Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous

“Essential reading.” – Glenn Greenwald

Here is the ultimate book on the worldwide movement of hackers, pranksters, and activists that operates under the non-name Anonymous, by the writer the Huffington Post says “knows all of Anonymous’ deepest, darkest secrets.”

Half a dozen years ago, anthropologist Gabriella Coleman set out to study the rise of this global phenomenon just as some of its members were turning to political protest and dangerous disruption (before Anonymous shot to fame as a key player in the battles over WikiLeaks, the Arab Spring, and Occupy Wall Street). She ended up becoming so closely connected to Anonymous that the tricky story of her inside-outside status as Anon confidante, interpreter, and erstwhile mouthpiece forms one of the themes of this witty and entirely engrossing book.

The narrative brims with details unearthed from within a notoriously mysterious subculture, whose semi-legendary tricksters – such as Topiary, tflow, Anachaos, and Sabu – emerge as complex, diverse, politically and culturally sophisticated people. Propelled by years of chats and encounters with a multitude of hackers, including imprisoned activist Jeremy Hammond and the double agent who helped put him away, Hector Monsegur, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy is filled with insights into the meaning of digital activism and little understood facets of culture in the Internet age, including the history of “trolling,” the ethics and metaphysics of hacking, and the origins and manifold meanings of “the lulz.”


  • “Easily the best book on Anonymous.”
  • “The US government and its allies have spent years castigating, prosecuting, and jailing members of Anonymous, with the director of the NSA going so far as to warn ominously of the potential of an Anonymous-led power blackout. But Gabriella Coleman’s fascinating history of Anonymous makes clear that almost all of the hacktivism attributed to this global collective has been devoted to exposing wrongdoing, not wreaking destruction, even as she also carefully shows that Anonymous is not a shadowy organization but a loosely knit collection of activists all over the globe, fighting for government and corporate transparency. The NSA’s treatment of Anonymous is disturbing and extreme, and Anonymous’s surprising activist turn is heartening. Essential reading.”
  • “A work of anthropology that sometimes echoes a John le Carré novel.”
  • “Coleman takes us on a thrilling journey into the uncharted landscape of hackers, trolls, and Anonymous activists who live among us. It’s both a perfect initiation for all those n00bs out there still wondering what a ‘n00b’ is, as well as an important discourse on the role of anarchy online. Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy shares in the rebellious, even mordant humor of the groups it profiles, but never loses its critical perspective. A hilarious, important piece of hidden history that is very hard to put down.”
  • “A long-awaited and compelling study of the activist collective … Anyone interested in Anonymous, or the shape of protest in the age of the internet, will find abundant new details and smart insight here.”
  • “Coleman reveals the group in all its complexity ... This in-depth account might leave readers in awe of the sheer scope of the group and how much they have achieved while shunning the traditional trappings of leaders, hierarchy and individual fame-seeking.”
  • “With a perceptive eye and a principled disposition, Coleman dives into the eclectic world of Anonymous to reveal the humor and political significance of this polarizing network. Following her journey through this maze and reveling in her analysis is both insightful and awe-inspiring. This book will shake up assumptions at the core of academia, industry, law enforcement, and the media. It’s a must read!”
  • “Penetrates the chaotic, ad hoc, contradictory world of the Anons … What Gabriella Coleman has done, with a fine eye and a storyteller’s talent, is to untangle the hairball just enough to get a sense of its topology, its power and its limits—if not its direction. That is anyone’s guess.”
  • “Coleman charts her own conceptual course, breaking with the standard narratives, particularly the click-baity cautionary tales about the dangers of Anonymous. Her book offers its share of warnings, but ones more nuanced, compelling, and empathetic than the typical hand-wringing about online mobs and the conundrum of virtual vigilante justice. Coleman is no cheerleader … But she also doesn’t wag her finger from some imagined high ground.”
  • “An engrossing, accessible, and intelligent study illuminating the ambiguities of Anonymous and its implications for the future of online political activism.”
  • “Anyone hoping to understand this mostly hidden world will find [Coleman’s] book crucial and even prescient.”
  • “[Coleman’s] painstaking research takes the reader right into the heart of the group, where she begins explaining the history of the broad movement of hackers known to the outside world as Anonymous … without doubt one of the biggest authorities in the world on the subject of Anonymous.”
  • “This is the ultimate piece on Anonymous. It’s a notoriously difficult subject to write about, but Gabriella Coleman has succeeded where others have failed, and the result is a masterpiece that is informative, interesting, and funny. A fine example of what an investigative book should be.”
  • “Exhaustively researched and devilishly readable, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy tells the story of Anonymous’s rise from 4chan to taking on governments. If there could be a definitive writer on a movement like Anonymous, Coleman would be it.”
  • “[An] eye-opening ethnography … This all-access pass into the dark and wild corners of the Internet is timely, informative, and also frightening.”
  • “Provides pages of interviews with infamous, incendiary trollers, snitches and hackers, verbatim bickering chat-room dialogue, and leaked documents. For such a frenzied collective defying easy categorization, Coleman’s diligent and often sensationalistic spadework does great justice in representing the plight of these ‘misfits of activism’ and their vigilante mischief. An intensive, potent profile of contemporary digital activism at its most unsettling—and most effective.”
  • “A rare look inside the complex, decentralized cabal that is the hacker group Anonymous. Many of Anonymous’s exploits are detailed here, including Denial of Service (DoS) attacks on payment processing corporations in the wake of WikiLeaks, the technical attacks that defaced Tunisian government websites, and actions taken against the Church of Scientology. What truly resonates in this book is the process by which a leaderless but effective technical and social group plans, deploys, and then disperses.”
  • “Meticulously researched, eminently readable.”
  • “Part anthropologist, part journalist, Coleman provides insight and detail into the world of Anonymous in this book, which reads like a saga. A great read for those interested in Anonymous, contemporary anthropology, and Internet subcultures.”
  • “Coleman does a fantastic job of chronicling Anonymous’s political turn while explaining her own moral pretzels as a researcher. She illuminates a movement that bucks the cultural trend to self-promote, and examines the ‘fractal chaos’ of a leaderless collective that is deliberately hard to pin down but looks a little bit like the Internet when it was young.”
  • “From its trollish origins to its hacktivist ethos, anonymity can be at least partly credited for both bringing the group together, and continuing to define its changing mission.”
  • “What began as an academic project became a personal one for Coleman, which dominated her life. The result, for the reader, is a story which is in equal parts informative and enthralling.”
  • “In our increasingly authoritarian age, we are seeing aggressive attempts to demonise and attack what is variously called the ‘dark’ or ‘deep’ web. Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy reminds us that from those dark depths wonderful things can and do emerge. Cleansing these depths—if it is even possible—could have consequences far beyond what GCHQ and the Metropolitan Police might imagine.”
  • “Anonymous seems like a potent adversary. Like ISIS, the group is shadowy and technologically savvy, perhaps making it the perfect weapon against a terrorist group that uses social media as a recruiting and propaganda tool. But for Gabriella Coleman, the author of Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, the rush to embrace the group could be premature.”


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