Review: Lights Out by Ted Koppel

Title: Lights Out
Author: Ted Koppel
Pages: 280
Genre: Non-fiction
Source: Free ARC from Blogging for Books

Rating: A

Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review (and trust me, honest is always what you’ll get).

Summary: In this hyper-connected digital age, our lives revolve around technology, the majority of which depends on electricity. The systems that deliver that electricity are also computerized and networked, and therefore vulnerable to cyberattack. So what would happen if such a cyberattack were to take place? Is it possible to take down a major electrical grid with a virus or some other form of cyberattack? What are we doing to prevent such an attack? What would be the aftermath of such an attack? What is the government prepared to do in the wake of such a disaster? These are just a few of the questions examined by Ted Koppel in his book Lights Out.

Review: Like most Americans, I haven’t given a lot of thought to how it is that my lights turn on every time I flick a switch, or how dependent I am on the internet to manage my everyday life. When I do lose access to electricity – usually from a storm (I live in the northeast) or some sort of accident that took out a pole – I feel immediately frustrated and cut off from the world, but also feel certain that it will only be a few hours of inconvenience. When it takes longer than expected, I start to worry about food going bad in the fridge/freezer. What will I do when my cell phone runs out of power (we have VOIP at home – no landline)? But the power usually magically turns back on before any of that is much of an issue, and once it’s over, I forget about it and move on. But what if it didn’t magically turn back on after a few hours? What if the power was out for a week? Or a month? Or a couple of months? What if instead of the power being out on my street or my block, it was out in the entire city for an extended period of time? What if it was the whole state? What if it was several states? Or the entire eastern seaboard? What if it was New York City or DC?

Ted Koppel does a really wonderful job of explaining how such a catastrophe could happen, and what very little is being done to counteract or prepare for such a horrific event. And it would be horrific. Especially in urban areas. It wouldn’t be long before we would run out of food and gas (need electricity to get it out of the underground storage tanks). If it was winter, shelter would quickly become an issue. We saw what happened during Hurricane’s Katrina and Sandy. Generators only last so long and not everyone has one. Very few people know how to survive without the conveniences of modern life. If we had to live without them indefinitely, which is what would happen if there were a cyberattack that took down a major grid, it wouldn’t be like before chaos set in.

Are there things that could be done to prevent such an attack? What is being done to prepare for the long-term impacts of a cyberattack? The answers are much more complicated than you might think. But Koppel does a fabulous job of explaining it all, in a very approachable and interesting way. Non-fiction is not my bag, but this is a topic that should be seriously discussed, one that we should all be thinking about, and this book brings the topic to the surface in a concrete way. It’s really a problem that we have ignored entirely too long, and who know what continuing to put our heads in the sand is going to cost us.


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