cover image The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet

The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet

Justin Peters. Scribner, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4767-6772-7

Slate correspondent Peters expands on his 2013 article profiling the late “hacktivist” and Internet personality Aaron Swartz (1986–2013), using this book to explore the constant struggle between control and liberation of the flow of information. He traces the creation and evolution of copyright law from the 18th century into the present, looking at both those who championed the cause and those who fought against it. As the thread reaches the modern day with the development of the Internet, the rise of electronic documents, and the creation of Project Gutenberg (a repository for public-domain text files), Peters transitions into the tragic story of Swartz. The talented young activist’s obsession with freeing information led him to download vast numbers of academic articles, a crusade ultimately leading to his arrest, prosecution, and suicide. This “narrative introduction to the story of free culture in America” presents a thought-provoking discussion on the roles of copyright, digital piracy, and emerging technology. As Peters shows by juxtaposing Swartz’s story with that of information control in general, “Information wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free. Today... [this] paradox seems more relevant and more frustrating than ever.” Agent: Todd Shuster, Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary Agency. (Jan.)