The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries was one of two books I read this weekend (the other was Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness).
It was outstanding. I made it the August book club book for my dad and my brother. And then, this morning, I woke up to the following headlines.
- Putin bans VPNs to stop Russians accessing prohibited websites
- Apple Removes Apps That Allowed China Users to Get Around Filters
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who is paying attention. There is now a long history of governments trying to control the Internet. One approach over government is censoring the Internet; another is weaponizing it.
The Red Web covers Russia’s history around the Internet starting during the Cold War with a focus on the last twenty years. While Russia had a slow start, the Internet played a big part in both sides of things – the increasingly free flow of information combined with government control over information.
I believe we are at the very beginning of a new version of this battle. Since the beginning of humans, information – and the control of information – has been one of the key dynamics of power. At least we don’t need to use ravens anymore. But, depending on which country you are in, they might be a good backup plan.
After the election, I took a break from social media. Prior to this election cycle I rarely read online news and almost never watched news on TV, so that was easy to stop as well. I needed some emotional distance from the election and decided I wanted some intellectual distance as well. So, I went back to writing and reading books during all the time that I had previously occupied myself with what passes in 2016 for real time news and current events.
Some of that writing has appeared on this blog – and will continue to appear here and on two other blogs – Venture Deals and Startup Revolution, both of which have lain fallow for a while. The third edition of Venture Deals comes out on December 12th and I feel like Jason and I made some strong updates to it. I’m working on a second edition of Startup Opportunities, which will come out sometime in Q117 and be published by Wiley since FG Press is defunct. And, I’ve started on my next book, Give First, which should come out in Q417 (again published by my friends at Wiley.)
I’ve used the past month to refocus myself on areas that I feel like I can impact. One of the primary ways I develop this frame of reference is by reading books (for the current list of what I’m reading you can always take a look at my Goodreads page.) I’m not a particularly good book ranker – so I just give five stars for “must reads”, four stars for “read if you like the topic”, and three stars for “meh – some interesting stuff here.” If I start something that I find completely uninteresting, I stop reading it and don’t post it.
In the past 24 hours I’ve read a must read. Bill Browder’s Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It reads like a John le Carré novel, except it is non-fiction. It starts out as the autobiography of Bill Browder and his creation of a massively successful hedge fund (Hermitage Capital Management) that was one of the first non-Russian investors in Russia in the mid to late 1990s. It then shifted into an incredibly complex story of intrigue, corruption, lawlessness, injustice, and murder all at the hands of the Russian political system.
I know that was a mouthful, but if you want a little taste, just read the Wikipedia page for Sergei Magnitsky which is central to the second half of the book, where Browder shifts from successful financier to international human rights activist. If you want a taste, watch the following interview with Browder.
Amy and I just finished watching The Night Manager on Amazon, which was based on John le Carré novel by the same name. I’m an optimistic person and I tend to bury my cynicism in what I read and the movies I watch. My optimism holds that the good guys eventually come out on top. I’m going to keep holding onto that notion while doing the little bit I can to help impact that outcome, especially when it means supporting people like Bill Browder. While I don’t know him, if he ever called and asked for anything, I’d be immediately responsive.
If you are looking for a powerful read over the holidays, I’d put Bill Browder’s Red Notice at the top of the list.
Update: I came across the article The Need To Read today and thought it was very appropriate for this post.