KayKay #CRB5 Review #44 Little Brother by Cory Doctorow



My book reviews are written as a discussion of a book, and not as an advertisement.  Please be aware that there may be information that some would consider spoilers.  Continue on at your own risk!

“My name is KayKay and you’re an idiot if you trust me.  I’m thirty eight and it’s too late for me.  I’m lost.  I’m stuck in the old way of thinking.  I still take my freedom for granted and let other people take it away from me.”  I have learned from my past experience and am no longer able to change my perception based on new experiences.  Did I bypass my age and enjoy this book?  Here is what I thought….


After a terrorist attack blows up the bay bridge, a group of high schoolers (among others) are taken to a hidden prison to be interrogated.  Marcus, the main character, is difficult during questioning and after released starts a movement (Little Brother) against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

There were a couple of oddities in the plot of the book, that I just had to ‘go with’ to really get to the point of the book.  For example, after being held in the secret prison and getting out, the 3 friends get some food at an Italian café, instead of immediately going home and relieving their parents.  In addition, they don’t tell anyone about their experience, even though one of the friends is left behind (he was injured and they didn’t let him go).  Once I stopped thinking about those little things, the bigger picture could shine.

The most ironic thing about the story is that in all the governments crack down, they didn’t find 1 terrorist.  But they terrorized a lot of innocent people.  Not only that, but not one measure they put in place would stop a future attempt!  Sound familiar?

Plot Score: 5/5

World Building

I kept thinking this book was set in the Future, but it was really set NOW.  There’s no advanced technology that we don’t have today- and the events are more realistic then I’d like to think.

I did like the portrayal of San Francisco, I now have it on my list of potential places to move to in the future.

Location Score: 4/5

Characters and Relationships

Marcus Yallow (aka M1k3y)- a high school senior in San Francisco, a technology whiz, and either a terrorist or hero depending on your viewpoint.  The best part of this character is that he is at times a teenage rebel and at other times a scared kid.  He was like a real person, scared into compromise, tentative to be brave, concerned about putting others in danger, risking himself and others to accomplish his goals.

Characters Score: 4/5

Life Lessons (fka Bigger Meaning)

This book is a statement on the importance of human rights and privacy and not letting fear scare us into letting our rights go.  That the government only offers us an illusion of security.  That we need to understand the technology around us.  That we need to be concerned about the rights of others, and not wait for ours to be taken away before we take action.  That standing up for our freedom is scary, but necessary, and there are consequences to doing the right thing.  That sometimes the right thing isn’t clear, and won’t be viewed as the ‘right’ thing by others.  That brown skinned people have a harder time.  (“White people get caught with cocaine and do a little rehab time.  Brown people get caught with crack and go to prison for twenty years.”)

Bigger Meaning Score:  5/5


Defining Quote: “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.”

I don’t like it when writers are so esoteric in their writing, I don’t know what point they are trying to make (Toni Morrison- I’m thinking of you).  I do like when they have a point, and the examine it from many different angles and really justify it (that’s why I love Atlas Shrugged).  This book reminded me of that.

This book was chock full of cool information (some of which I didn’t fully understand):

1- Alan Turing

2- Bayesian Stats

3- Private keys and the web of trust

4- The paradox of the false positive

5- The Berkeley freedom riders

6- The Scoville assessment method for peppers

7- Crypto

8- Tunneling

9- City Planning (this information I found eye opening and accurate)

and so much more that I can’t even list.  Either Cory is genius, or a TON of effort went into the writing of this book.

Style Score: 4/5

Final Thoughts?

-For me, this is an Important Book.  The plot is enjoyable, but above that, the message is so meaningful to the times we live in now.

-“They [the authors of the Bill of Rights] didn’t want to face the risk that some jerk would decide that the things that he found unpleasant were illegal” (unfortunately we still have some of that)

-“The whole point of America is that we’re the country where dissent is welcome.  We’re a country of dissidents and fighters and university dropouts and free speech people.”

-“Any time I was feeling low, I’d naturally start to remember other times I felt that way, a hit parade of humiliations coming one after another to my mind.”  (I TOTALLY do this)

Total Score and Recommendation

22/25- Perfect book club book, it’s full of things to talk about.  In fact, I think this should be standard reading in our schools.

One last quote (from an afterward): “Trading privacy for security is stupid enough; not getting any actual security in the bargain is even more stupid.”

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