A Gift of Fire:
Social, legal, and ethical issues for computers and the Internet

Sara Baase

Prentice Hall 2002
A book review by Danny Yee © 1997 http://dannyreviews.com/
In A Gift of Fire Sara Baase attempts to cover the range of social, legal, and ethical issues raised by computing. She begins with an overview, looking at the ubiquity of computers, the rapid pace of change, and the recurrence of old problems in new contexts. To counter the mostly negative coverage of "issues", her introduction also offers a survey of the benefits of computing. Separate and largely independent chapters then cover privacy, encryption and interception, reliability and risks, freedom of speech, intellectual property, computer crime, work, broader social issues, and professional ethics.

With exercises, assignments, class activities, and reading lists at the end of each chapter, along with extensive references, A Gift of Fire is clearly intended for use as a textbook. It should be just as usable outside the classroom, however, at least for those who prefer a formal approach that eschews the sensational.

Much is omitted, understandably, but the breadth of coverage is still impressive and there is a good selection of examples. Baase doesn't shy from controversy, but manages to provide a balance between different views, often suggesting them as subjects for classroom activities. Key points are well brought out and explained, and the layout is clear and effective.

Changes from the first (1997) edition mostly involve updates and additions. There's a greatly extended section on computer models, for example, which looks at how climate models influence policy (in "reliability and risks"). The work is still US-focused, but less so than the first edition — the European Union and the Echelon monitoring system are covered, and the international complications of censorship brought out.

June 1997 [updated 2 January 2004]

External links:
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
- information from Sara Baase
Related reviews:
- books about computing
- books about law
- books published by Prentice Hall
%T A Gift of Fire
%S Social, legal, and ethical issues for computers and the Internet
%A Baase, Sara
%I Prentice Hall
%D 2002
%O paperback, 2nd edition, exercises, references, index
%G ISBN 0130082155
%P xv,464pp