cover image The Secret Life: Three True Stories of the Digital Age

The Secret Life: Three True Stories of the Digital Age

Andrew O’Hagan. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-0-374-27791-8

This splendid collection from novelist O’Hagan (The Illuminations) brings together three essays originally published in the London Review of Books that explore identity in the digital age through three figures: Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks; Craig Steven Wright, who may or may not be the creator of bitcoin; and Ronald “Ronnie” Pinn, who, despite a U.K. passport, mailing address, and gaggle of Facebook friends, is not real. The piece on Assange would be the standout in an ordinary essay collection, but this is not one of those, and O’Hagan’s study of the Australian hacker, for whom he once ghostwrote the first draft of an autobiography, while absorbing, pales in comparison with the profile of Wright (who comes across as an eccentric but altogether more likable character than the narcissistic Assange). But it is Ronnie Pinn, a digital identity created by O’Hagan based on a name from a headstone, whose pseudoexistence says the most about who we are now. O’Hagan’s grasp of storytelling is prodigious, and the ending of his essay on Pinn is a particularly inspired, even moving, piece of writing. Taken as a whole, this is an unmissable collection of up-to-the-moment insights about life in our digital era. Agent: Peter Straus, Rogers, Coleridge & White (U.K.) (Oct.)