Published today without the permission of its author and allegedly unfinished, Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography reads like a thriller.
The story of the Wikileaks founder, currently under house arrest and fighting extradition over sexual assault charges in Sweden, opens with Assange being taken to jail, the press photographers "scrabbling around the windows [of the police van] like crabs in a bucket", and delves back into his past as a computer hacker and "cypherpunk", where the first seeds of WikiLeaks were planted.
From the offset, it is hard not to be swept up in Assange’s passion for rebellion and protest - and for computer hacking. As a teenager he began sharing computer programmes on floppy disks and experimenting with the earliest of modems, teaming up with hackers across the world to sneak into the databases of the world’s biggest political and commercial organisations. He writes: “That’s how hacking begins. You want to get past a barrier that has been erected to keep you out”.
Assange and his network of hacker friends were, from his point of view, poking around in off-limits sites as “part of our youthful attempt to explore the world”, but he also presents himself as a visionary and campaigner, especially when the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks is born: “the work of WikiLeaks that would become so famous was born, and continues to be born, out of a passion for new ideas about how global society might go about protecting freedom”.
His tone is by turns breathtakingly self-congratulatory (at one point he compares the aftermath of a police raid in the early '90s to “my period in the wilderness. The only bit of Jesus worth having is the bit where he percolates his rebellion”) and ostentatiously humble: “I was, and always will be, more concerned with the wars going on around the world than with making things easier for myself”.
Whether you take Assange as a reliable narrator (he himself seems ambivalent on the idea - as a young hacker he takes the handle Mendax “from Horace’s splendide mendax—nobly untruthful, or perhaps ‘delightfully deceptive’”) it is an exciting tale of “life on the run”, and the revelations, leaks and powergames that came to dominate his life—and our media.