The book “Permanent Record” is best known for its author, Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who released enormous amounts of secret NSA documents to the press, alleging that the intelligence community in the US violates the rights of citizens for privacy by implementing wide-reaching programs of wholesale surveillance. This is the second book I review that discusses Ed Snowden and his revelations; the previous book I reviewed was “No Place to Hide” by journalist Glenn Greenwald.
Somewhat unexpectedly, the book “Permanent Record” does not delve too much into the technical aspects of the revelations, probably because by the time of its publication so much has already been written about those. Really, if you want to know more about what society learned from the documents that Mr. Snowden released, you will have to read it elsewhere. This book is also entirely non-technical, with the author making sure that whenever a technical term is mentioned, it is accompanied by some very brief explanation of what it is in plain English and without assuming any technical background.
What this book is, is a very personal and revealing expression of Ed Snowden the individual: his history since early childhood, where he studied and what he did, his thoughts, beliefs, emotional reactions to events and people, and of course, all that went through his mind before, during and after committing the actions that he did. Ed also tells the story of how he did what he did (without technical details, of course), how he fled the country, where he sought asylum, the people who helped him on his journey, etc.
At least at first glance, this book seems like an attempt, not at all unsuccessful, at presenting Edward Snowden as a likeable person with very strong conscious and a firm sense of ethics; an authentic fellow who is not a “leaker” who siphons out sensitive docs for personal benefit, but a genuine person of principles who spared absolutely no rigor in making sure that he only does the right thing for his fellow citizens; not only for no personal benefit, but also at a huge personal cost and risk.
So if you thought that the guy acted on an impulse, out of an unstable personality, or of being disgruntled or unhappy with his job, this book shows you how off-the-mark your thoughts were. You may obviously disagree with what he did or with the cost-benefit ratio of his disclosures, but this book does demonstrate how thoughtful and intelligent the person is, even if just by his style of writing and his thought process.