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on 29 September 2011
This is a self-congratulatory book by two Guardian journalists about the biggest leak of confidential government information in history brought about by two oddballs, an Australian called Julian Assange and an American serviceman called Bradley Manning.

These two characters managed to exploit the incompetence or complacency of the US military establishment by downloading hundreds of thousands of "secret" diplomatic messages onto pen drives and then publishing them on Assange's Wikileaks site and, in edited form, in some of the world's most famous publications, including the Guardian, NYT, Le Monde, Spiegel etc.

It certainly was an amazing feat and caused not only lots of problems for the American government but also for the journalists who found themselves confronted with the scoop of scoops.

There was so much information available that were they were not only unable to check its veracity but they did not have the resources to filter through it all and make sense of it for readers.

They also had to deal with Assange - who comes over as being a lot smarter than them - who has them dancing to his tune.

In the end, the Guardian - and the other papers - got their "scoops" and patted themselves on the back for exposing information that they, Assange and 22-year-old Manning (the "innocent" victim who is currently in prison unlike any of the others) felt the public should have.

The writers brush aside any idea that by publishing this information, they put anyone in danger. The Guardian editor claims that six months after the leaks "the sky has not fallen in".

I presume this means he believes no individuals in places like the Middle East have been identified and targeted as a result. That is something he and his conscience will have deal with.

His response to this criticism is so feeble as to be laughable, viz. that some entity should "fund some rigorous research by a serious academic institution about the balance between harms and benefits".

Will the Guardian be footing the bill for this "rigorous research"? I doubt it. Even if it did, no-one would take its findings seriously.

Maybe he is right and no-one was hurt but that sounds like wishful thinking.

Perhaps when the next megaleak of messages is published, we might learn that some people were identified and have suffered for speaking to US diplomats.

The book is marked by the anti-US sentiment one should expect from the Guardian. It is also spoiled by the fact that one of the writers - David Leigh - is presented in the third person as a character, as is the Guardian editor.

It must be great fun editing what you have written about yourself.

In conclusion, the very nature of the subject means that there are pages and pages of dull IT-type material on hackers and computer nerds that the general reader should skip. It is obvious that even the writers do not quite know what they are talking about.

The book is also spoiled by an appendix of almost 100 pages of selected leaks with headlines like "Maintaining P3 and P5 Unity" that are of no interest to the general reader and could have been presented as links if the writers thought they were so important.
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on 3 February 2011
I don't agree that this book reads like sleazy tabloid journalism; it's better written than that and it has more integrity, just.

Sure, it's a shameless cash-in on the part of the Guardian, and it's dramatised to such an extent that it reads like a bad novel in places.

But...

It's an easy, entertaining read and if you tackle it with your eyes firmly open to its partisan position, some interesting background information can be teased out.

The Wikileaks `drama' raises some big questions which don't have easy answers. If you're interested in those questions and want your opinion to be as informed as possible, then this is worth picking up. You just have to take it with a healthy dose of cynicism.
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on 13 February 2011
As a member of the public who is following the Wikileaks drama (disinterested, but not dispassionate), I would like to say a few words about The Guardian journalists writings on Assange.

What one notices immediately is the general tone of these writings, not only devoid of any sympathy for the subject, but frankly bilious. Leaving you with an unpleasant taste in your mouth, this tone makes you slightly suspicious as for the authors' motivations and impartiality. It would also disappoint anyone hoping to get an insight into the "enigmatic" Wikileak's founder's human qualities. In fact, the way Julian Assange is presented throughout the book is not as a human at all, but rather as some exotic animal who needs to be constantly "managed" (and is now caged and can be poked at safely). Those few little human interest details about his childhood and youth included in the book can be easily searched for on the Internet (where the authors probably found them).

More than characterising its subject, this book characterises the media world. You do not get any sense of gratitude or recognition from The Guardian for Wikileaks giving it the biggest news stories of the last few decades, on a scale unimaginable to the Guardian's team of "investigative journalists". (Taking on Jonathan Aitken is not quite the same as taking on the Pentagon and the US government). There is no gratitude either for Julian Assange's hard work in taking the physical risks and psychological pressure for getting those news stories out. There is no sense of solidarity with Wikileaks, the organisation that essentially is serving the same purpose as any good newspaper should serve: getting the truth out.
This book is in line with some of the Guardian's previous publications on Assange, such as the leaked details of the rape accusations, carefully selected for their graphic impact. As well as smacking badly of vindictiveness, that publication was well in line with the good old English tabloid media tradition of hypocritical voyeurism, where one is meant to shudder in horror ("Why, isn't this awful, dear?!") while indulging in minute investigation of someone's sexual (mis)behaviour. The editors' claims that it was the paper's duty to publish such material once it came into their hands is risible and will not deceive anyone.

No doubt I am being naïve here, but I cannot help but cringe at the violation of one of the basic school playground rules of fair play: you don't kick your mate when he is down. Not even a former mate.
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on 13 July 2015
This is basically just a character assassination of Assange. I had to stop reading it as the bias was so obvious I could no longer turn a blind eye to it. There are a lot of other books on wikileaks with an unbiased and factual approach rather than a book based on the opinions of two journalists who have failed to acknowledge any of the achievements of wikileaks or what they stand for. It's a disappointing read and I suggest trying a different author if you want a fair account.
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on 27 April 2013
For those who feel powerless in the face of enforced austerity, afraid in the face of oppression, small in the face of authoritarian arrogance, this is an essential wake up call.
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on 14 January 2012
This book lays out the story behind the founding of Wikileaks well but without stating the true underlying philosophy. He author appears more concerned with demonizing Julian Assange than analyzing his motives. This is obviously just a way to cash in on the Wikileaks saga, and I accept that, but this book seems to accomplish nothing other than state sensationalist quotes and anecdotes. This book is terrible.
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on 12 December 2013
assange comes across as the rock god or revolution a player someone who wants liberty and free information but comes across as a dodgy geezer however he delivered a great blow to america self painted picture of its wars.his dealing with people dripped with a form of smugness as he played the media against each other but still allowed himself to be wined and dined.this the media exposure lead to increased resistance against the war ironic the guardian actually supported war.....interesting sketch of media workings and a sad picture of american democracy.is he still in his embassy bedsit i don,t care
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on 29 September 2011
sleazy, self serving book. mundane gossip, not much info about the actual leaks themselves more about the authors and their opinion of assange. a great wasted opportunity and waste of paper. sleazy like the newspaper has become in my opinion. sorry can't find anything positive to say about this book. i'd wait for the official book. it also stupidly printed a PASSWORD, can you believe that!
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on 1 March 2011
This book provides a very partisan and at times puerile partial account of the series of events that led to the publishing of the US Embassy cables.

The dislike that the authors seem to have for Assange shines through on every page, as does the more general loathing that the old media feels for the new. However, the constant attacks on Assange's character, behaviour, and Wikileaks, are so over the top and inappropriate that the reader feels rather more sympathy with the subject than the writers. And the constant praising to the heavens of any newspaper journalist that so much as reads a cable is ridiculous. The story of how the Guardian journalist who claims to have initiated the whole project (I forget his name) refused to continue working with Assange after he gave a TV interview, on the basis that he should have had the interview, is frankly pathetic.

However, given the importance of the event of publication, and the huge risks invoved (primarily to Assange, although the authors try rather unconvincingly to suggest that the editor of the Guardian could have been indicted) this account is interesting. As a case study in how the old media is struggling adjust to the challenges of operating in the new media landscape it is fascinating.
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This book reads like fiction as it details the remarkable story of WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange. At the time of its publication it was still very much an unfinished story - Assange was awaiting extradition to Sweden, Bradley Manning was awaiting trial for espionage in US and repercussions of the leaks were still reverberating round the world. I did wonder if the Guardian reporters felt it important to lay out their side of the story so far....

They do this in unflinching detail. Their part in the story is told without hyperbole - their share with us their initial doubts and anxieties as well as their increasing frustrations in dealing with Assange. Julian Assange is revealed as an intriguing character. His computer skills are brilliant, he is a driven man in his campaign for freedom of information but is also egotistical and arrogant. Leigh and Harding reveal how he often changed his mind about future plans and acted contrary to agreements made about publication. To their credit they recount these events objectively and calmly (but I bet they raged in private!)

It will be interesting how the WikiLeaks story will be viewed by future historians. The published Afghan war logs revealed the existence of US death squads, the Iraq files told of the torture of prisoners and of civilian murders. The huge release of thousands of diplomatic cables at the end of last year caused a sensation - the current uprisings in North Africa can be directly linked to the reaction to these cables.

At the time of writing this review (May 2011) things have gone rather quiet on the Wikileaks front. But Hilary Clinton's fury is unabated and she is demanding Assange's extradition. Bradley Manning, the soldier who downloaded the files, is in solitary confinement in gaol awaiting trial for espionage and a threatened 55 year sentence. His fragile mental state will cut very little ice with his accusers.

A fascinating and well written book - but it will probably need to be updated in a few years hence.
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