thing holding it back was the way too deep explanations of all the technical stuff--not needed. I'm not going to read the book and all of a sudden become a technical genius, I just want a book that talks about the US gov messing things up. :)

I would DEFINITELY recommend for anyone who doesn't know all of the powers that DHS has--because those, although they seem scary and untrue, ARE the truth in our post 9-11 world. The government can tap our phones and detain us without giving us a right to see a judge, attorney, or make a phone call. It's scary. ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
4.5 ( )
  thenerdypuffer | Jul 1, 2014 |
4.5 ( )
  thenerdypuffer | Jul 1, 2014 |
Really enjoyed this. And if I had read this when I was a teen I would've loved it even more. ( )
  capiam1234 | Jun 28, 2014 |
I liked the book, even if there's a nagging sense of deja vu for a lot of it, then again, I was super into cyberpunk for a while, which is what this novel pretty much is to a T. Despite being set in a VERY close future, it retains a lot of that sensibility; the politics may have changed, but it's still the same game of fighting The System. While a lot of people are quick to point out Mary Sue in stories, I tend to be quicker to notice her cousin Gary--mainly because the genres I've liked best have traditionally been rather male-dominated. And the kid in this book requires a little suspension of disbelief on occasion (computers have been a major part of my household since I was three, and I've got my fair share of hackers that I know personally, and at times the kid's a little too good) but that's why it's fiction. It does its job in an efficient and engaging way, so the verdict is it's a good book. Not perfect, and maybe almost too upfront in places, but then you need that once in a while, especially when your focus has been narrowed for a while. ( )
  cendri | May 30, 2014 |
Enjoyed this book very much. And was delighted to read, in the Afterword, that one of the author's favorite books growing up was also one of mine - Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater! ( )
  librarymary09 | May 24, 2014 |
Enjoyed this book very much. And was delighted to read, in the Afterword, that one of the author's favorite books growing up was also one of mine - Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater! ( )
  librarymary09 | May 24, 2014 |
Doctorow's "Little Brother" is a dystopian novel where technology takes front stage. The book does an amazing job explaining how technology can be used to create a Big Brother state, and also how flaws in the same technology can be exploited to bring about a revolution. Books like this, where the author wants to use existing technology to create a sci-fi drama, can easily fall into the realm of over-explaining technology. Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon" comes to mind for me in that category. "Little Brother", however, does an amazing job of walking that line without crossing it. At times I thought the main character was acting with a maturity and independence far beyond his 17 years of age, and he almost becomes a savior figure towards the end of the book, though he wisely rejects that role, but I appreciate that these qualities are necessary for the main character to bring the ideas in this book to the YA crowd. Overall, I highly recommend "Little Brother". ( )
  sbloom42 | May 21, 2014 |
At one time, I suggested this book to my twelve year old. She is a prolific reader and reads quite above level. She wasn't interested, but I was. I'm glad she wasn't interested as I believe that many of the themes are too mature for her.
Little Brother is a smart, entertaining, socially conscious, diverse piece of literature. I enjoyed every moment of it. I rooted for the MC every bit of the way and I sympathized with him and I admired his strength.
The characters felt real, from the snarky know it all teachers, to the hipster investigative reporter, to the friends of the MC. I have to say that this book, with its tightly woven plot, also taught me a lot about basic tech we frequently take for granted, and it opened my eyes to the constitutional rights we also often take for granted. This is still something I'd like my kids to read, but perhaps when they are older.
I give this tale a four instead of five stars because sometimes the tech explanations did get a little heavy. I'm proud to say that I'm savvy (minimally, but enough to get it) bit I think a lot of people wouldn't, unless they're in the 17 yo or thereabouts crowd.
Awesome tale. I definitely intend to read/listen to the next book in this series. ( )
  khaalidah | Mar 14, 2014 |
An excruciating failure of a book, but its heart is in the right place. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
I read this book in two sittings--and would have read it in one if I didn't need to get up and go somewhere the next morning. There isn't a dull moment, and there is hardly a moment that doesn't make me boiling mad at what our country is being turned into by unchecked government power. Little Brother starts with a terrorist attack in San Francisco, in which a group of teenagers is caught up. Swept up by the Department of Homeland Security as suspicious characters, they are whisked away to the middle of San Francisco Bay and treated like terrorists, forced to hand over their cellphone passwords and stripped of their dignity and their rights as American citizens. After Marcus Yallow is released, he watches in horror as San Francisco is rapidly turned into a police state. Citizens movements are tracked through their Fast Passes, their transit cards, and by surveillance cameras everywhere. Marcus has a weapon, however--he is a hacker. And soon he has a band of followers who are successfully throwing monkey wrench after monkey wrench into the DHS's assault on the privacy and freedom of San Franciscans. Can a teenager succeed in his quixotic quest to make people put away their fear of terrorists and realize that the greatest danger to our freedom comes from within? Can he make anyone understand and appreciate the meaning of the Bill of Rights or of the words of the Declaration of Independence? You'll just have to read the book to find out.

Doctorow compares the current security insanity with an autoimmune disease: "Right now, America is going into anaphylactic shock over its own freedoms, and we need to inoculate ourselves against this."

If you have any interest in technology, you will be riveted. Of course, things change quickly, and the recent horrifying revelations of the NSA's illegal spying and their ability to perhaps compromise encryption techniques thought to be secure, makes this book a little dated. Although Doctorow exaggerates a bit to induce in the reader the necessary state of paranoia to understand and embrace the book's message, these recent revelations show that he was definitely on the right track. Every American should read this book and follow in the footsteps of Marcus Yallow. Our freedom is at stake. ( )
  datrappert | Feb 1, 2014 |
A triumphant story about kids facing down totalitarian impulses of the state. Full of geekery and a pretty scary dystopian "what if" based on post-9/11 law.
  bfister | Dec 23, 2013 |
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