Graphic Book Review: The Machine Never Blinks

From the prison thought experiment of the Panopticon (where every cell is visible to the guard) to today’s video street surveillance that uses face recognition algorithms, people have long and rightly worried about how to protect their privacy. In this graphic non-fiction book — The Machine Never Blinks: A Graphic History of Spying and Surveillance by Ivan Greenberg and Everett Patterson — the steady erosion of our privacy in public spheres is made evident and alarming.

Greenberg and Patterson have a progressive agenda here — it’s that the government should never be trusted with our data and that citizens must act against invasion of privacy and remain vigilant against such intrusions — and the stories of generations of spying on citizens is nothing new. Gathered in this one book, the collective stories become a powerful indictment of how technology has increased the pace of our loss of privacy and data — some of which we have willingly given up (social media, etc.) and some of which we have allowed our government to do in the guise of safety.

I’m not convinced the graphic format is the right format for this topic, however. In this book, the pages are crammed with text, reducing the reader’s ability to absorb the visual information. Which is why one would use a graphic novel format in the first place. I wish they had done more to leverage the use of the visuals on the page. In too many frames, it’s just people talking with speech bubbles or overflowing text boxes. I understand there is a lot of information to get out, but  better use of symbolic visualization and experimental art would have helped make the point, in my opinion.

And the point of the book is important and for those of us concerned about privacy and data, The Machine Never Blinks is another look at the topic. This book would appropriate for high school students but might be too dense with concepts and vocabulary for younger readers.

Peace (pushing back),


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