Monday, January 1, 2018

QUICK REVIEW: Lights Out by Ted Koppel


In this tour de force of investigative reporting, Ted Koppel reveals that a major cyberattack on America’s power grid is not only possible but likely, that it would be devastating, and that the United States is shockingly unprepared.
Imagine a blackout lasting not days, but weeks or months. Tens of millions of people over several states are affected. For those without access to a generator, there is no running water, no sewage, no refrigeration or light. Food and medical supplies are dwindling. Devices we rely on have gone dark. Banks no longer function, looting is widespread, and law and order are being tested as never before. 

It isn’t just a scenario. A well-designed attack on just one of the nation’s three electric power grids could cripple much of our infrastructure—and in the age of cyberwarfare, a laptop has become the only necessary weapon. Several nations hostile to the United States could launch such an assault at any time. In fact, as a former chief scientist of the NSA reveals, China and Russia have already penetrated the grid. And a cybersecurity advisor to President Obama believes that independent actors—from “hacktivists” to terrorists—have the capability as well. “It’s not a question of if,” says Centcom Commander General Lloyd Austin, “it’s a question of when.” 

And yet, as Koppel makes clear, the federal government, while well prepared for natural disasters, has no plan for the aftermath of an attack on the power grid.  The current Secretary of Homeland Security suggests keeping a battery-powered radio.

In the absence of a government plan, some individuals and communities have taken matters into their own hands. Among the nation’s estimated three million “preppers,” we meet one whose doomsday retreat includes a newly excavated three-acre lake, stocked with fish, and a Wyoming homesteader so self-sufficient that he crafted the thousands of adobe bricks in his house by hand. We also see the unrivaled disaster preparedness of the Mormon church, with its enormous storehouses, high-tech dairies, orchards, and proprietary trucking company – the fruits of a long tradition of anticipating the worst. But how, Koppel asks, will ordinary civilians survive?

With urgency and authority, one of our most renowned journalists examines a threat unique to our time and evaluates potential ways to prepare for a catastrophe that is all but inevitable.

Hardcover, 279 pages
Published October 27th 2015 by Crown
ISBN 055341996X (ISBN13: 9780553419962) 

About the Author

Edward James "Ted" Koppel is an English-born American broadcast journalist, best known as the anchor for Nightline from the program's inception in 1980 until his retirement in late 2005. After leaving Nightline, Koppel worked as managing editor for the Discovery Channel before resigning in 2008. Koppel is currently a senior news analyst for National Public Radio and the BBC. 

My Thoughts

I've been concerned with the stability and reliability of our electrical grid for some time now. A coworker and I have talked about how an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) or solar flare could kill all electronics in a given area. Do you have any idea what is "electronic" these days? Everything, including our cars! If an EMP hit a highly-populated area like New York or Los Angeles, most people would find themselves without electricity, cars, radios or phones. No power means no refrigeration, and people on medications that need to be refrigerated (like insulin for diabetics) would begin to die, there would be no incubators for babies or life support for patients in need. The only working automobiles would be old-fangled carburetor-driven vehicles. And getting power up again would be no easy feat. In the case of an EMP or solar flare or something that takes out transformers, it's possible that a densely-populated area could be without power for over a year, as new transformers would have to be manufactured and installed.

However this book addresses more the vulnerability our system has to hackers, and how other countries like Russia have already attempted to hack the system and come frighteningly close more than once. And we are doing alarmingly little to protect ourselves against hacking. 

This book does a great job of explaining our vulnerabilities, where we are failing, and what could be done to protect ourselves. This is an important book, and people need to be aware of the danger we face every day to being plunged back into the dark ages.

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My Rating:


The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

I received a copy of this book to review through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. 

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