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The Boy Who Could Change the World: The Writings of Aaron Swartz

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  410 ratings  ·  57 reviews
A posthumous collection of writing by Aaron Swartz, the computer genius and Internet hacktivist whose tragic suicide shook the world

In his too-short life, Aaron Swartz reshaped the Internet, questioned our assumptions about intellectual property, and touched all of us in ways that we may not even realize. His tragic suicide in 2013 at the age of twenty-six after being aggr
Paperback, 359 pages
Published January 5th 2016 by New Press (first published May 5th 2015)
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Jeffrey Spurlock Sadly, he probably wont be remembered, like Claudette Colvin, and someone else with the same message will go down as the image the country always reme…moreSadly, he probably wont be remembered, like Claudette Colvin, and someone else with the same message will go down as the image the country always remembers; see Rosa Parks.

Disclaimer: Don't take this as a indication that I don't think what Rosa Parks did was a big deal, just as a reminder that sometimes its about timing and PR and someone with the same actions like Claudette can go virtually ignored. Also, by comparing him to Claudette and Rosa Parks, I am not making any claim that his actions and opinions were more or less important than the ending of segregation, it is purely being used as an analogy about how someone important can go unremembered.

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Steven Berliner
Apr 28, 2016 rated it did not like it
Don't get me wrong, the contents in this book are wonderful. Aaron Swartz was a brilliant guy and his thoughts are well worth reading. But they aren't worth reading here.

The publisher of this book, The New Press, is a copyright troll, liar, and a DMCA-abuser. In 2014, a different publisher by the name of Discovery Publisher had published a book consisting of Aaron's writings. Not long after The New Press published this book in late 2015, they successfully forced Discovery Publisher's compilation
Shivam Sharma
Mar 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
absolutely brilliant. can't emphasize enough for everyone to read it at least once in their lifetime. its sad that most wont. ...more
Jawshan Shatil
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: family-library
It saddens my heart every time I look at this book, The writing of Aaron Swartz. This book is just a compilation of his thought, like a diary. But I can feel how much courage this boy held in his heart, who was actually of my age. Many people know what is right and what is wrong, many people feel that someone should do something when wrongs prevail, but only a few acts upon it. Aaron Swartz was someone like that, who felt it and became that someone to protest against keeping the vast knowledge o ...more
Gisela Hausmann
Feb 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: thought-leader
To say, "The Boy Who Could Change the World" is a fascinating book is an understatement. Aaron Swartz reminds me of my brother Michael. Around 1985 I had a discussion with Michael about the Berlin Wall. Michael said, "you'll see, it'll come down." To which I replied, "Never! You forget, I visited Berlin in 1980, I crossed Checkpoint Charlie. I got poked into my ribs with a Kalashnikov, when I did not move fast enough by East German guards. That Wall won't come down."

As it turned out, Michael wa
Pradeep Vegireddi
Jun 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Information - intellectual propert rights - creatives common license - decentralization. The maturity he has at a very young age and his fighting mentality inspires me.
Feb 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It took me more than a year to finish reading this book, because every time I picked it up to read an essay I would be dazzled by Aaron Swartz's brilliace and clarity of thought, then immediately fall into a deep sadness about how much we lost with his death. I had no idea how much of an influence he had on how I interface with the world, from RSS, to Wikipedia, to Reddit, to name just a few projects he worked on. More than his achievements, though, I'm completely in awe of what a clear writer a ...more
Jason Gordon
Apr 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite my reservations and scepticism of some of his arguments, Swartz is an amazing thinker. I read the essays haphazardly going to the sections that I found most interesting and working my way through the rest of the book from there. I'd argue that's probably the best way to read this book. The collection of essays that resonated with me the most are found in the section titled Unschooled. There Swartz launches a devastating attack on academia. It was a pleasure to discover that I share the s ...more
Nov 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Just wow.

I read more than 400 of the 451 essays on Aaron Swartz' blog, aaronsw.com, over a span of 5 days -- 21.5 hours in total. Reading from the earliest posts to the most recent painted a better picture of Aaron's developments and changes of interest than the book could possibly have painted.

I don't think all of his best essays are featured in the book, but a good number of them are. The many writings in the book by Aaron Swartz that I had not seen before made up for that lack. But, most
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: auto-biography
I was motivated to read this book after watching the documentary "The Internet's Own Boy". The documentary inspired me more than any book or documentary I remember and I was really intrigued to learn more about Aaron. and I think this book was a great collection of his blog entries and essays which provided a very good window to his thoughts and mindset throughout his life. I particularly enjoyed his essays on education which form the last section of the book. ...more
May 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Amazing! It was great to know more about such an amazing guy and the kind of things he's done. ...more
David Bjelland
WhoOOOooo boy, where to start?

Proposal - the title. The unforgivably awful, kitschy title. The title manages to come across as both aggrandizing and infantilizing the title's subject, Aaron Swartz. Aaron Swartz's ghost has better things to do than maliciously haunt whoever was responsible for the title, but I'm sure it (or he, depending on how you conceive of the afterlife) is deeply exasperated by the title.

With that out of the way:

What does it mean to "love" a person's genius, and what relati
Read InAGarden
Oct 29, 2015 rated it liked it
This book is most a compilation of writings (and a few lectures) of Aaron Swartz. And boy are the writings impressive. Some of the blog entries written when Aaron was a young teenager are at a higher thinking level than many adults. It is truly tragic that Aaron decided to commit suicide to escape what he perceived as government persecution. Minds and voices like his are needed in this crazy mixed up world. I wish the editor would have included more biographical information about Aaron and some ...more
Apr 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ak, bio
"What a great mind we have lost". That is the first thing it came to my mind when I finished the last paragraph of this compilation of Aaron's writings. Not only was an outstanding programmer (RSS, web.py, Reddit, etc), but a humble human being who dare to think different and go against the stream and construct an independent view on politics, media, culture, education, etc.

If you don't know who he was, this book is a pretty good way to get started on his views: what the independent internet co
Mar 05, 2016 rated it liked it
I didn't follow this kid, alas, while he was alive, but this book collects his most substantial blog posts and writings about a range of topics, mostly involving an open internet and government. Really smart, some of these writings startle you when you realize he was only a teen when he wrote them. Some, such as his "offense of classical music" show his immaturity, but they are all readable and provocative. What a loss he is. ...more
Apr 16, 2016 rated it liked it
He's comes off as a little pretentious at first, but you get used it. By then, you realize he's just an incredibly smart, talented guy. He dipped his feet into so many aspects of American life with commentary and criticism around the age that I was still writing stories with necrophilia jokes. Read it if you want to feel inadequate. ...more
Feb 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
What a thinker, what a writer, what a mind. Well selected and contextualized, but really it's his words that shine. ...more
May 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1900s-ce, ebook, 2000s-ce
An incredibly compelling, deeply moving and ultimately disturbing book. It's compelling on two distinct levels: first, the content of Aaron's thoughts - the clarity of his vision, his impressively singular focus on a moral north star, his intelligence and passion - and, second, the "meta" of Aaron himself. I read this and then immediately this piece by the New Yorker, and I want to watch the documentary now as well.

A bit of personal background: I worked at MIT from 2010-2013. MIT has a long, res
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
at first i thought i'd be able to whizz through this like a novel, but even though the essays were short, they were often so thought provoking, and going from one to another was jumping topics so quickly, that i just wasn't able to do it, which i think is a good thing. i ended up reading one/a few (depending on their lengths) a day, and was able to really think about and marinate in thoughts about the various points he had brought up. his optimism and curiosity and surprising thoughts were reall ...more
Alex Killby
Jan 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I'm really glad I read this anthology of Aaron's blog posts and other writings. What will strike you almost right away is the complexity and range of his thinking at such a young age (as young as fourteen). He challenges many of the ways we all think about fundamental parts of our society: our education system, the news media, governance of the internet, intellectual property, and politics. In "Welcome to Unschooling," I identified deeply with his assessment of our institutionalized learning, an ...more
Cameron Kobes
Dec 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2020
There was some good content in here, and some that I'm less sure about. Some of the areas the book covered, economics for example, are less familiar to me so I don't know enough to dispute the author on them. Where this book lost points for me was towards the end when Swartz got into writing about education. He had some valid criticism on the way modern schools operate with over-reliance on testing and potential stifling of creativity. But, he was completely wrong on the history of public school ...more
Samuel Atta-Amponsah
Aug 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
In his introduction to this anthology of blog posts and speeches by the late web pioneer Aaron Swartz, ethics professor Lawrence Lessig wrestles with the question of whether it’s fair to anthologise a lifetime’s worth of any person’s writing. He goes on to wonder whether Swartz would have approved of the publication of the volume he’s introducing, and tells a story about Swartz getting upset with him for describing one of his blog posts to some friends when he was a student at Stanford. The cele ...more
Nov 19, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a collection of articles, most of them with no connection to the others. Among them, you can find a lot of interesting points of view and very mature thoughts from a young person.
Unfortunately, the solutions that are proposed can mostly be applied if several decision factors get to think the same way. And, statistically, this has a very low probability.
Another minus of the articles collection is the fact that most situations can be found in USA and are far from what's being found in othe
Considering I absolutely failed to understand the first two parts of this book, written by someone a fraction of my age at various points in his young life, I was inspired to read it all, each essay, and I felt my brain expanding as I went on. Especially as in the later sections he gives succinct analysis on a range of topics that explode out from his central thesis, even if I dont quite understand what that is, i get it.

A great gap is an actual bio. The editor assumes everyone knows the story.
Jun 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a collection of essays, talks, and blog posts from a brilliant young man who wanted to change the world (and did). Clearly influenced by the likes of Chomsky and Zinn (who strangely go uncredited) Aaron talks about society, business, social justice, the media, and schooling. His minimalist and declarative style fades into the background leaving only the reader with the subject matter, who is in for a chilling wake up call.

This book is inspiring and deeply tragic, and an absolute must-rea
It is tragic how Aaron died. He didn't deserve it but this book isn't about it. It is a collection of his writings. I absolutely loved it, how often can you say that you need some time to digest a book? He certainly had different and interesting opinions and ideas. Unschooling part didn't strike to me till now but its related part did : home schooling. I had been going over and over what is better occasionally and this part of the book did put many views on it. Aaron was an exceptional guy, who ...more
Oct 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: social-criticism
The essay in "School" that begins "From the moment they are born, babies are bored" is the most important essay I have ever read! The essay on "How Congress Works" is also very important, while the rest is mostly well written and thoughtful, but not of the same caliber (how could it be). Reading this book and really taking it in should take your thinking WAY outside the Overton Window, into very uncomfortable places. ...more
Aniket Samant
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-reads
Swartz's writings really reflect how mature and passionate he was about his views and actions, and it's really unfortunate things had to happen the way they did.

Every article on his weblog makes you think a lot, and makes you all the more aware of the jewel humanity has lost. It's quite discomforting to think of.
Benjamin Heap
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I decided to buy this book after watching "The Internet's Own Boy" on Netflix. It's a collection of articles written by Aaron on various topics throughout his life. A great book to pick up every now and again and have a read.

The most astonishing thing about his writing is the age at which he was having an articulating such thoughts. We truly lost someone special when he left us.
Sāwan Subā
Apr 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
A collection of the writings of Aaron Swartz, this book makes it easier for people to understand the thought process of a great mind lost to the war for open access of information that is guarded by paywalls.

It contains some interesting book recommendations, thanks for extending my TBR even further.

May 23, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The first part is very interesting. Then the politics part comes in and, it is not that I disagree with Aaron, it is just that it drags on and on and on. After that we get a few really good essays but manny of them feel tainte by the politics previously discussed (in the book, not chronologically). Still, I am glad I've read it. ...more
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Aaron Swartz was an American computer programmer, a writer, a political organizer, and an Internet hacktivist. He was involved in the development of RSS, Creative Commons, web.py, and Reddit. He helped launch the Progressive Change Campaign Committee in 2009 and founded the online group Demand Progress.

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