Book review: Mark Bowden’s Worm examines a different sort of virus

Mark Bowden’s Worm via Grove Atlantic

A group of geeks from around the world joining together to save the internet and the world as we know it: this synopsis of Mark Bowden’s Worm sounds like a science-fiction cliché. But Bowden’s book is a true story, complete with a mysterious villain who wants to take control of the world’s computers, one step ahead of the valiant geeks. The ragtag group of heroes tries to defeat an all-powerful virus with no help from the government.

      From the author of Black Hawk Down, Worm follows a handful of cybersecurity and computer science experts as they discover and fight the computer virus “Conficker.”

      Beginning in 2008, the virus showed how vulnerable the fledgling internet was, how dependent the world was on it, and how little the governments of the world knew or cared about their own cybersecurity. The characters frequently mention “the glaze,” the look that appears on people’s faces when they try to explain what it is they are fighting.

      “The glaze” is almost as much of an antagonist as the actual virus, making the heroes’ jobs far more difficult, as they’re unable to hold the attention of anyone outside of their self-proclaimed “cabal.”

      Speaking of heroes, Bowden incorporates a comic-book theme throughout the text. He frequently compares the cabal to the Avengers, as they are a non-government-sanctioned organization fighting to save civilization as we know it. Each chapter begins with a relevant quote from a comic book.

      The story bounces between several characters, detailing how each of them discovered the virus and contacted each other to alert the government. Intermittently, Bowden includes concise explanations of complicated computer topics, making the story easier for a less technologically-inclined reader to follow. Rather than standard dialogue, Bowden incorporates long direct quotations from the cabal’s group chat. As the characters hardly ever meet in person, this provides an extremely detailed account of the group atmosphere and keeps the reader connected to the characters who could easily become distant.

      Aside from a thrilling story of good versus evil, Worm also provides a robust history of the internet as well a readily understandable explanation of how the internet works. The helpful contextual information does not stop there, as Bowden also tells the story of Microsoft’s founding and the rise of the home computer.

      Though it is not an action-packed fight between real superhumans, Worm will certainly hold your attention and help pass the time during this period of home-bound boredom.

Author: Jonny Sonnenfeld '20

Jonny Sonnenfeld '20 is a journalism student who has written for The Index throughout the past four years. He is in honors English and won a gold key this year from the scholastic arts and writing. His chili in a bread bowl article was responsible for the reintroduction of the meal in the surrounding area.