Little Brother Cory Doctorow
Book Review Empowering Children

Book Review (High School and up): Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

A teenage hacker. A major terrorist attack in San Francisco. The Department of Homeland Security clamping down on individual freedoms under the guise of 'safety.' This is where Cory Doctorow's Little Brother starts. Published in 2008, it wisely presages some of the events of today, with profiling (read Muslim Ban), demand to surrender pass codes of personal devices, and the propagation of fear among the masses.

A teenage hacker. A major terrorist attack in San Francisco. The Department of Homeland Security clamping down on individual freedoms under the guise of ‘safety.’ This is where Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother starts. Published in 2008, it wisely presages some of the events of today, with profiling (read Muslim Ban), demand to surrender pass codes of personal devices, and the propagation of fear among the masses.

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After a bridge is blown up in San Fransisco, 17-year-old Marcus, otherwise known as “w1n5t0n,” finds himself imprisoned by the DHS as a suspected terrorist along with some of his friends. He is held for days, interrogated mercilessly, and, for all intents and purposes, tortured in an attempt to get him to cooperate.

After his release, Marcus is left angered and traumatized, but with a new sense of purpose. With his specialized knowledge of computing and hacking, he is in a unique position to overwhelm the old state with the very devices they’ve attempted to utilize to keep track of everyone. Armed with a hacked Xbox and the slogan “Never trust anyone over 25,” Marcus becomes an unwitting leader of a rebellion of young people.

Two passages stand out to me in this book. The first is a quote from the Declaration of Independence that Marcus uses during a debate in class to prove a point about the importance of activism in the U.S., showing a disconnect between the principles upon which the nation was founded and the reality of a growing authoritarian system of rule:

“Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

The other passage stands out as one of the most succinct explanations of sensitivity and specificity I’ve seen, emphasizing the “paradox of the false positive” when it comes to “something as stupid as build[ing] an automatic terrorism detector:”

little brother cory doctorow false positive

That is to say, if a test is 99 percent accurate and you test 1 million people for a specific condition (say, the condition of being a terrorist), you will find that 10,000 people have falsely been categorized as terrorists.

This book highlights the power that one kid has (with the help of a few enlightened adults) to affect change in a society that is being run by out-of-touch elders. In my opinion, Little Brother should be required reading for all high schoolers.

 

Janette DeFelice, MD, MA is a writer currently focusing on how the changing environment affects our health. Her essay collection Resistance Essays from the Heartland and her new novel Delia Rising: A Ballet in Three Acts are both available now. She has also published at Be The Change Mom, ChicagoNow, and Medium.com. She holds a Doctor of Medicine degree from Chicago Medical School and a Master’s degree in Humanities from the University of Chicago, where her major essay was Hegel and Ibsen: The Evolution of Consciousness in Ibsen’s Prose Play Cycle. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Indiana University. A former professional dancer, former adjunct Humanities professor, and former lecturer in Medical Clinical Skills, as well as a mom of 9-year-old twins, she currently finds herself at a career/life crossroads at which she is trying to figure out how to use all aspects of herself (her art, her medical and scientific knowledge, her philosophical explorations, her interest in popular culture as a teaching tool, and her unique perspective) for the good of humanity.

1 comment on “Book Review (High School and up): Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

  1. Pingback: 5 Easy Ways You Can Make a Positive Difference in the World Right NOW – Be The Change Mom

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