- Biography & Memoir
The life story of Aaron Swartz – child prodigy, hacktivist, and criminal?
Online activist and cultural icon Aaron Swartz was just 26 when he committed suicide in 2013. In his timely, smart and fascinating book Justin Peters – Slate correspondent and contributor to The New York Times, Washington Monthly and many others – tells Swartz’s tragic story.
Swartz was a zealous advocate for unrestricted access to information on the internet, and pivotal to the development of Creative Commons, Reddit, RSS, and the software platform SecureDrop used by the world’s media to facilitate secure communication with their sources. Fiercely opposed to the Stop Online Piracy Act, he was indicted by the US government in 2011 for alleged computer crimes, after downloading millions of articles from a pay-walled database.
The battle over the control and free exchange of information has never been more contentious, and The Idealist takes us through 200 years of murky data morality to explain what Swartz was fighting for. Peters explores the rise of open access and other ideologies that challenge an increasingly corporate internet, and asks what might be next for intellectual property. Can a universally accessible, comprehensive and free ‘library of the future’ become a thing of the present?
'Peters captures Swartz flawlessly’ The New York Times
‘What [The Idealist] does—and does very well—is put Swartz’s work in context. The book gives an engaging, if knowingly incomplete, account of the history of intellectual property and copyright law, the archaic roots (and current implications) of cyberlaw, and some key players in the ongoing fight between open-data philosophy and the federal government’ New Republic
‘This impressively nimble and engrossing big-picture biography... presents a colourful history of American publishing, public libraries, censorship, and copyright law’ Booklist, Starred Review
‘An exceptionally crafted story about the life of Aaron Swartz [and] a bold and important history of information policy in the Internet age… everyone should read The Idealist’ Adam Clark Estes, Senior Writer at Gizmodo
‘Justin Peters is an immensely talented storyteller and The Idealist is an uncommonly good book – an ambitious, erudite, meticulously crafted work on a pivotal and tragic figure’ Evan Ratliff, Contributing Editor at Wired
‘Peters is somehow able to pinpoint the complex questions that our culture has to answer if we are to move forward into the future without forgetting our past’ Lisa Rein, Cofounder of Creative Commons and Aaron Swartz Day
‘Masterfully narrates the story of Aaron Swartz, who abdicated a life of privilege and convenience by choosing the path of fiercely principled activism’ Gabriella Coleman, author of Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous
‘A compelling sketch of a genius with real trouble’ Kirkus
‘Thought-provoking’ Publishers Weekly
‘Invites readers to consider how society values access to information, as suggested by Swartz’s life’ Library Journal
‘In powerful, clear-eyed prose, Justin Peters recounts Aaron Swartz’s life story and astutely explains why that story continues to matter today. The Idealist should be required reading for anyone who has ever – or has never – shared a file on the Internet’ David Segal, Executive Director of Demand Progres
‘Riveting....Peters' book is a fascinating look not only at one of the Internet's most beloved whiz kids but also at the way copyright works and doesn't work in America today’ Los Angeles Times
‘In The Idealist, Justin Peters sets out to explain not only why Swartz’s death was an unnecessary tragedy caused in large part by the state’s determination to hound him, but also the history and the rationale of the ideas he was fighting for in the first place… this book is probably the single most important one I’ll read all year in terms of informing and challenging my ideas about power, information, and how technology should be used’ Elle Thinks (Blog)
‘Paints a full picture of a remarkable and tragically short life’ Sunday Times