Edward Snowden Opens Up to the World
I’m certain every single person reading this review is at least on some level familiar with the name Edward Snowden; it has appeared so prominently all over the place in recent years, it would be nigh-impossible not to hear about him. However, unlike many of the so-called celebrities which come and go over the years, Snowden has a very good reason to be renowned around the world and persecuted by the United States government, a story with no concrete ending to this day. In his memoir titled Permanent Record, Snowden finally opens up to the world six years after his original whistleblowing actions, detailing his highly-unusual journey to fight for justice.
For those who aren’t completely up-to-date with the whole Snowden affair, he is a major whistleblower who exposed highly-classified documents on the National Security Agency (NSA) while working as a subcontractor for the CIA. The documents he exposed to the public document the United States government’s secret project of creating an unrivalled system of mass surveillance, one which allow them to monitor every single email, phone call and text message happening in the country. In other words, he exposed to the light the government’s very real and highly-unethical ambition of bringing Big Brother to life.
This autobiography of his takes us through his formative years, showing us the kind of atmosphere he was raised in, and the people ultimately responsible for making him into the person he is today. He traces his various clandestine CIA and NSA postings he worked over the years, and most importantly, his contribution to building this mass surveillance system. He explores how his sense of morality was shaped in those years, and tries to define the precise elements which pushed him to essentially betray the government he had been supporting with his endeavours this whole time.
An Engineer’s Book
To begin with, let us simply examine this biography as we would approach any other, and take a look at the actual quality of the writing itself. Now, it should be noted Snowden was educated as a systems engineer, and I doubt he had much training in how to write a book over the years. In other words, the writing isn’t exactly of the best quality, being largely simple and straightforward with its strength laying in the technical details… basically, it’s the level of writing you would expect from an engineer who suddenly decides to write a book.
With this being said though, I believe this is one of the few books out there where the quality of the writing can be set aside for the content it delivers. The prose might not be memorable, but I think many of you will agree Permanent Record was a necessary one to have written. The topic it discusses is still very much current, if not even more important considering the technological advances which happened in recent years, no doubt facilitating mass surveillance. I think this is the sort of memoir where the quality of the writing ought to be judged by the content it brings due to its sheer importance in real life.
As I just mentioned, the writing truly comes to shine where Snowden has to delve into technical details, explaining the inner workings of the CIA and the NSA, as well as the system he helped build for them. I really think he did his absolute best to give a complete account of the organizations and his role within them, to the point where I felt like I myself had been working for them for a while. Additionally, there are more and more such segments in the book as you progress further through it, only making the trip through his memories increasingly compelling.
A Hero and a Villain
I have my personal opinion on this man and the things he has done, as I’m sure anyone familiar with him does. Ultimately, all the nuanced meditations on this man boil down to either one of two camps: he is either a hero prepared to defend truth and freedom, or a traitor to his own country, selling it out to foreign powers to satisfy his personal sense of morality. I felt like far too little was known about Snowden as an actual person to make any kind of conclusive judgment about his intentions and motivations… until I read his book.
As much time as he takes to explain the technical aspects of his storied career, he also shares his inner world with us, always trying to explain what he was thinking when making any kind of decision and which factors weighed on him at different stages of his life. It was especially interesting to see what kind of person he was growing up into from his earlier years, and over the course of these passages he became increasingly relatable, slowly shedding the image of a mysterious whistleblower in the shadows.
From a psychological point of view, I think the topic which will interest most people is how he rationalized helping the government build the mass surveillance system, and how he eventually came to think against it. Let me tell you right now, you definitely won’t be disappointed with the amount of introspection Snowden offers on this topic, exposing the chain of logic beneath a path which seemed completely unreasonable and contradictory. Given enough time, even the best of us can be lulled into thinking we are helping a good cause, even if it isn’t true. Whether he is a hero or a villain in your perspective, I think it’s important to take his memories, confessions and revelations into account when making your conclusion.
The Final Verdict
There are few books out there which I would label as mandatory reads, but Permanent Record by Edward Snowden is without a doubt one of them, and I sincerely hope it will one day finds its way into school curriculums. A thorough exposition of the most prominent whistleblower of the digital age, I cannot overstate the importance of all the information it gives us. Naturally, I highly-recommend this book to literally anyone even remotely interested in events happening in the real world.
Edward Snowden is an American whistleblower responsible for leaking highly-classified information from the NSA when he worked as a subcontractor for the CIA. He revealed the United States’ government secret project of mass surveillance, and subsequently charges were brought forth for violating the Espionage Act of 1917 as well as theft of government property. More recently, he also became an author, publishing Permanent Record, an account of the road which led him to live in Russia under asylum. Among the many awards he received are the Right Livelihood Award, the German Whistleblower Award, the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling, and the Carl von Ossietzky Medal.