A history of the Internet free culture movement and its larger effects on society—and the life and shocking suicide of Aaron Swartz, a founding developer of Reddit and Creative Commons—from Slate correspondent Justin Peters.
What [The Idealist] does—and does very well—is put Swartz’s work in context. The book gives an engaging, if knowingly incomplete, account of the history of intellectual property and copyright law, the archaic roots (and current implications) of cyberlaw, and some key players in the ongoing fight between open-data philosophy and the federal government.
While Peters' history of copyright law is endlessly interesting — he's fluent in both English and lawyer-speak, and he does a great job explaining sometimes arcane legislation — it's his portrait of Swartz that makes The Idealist such a riveting book.
By the end of The Idealist, Peters has dropped the pretension of neutrality and taken up Swartz’s crusade. This is fine, I think — it wouldn’t be a good biography if it didn’t have a point of view. But in the final pages, as Peters dons the sports coat of the history lecturer and draws a lame comparison between Aaron Swartz and Noah Webster, he disappoints once again. It’s the whole book in microcosm: superb when it focuses on its subject, unnecessary when it veers away.