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Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do about It
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Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do about It

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  285 ratings  ·  65 reviews
Disinformation is as old as humanity. When Satan told Eve nothing would happen if she bit the apple, that was disinformation. But the rise of social media has made disinformation even more pervasive and pernicious in our current era. In a disturbing turn of events, governments are increasingly using disinformation to create their own false narratives, and democracies are p ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published October 8th 2019 by Atlantic Monthly Press
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Average rating 3.82  · 
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Diane S ☔
Sep 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 If you are one, like myself, who wonders why our government is slow to act, seemingly taking forever to get anything done, this is the book to read. Chronicling his time in the state department, he shows the many divisions, turf wars, constant meetings where little is accomplished, he shows how hard it is to put any new programs into place. He also shows how disinformation is put in place, ads targeted to specific audiences, who spread these false beliefs. He talks of the dark web and its in ...more
Sep 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Gleb Olegovich Pavlovsky a Russian political scientist and a self-proclaimed “political technologist”) once famously exclaimed that to get people to vote the way you want, “you need to build a fairy tale that will be common to all of them.” Who better to assimilate this fact than Richard Stengel. Mr. Stengel, in his capacity as the longest serving Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in American history (2013-16) spent his entire tenure directing all resources at his ...more
Himanshu Modi
Richard Stengel, as a former editor of TIME, sure knows how to put out an headline to grab attention. The title was what drew me to the book in the first place. It was definitely more appealing than the alternative, more accurate title: Richard Stengel (Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy) - A Memoir.

No, I would not have picked a memoir of a government official. Unless he was going to go all-out and put out stories like Snowden or Assange, the book would be a bit of indulgent reminisci
Cary Giese
Nov 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
My five star rating of this book is based on the last chapter!

Before the last chapter the book chronicled the goings-on in government as the various interested parties grappled with counter messaging verses ISIS, the Russians, and others. They were struggling to get partners and develope a strategy for global response centers around the world. Bureaucratic ownership of the issue slowed the process but eventually a clear understanding of what to do and who is to do it evolved.

I was reminded that
Антон Санков
Dec 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
All in all a good read, and provides a good insight about how the Government works from the inside from the view point of an outsider.

What I did not liked about the book is that it is way too long, and the main topic is only established in the last few chapters.
Feb 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: political
He who controls the narrative, controls the minds of the populace. Information Warfare is a battle over reality and most often facts and truth are the easiest victims. Especially pertinent for our times, critical thinking has become not just a 'nice to have' but a 'must have' to survive in the age of disinformation. Adversaries know that they don't have to sell you on their 'facts' or point of view, they just have to get you to doubt yours, often just long enough that it gives them time and spac ...more
Jan 21, 2020 rated it liked it
When I shelved Information Wars, I thought it would be a journalistic discussion about disinformation (based on the title). It's not. It's a memoir of Stengel's time at the State Department, with some content about disinformation included. ...more
Ned Leffingwell
Jan 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, non-fiction
This is part memoir about working at the State Department and part informational text about how ISIS and Russia use social media to spread ideology and try to destabilize the United States. The author is a former editor of Time magazine who went to work on countering ISIS and Russian disinformation. The book was interesting and depressing. He offers his opinion on how to fix the problem in the final chapter. I wish more was being done on this issue. He posits that Russia wants a xenophobic, anti ...more
C. S.
Mar 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
By turns eye opening, maddening, fascinating, and humorous.

I haven't been sucked in by a book (let alone a nonfiction book) like this in a while. Read in just a couple of sittings.

Highly recommended for fans of memoirs, politics, and current affairs.
Dan Dundon
Nov 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
I almost didn't pick up Richard Stengel's book on the information (AKA disinformation) wars. Having read many of the news stories about Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election, I suspected this book was just going to be a rehash of earlier news stories.

However, I was wrong and actually learned a great deal more about Russia's efforts. Unfortunately more information makes Russia even more scary. For example, Stengel describes how Russia Today is a widely viewed television pr
May 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Both mindblowing and mundane, look at the Info War thats been subtly ruining our lives, now moreso than ever. This is eye-opening while painting a pretty awful picture of our failures in the process. The purposeful weaponization of information, civility, and privacy is something we all need to understand is happening to us before we can do anything about it. This book helps with that.
Mar 22, 2020 is currently reading it
Shelves: w_nf_computer
355.343 STE
State: 政权
Terms: autocrats and authoritarian governments.

p3 Why does disinformation work? Well, disinformation almost always hits its target because the target-you, me, everyone-rises up to meet it. We ask for it. Social scientists call this
confirmation bias. We seek out information that confirms our beliefs. Disinformation sticks because it fits into our mental map of how the world works. The internet is the greatest delivery system for confirmation bias in history.

p4 The ana
Nov 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a pretty good mix of inside baseball, a tour of how the sausage gets made, and the view from a front-row seat to some interesting world events. The subtitle implies more analysis and less daily humdrum than the reality ... the analysis was lacking but the tick-tock of events was engaging. It was more TIME and less Atlantic, which I guess makes sense given Stengel's previous position.

And of course, it was utterly disturbing! Both the extent of Russia's and ISIS's mis-/disinformation camp
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
The author, former editor of Time Magazine who accepted a role in the State Department as Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, offers an illuminating and disturbing view into the seriousness of the disinformation war that has ramped up dramatically in recent years, as well as the excruciatingly ponderous pace at which government organizations address such concerns. He openly admits that the "scale and sophistication of Russian disinformation were beyond what we were capable of ...more
Scott Martin
May 28, 2020 rated it liked it
(3.5 Stars) Not the most uplifting read, but one that has some significant ramifications for the world today. It is part memoir, part educational/current affairs work about some of the key information confrontations the US has faced in the past few years. In particular, when the author was working at the State Department during the Obama Administration. It follows the two biggest international informational challengers that the US dealt with during his State Department time: ISIS and Russia. Bot ...more
Nov 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: trump
"There is not much irony in diplomacy"

Perhaps the best sngle line from this well written book. Stengels class as a journalist shines through this book. As a former managing editor at Time magazine and collaborator with Nelson Mandela on Long Walk to Freedom and other books Stengel brought some serious class and clout to his role as under secretay of something or other at the state dept, I don't remember the exact title and Stengel has some exasperated fun with the various acronyms and mysterious
James Bourland
Jun 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So I wasn't sure what to expect with this book, honestly because I bought the wrong book (I was originally looking for "The Revolution That Wasn't", but I mixed them up, simply due to the common theme).

All that said, I'm really glad I made the mistake of buying this one.

This was a really interesting book. It's the insider's view of the State Department, but told from the perspective of someone who was not a career State employee. I didn't have much of an idea as to how State operated, but than
Feb 21, 2020 rated it it was ok
I read this book because I was interested in understanding what disinformation looks like, how it evolved, and how we can combat it.

Instead I got hundreds of pages of autobiography from a very uninteresting person with no real ability at self reflection. The whole time I kept thinking, “did no one edit this to remove the boring parts?” Having worked for the federal government myself, I can vouch that much of the information he discusses—the bureaucracy, the acronyms, the silo effect of different
Jun 26, 2020 rated it liked it
This book sells itself as being all about disinformation, and particularly how disinformation is being used by the Russians and ISIS. And that's sort of true, but sort of not true. The first 30-40% of the novel reads more like Stengel's memoir of his time at the State Department. I'm a nerd for Obama-era D.C. memoirs, so that was fine, but definitely not what the "blurb" says the book is about.

I was reading this book for its suitability as a college course "textbook" of sorts on how disinformat
Bill Sleeman
Jan 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history

An ARC copy from ALA (thanks Anne!) Information Wars: How We Lost the Battle against Disinformation and What We Can do about it by Richard Stengel is a fascinating and scary read. Anyone interested in how information is used, mis-used or ignored should read this book. Stengel provides important details on how disinformation played a key role in the election of President Trump long before Trump was even a candidate. There is so much in this book that it is difficult to summarize in any cogent w

Ed Barton
Jun 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Of the 300+ pages in the book, only about 40 cover policy discussions and fulfill the title's promise. That doesn't make for a bad book, but certainly a different one than expected. Richard Stengel's memoir of his time at the State Department resonates with bureaucracy, dry humor, and the type of readability that you would expect from a former award winning journalist. Whether it is describing the gloomy offices on the first floor, the Senate confirmation process, or meetings with POTUS, you get ...more
Jun 27, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5 As has been stated, this book reads more like a memoir as it is based almost solely on Stengel's personal experience. Not that there is anything wrong with that as his experience in the field is relevant, timely, and impressive, I just felt like the title and overview could have been more forthright. That said, I appreciated his honest reflections throughout where he takes ownership of his mistakes and what he overlooked. Worthwhile, but I think I will search for something more comprehensive ...more
Ace Brownstone
Sep 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
I'd give this a 3.5 if I could. As a dear friend said of the book, "it contains a great deal of interesting information presented in a less than compelling way". The author is mistakenly under the impression that the minutiae of life in government is what readers are interested in and he can't help but view almost every interaction with the governmental bureaucracy in a comparative light to the private sector, often drawing myopic and boorish conclusions, which is a dull distraction. However, wh ...more
Carsten Hansen
Former TIME editor and Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs discusses his times, challenges and experiences during his three-year stint in the State Department under John Kerry.
During his time he, the department and the Obama administration dealt with the challenges combating ISIS's information campaign, the Russian attacks, and disinformation on Twitter and Facebook, the rise of Trump and much more.
I found the book to be an interesting look behind the curtains, the problems
Aug 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a page-turner that you will not want to set down. While acknowledging that disinformation has a long history across many societies, Stengel lays out the sky-high stakes for all of us today. The globalization of ommunications systems has facilitated disinformation across all of our media. Stengel not only persuasively lays out the challenge, but also has suggestions for addressing the mess we have gotten into. As he makes clear, only an informed public can begin to turn around the forces ...more
Dan Stoyell
Jan 03, 2021 rated it liked it
It's been a while since I read this. I remember being disappointed that the vast majority of the book is a memoir rather than analytic. That part wasn't insightful or interesting enough that I would have picked it up for that alone. If you are interested in learning about the specific machinations of the federal government's more obscure arms, it might be a good fit.

The latter part was much better. It's a more focused analysis of how (most the US government) can and should respond to foreign thr
Oct 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
Point of view of Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs who was leading TIMES magazine before this post , although the topic is listed as Information wars, the book is more about his time at White house , it was a bit let down , but still the books talks about Russia , ISIS , middle east Iran , Iraq , Syria , media tweaking , white house politics , information leakage at White house,; etc..
Lenny Herman
Did we lose the Global Battle against disinformation? Yes and no. Mr. Stengel answers these questions. Unfortunately, much of the work he did has been destroyed by the current administration. I recommend the book, but the first three chapters are about the bureaucratic workings of the State Department why it is so hard to achieve anything of importance But Parts 4, 5 and 6 of the book are about the information battle on lies and disinformation of Russia and ISIS.
Feb 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Wow! This is a fascinating memoir of Richard Stengel, a former NY Times editor and Undersecretary of State. The written word has power, more than most of us ever imagine. A lot of what we read, see, and hear in the media--especially online--is wrong. Whether it's a "harmless" mistake, rumor, or gossip or something purposely posted to deceive, we need to learn to discern what is true and what is spin. This book is a first step in heightening our awareness to this insidious problem. ...more
Mar 31, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cyber-infowar
Much more anecdotal and like a memoir (including the first 1/3 about what it’s like to work in the State Dept etc) than analytical. And a lot more about the frustration of working within the US bureaucracy. May be better for readers less familiar with US policy making generally, but on information operations specifically, disappointing. For analysis, skip to the last chapter, which could be a stand-alone article.
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Richard Stengel is the former editor of TIME. He collaborated with Nelson Mandela on his bestselling 1993 autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, and later served as coproducer of the 1996 Oscar-nominated documentary Mandela. He is also the author of January Sun: One Day, Three Lives, a South African Town. Stengel is married to Mary Pfaff and they have two sons.

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159 likes · 36 comments
“Trump's election was also an enormous challenge to American public diplomacy and to the American brand. So much of what we believed and promoted as part of the American Brand --free speech, freedom of religion, the power of diversity, equality before the law, a level playing field -- was challenged by brand Trump.” 0 likes
“Our adversaries are fighting to prevent people from having agency over their own lives. They are fighting to have autocrats and ideologies make decisions for us. They are fighting to dismantle the infrastructure of truth. They are fighting to undermine the idea that human beings can be moved by fact and reason. They are fighting for relativism, the idea that no idea is worth fighting for. When I was in government, I felt my job was to help people here and around the world determine their own destiny. At the heart of that fight was the idea that people could use information - factual information - to decide what was best for them. That idea is still worth fighting for.” 0 likes
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