Pit Schultz on Mon, 10 Mar 97 23:10 MET

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nettime: review: Anarchy online

High Tide on the Big Sur

Pirates, Pornographers, Legislators, Prosecutors, Thieves, Christians,
Crackers, Hackers, Anarchists, Suprematists, Fetishists, Scammers,
Spammers, Cypherpunks.. and their Epic Struggle to control the Internet

Anarchy Online by Charles Pratt
$24.95 365 pages, illustrated
Published by Black Sheep Books
Review by Skott Skinner

   Probably the last thing the world needs right now is YABOH (Yet Another
Book On Hackers) After all, is there anything left in this genre that
hasn't already been adequately covered/exploited by such noteworthies as
the *The Cuckoo's Egg, Cyberpunk, The Hacker Crackdown, Masters of
Deception, The Fugitive Game, Takedown, The Cyberthief and the Samurai*,
and slues of other lesser known works? This question was foremost on my
mind as I plowed through the first chapter of Charles Platt's *Anarchy
Online*, which begins with a tiresome recap of hacker ways and means. By
the end of the book, I was happy I endured, for several elements combine to
make *Anarchy* a unique and worthy read, and which allows me to answer my
aformentioned question with a definitive yes.
    Whereas another recent publication, Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon's
*Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet*, paints a vivid
portrait of the Internet's genesis, *Anarchy* picks up where *Wizards*
leaves off, discussing the complex social issues and corresponding power
struggles contributing to the "anarchy" online. *Anarchy*, then, is very
much aware of its predecessors, featuring and acknowledging Katie Hafner and
other authors as it examines topics ranging from free speech issues to
online pornography to digital cash. Indeed, perhaps the only common thread
that ties these chapters together is their close relation to the Internet
(with one notworthy exception being its excellent examination of satellite
video piracy). In this respect, Platt breaks from the usual thematic
literary approach and instead presents us with a second-order view rich in
meta-content, a book about other books and issues relating to the Internet.
This second order view allows Platt to make observations and judgements
that are usually reserved for the critic. For example, examining not only
the Kevin Mitnick saga, but the books written about Kevin, and the authors
of those books, and the books written about those authors, etc. While
*Anarchy* exercises hindsight to the extreme, it also breaks some new
ground, especially with its considerations and analysis of some of the most
recent issues affecting netizens, including the Internet's inevitable
entrenchment into the world of commerce.
   Overall, Platt takes a positive approach toward the Internet,
acknowledging its many probems (including hackers), but also putting those
problems into perspective. *Anarchy*, for example, points out that many
"ex-hackers" from the past are now Internet Service Providers of the
present, using their unique perspectives to secure free speech and online
rights, in contrast to the extreme censorship that characterizes such
conservatve giants as AOL, and Compuserve.
  On the down side, *Anarchy* lacks both source notes and an index, both of
which are of inestimable value for those of us hoping to find our names
mentioned somewhere in its pages. Additionally, I was disappointed that the
story of Edward Cummings (a.k.a. Bernie S.) was not mentioned, as his
ordeal is perhaps the clearest demonstration yet of a chaotic and
unfettered Internet nonetheless resulting in a powerful political gestalt
capable of empowering individuals and grass-root efforts, and initiating

Production and Availability

According to the author, *Anarchy* was originally intended as a
HarperCollins imprint, but after several delays in publication, Platt
decided to self-publish the hardcover edition and let HarperCollins
produce the softcover. Readers should understand that this is largely
unheard of in the publishing industry, as even a book worth buying
requires the massive resources of a publishing giant for marketing and
distribution, without which there is little guarantee for financial
success. Still, Platt's compromise may indeed be better off for everyone,
including the reader. While not available in bookstores, *Anarchy* is
nonetheless a full-cloth hardcover printed on superior paper-stock
- far better in quality than HarperCollins would have
done. The book can be ordered easily enough by calling 1-800-879-4214.
In addition, by saying the magic words "I heard about it through the
Internet," copies cost only $12.95 (plus postage). This is cheaper than the
paperback edition HarperCollins is scheduled to release in March 1997!

[ 2600 Magazine Winter 1996/97 , www.2600.com
 Yearly subscription: U.S. and Canada -- $21 individual, $50 corporate
(U.S. funds). Overseas -- $30 individual, $65 corporate -> subs@2600.com

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