The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man (Guardian/Faber & Faber, 2014) by Luke Harding is a hack job in the purest sense of the term. Pieced together from secondary sources and written with minimal additional research to be the first to market, the book’s thrifty origins are hard to miss.
The Guardian is a curiously inward-looking beast. If any other institution tried to market its own experience of its own work nearly as persistently as The Guardian, it would surely be called out for institutional narcissism. But because The Guardian is an embarrassingly central institution within the moribund “left-of-center” wing of the U.K. establishment, everyone holds their tongue. […]
Notoriously, as the Moscow bureau chief for The Guardian, Harding used to ply his trade ripping off work by other Moscow-based journalists before his plagiarism was pointed out by The eXile‘s Mark Ames and Yasha Levine, from whom he had misappropriated entire paragraphs without alteration. For this he was awarded “plagiarist of the year” by Private Eye in 2007.
But—disciplined by experience—he covers his tracks much more effectively here. This book thereby avoids the charge of naked plagiarism.
Yet the conclusion cannot be resisted that this work is painfully derivative. Snowden has never spoken to Harding. The two have never met. The story is largely pieced together from more original work by James Risen, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Peter Maas, Janet Reitman, writers from the South China Morning Post and others.
The subtitle of the book, “The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man,” is therefore disingenuous. If this is an inside story of Snowden, then anyone can write an inside story of anything.
Something in me has to applaud the chutzpah. There simply isn’t a book here. Tangents and trivia serve as desperate page-filler, padding out scarce source material to book length. We are subjected to routine detours through Snowden’s historical namesakes, rehearsals of the plot of the James Bond movie Skyfall and lengthy forays into Harding’s pedestrian view of Soviet history.
Elsewhere, Harding runs out of external material to recycle and begins to rehash his own, best evidenced in the almost identical Homeric introductions Harding’s boss, Alan Rusbridger, receives every time he arrives on the page. […]