In the first chapter of The Whistleblower’s Dilemma, author Richard Rashke lays out the book’s project: to examine the lives of two famous – or, depending on who you ask, infamous – whistleblowers in an attempt to draw some conclusions about whistleblowing in general. What motivates whistleblowers? Are they heroes, villains, or a complex combination of the two? Is whistleblowing ultimately worth the consequences, both for the whistleblower and for the world in general? The Whistleblower’s Dilemma, while certainly interesting and thoroughly readable, does little to answer those questions.
Rashke focuses on two subjects in his book: Karen Silkwood, whose revelations about the misdeeds of the Atomic Energy Council may have resulted in her death, and Edward Snowden, who shocked the world when he released classified government documents about the NSA’s extensive electronic surveillance programs. Rashke’s research is thorough, and his writing style – which tends more toward true-crime journalism than detached scholarship – easily draws the reader into the biographies of these two individuals. However, he does little to connect the two narratives; or, unfortunately, draw any meaningful conclusions about the phenomenon of whistleblowing or the psychology of whistleblowers.
The Whistleblower’s Dilemma is Rashke’s second foray into the life and death of Karen Silkwood (the first being 1981’s The Killing of Karen Silkwood), and as a result, the Silkwood chapters are better developed than those dealing with Snowden. This, coupled with the lack of any real attempt at synthesizing – or, for that matter, analyzing – the two stories in comparison to each other, makes the book feel like a semi-arbitrary combination of two mini-biographies rather than an in-depth exploration of a larger phenomenon. Each individual biography is interesting and informative, and Rashke’s conversational tone and real-life thriller pacing makes for an enjoyable reading experience. Bottom line: The Whistleblower’s Dilemma is certainly worth a read – especially for those who enjoy a good conspiracy. However, readers looking for a deep sociological or psychological analysis of the whistleblower phenomenon should look elsewhere.
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