The Hank Show: How a House-Painting, Drug-Running DEA Informant Built the Machine That Rules Our Lives (Hardcover)
The bizarre and captivating story of the most important person you've never heard of.
The world we live in today, where everything is tracked by corporations and governments, originates with one manic, elusive, utterly unique man—as prone to bullying as he was to fits of surpassing generosity and surprising genius. His name was Hank Asher, and his life was a strange and spectacular show that changed the course of the future.
In The Hank Show, critically acclaimed author and journalist McKenzie Funk relates Asher's stranger-than-fiction story—he careened from drug-running pilot to alleged CIA asset, only to be reborn as the pioneering computer programmer known as the father of data fusion. He was the multimillionaire whose creations now power a new reality where your every move is tracked by police departments, intelligence agencies, political parties, and financial firms alike. But his success was not without setbacks. He truly lived nine lives, on top of the world one minute, only to be forced out of the companies he founded and blamed for data breaches resulting in major lawsuits and market chaos.
In the vein of the blockbuster movie Catch Me if You Can, this spellbinding work of narrative nonfiction propels you forward on a forty year journey of intrigue and innovation, from Colombia to the White House and from Silicon Valley to the 2016 Trump campaign, focusing a lens on the dark side of American business and its impact on the everyday fabric of our modern lives.
"If there was a Mount Rushmore of the architects of the modern panopticon state, perhaps there should be a chiseled visage up there you probably don’t recognize: that of Hank Asher...The Hank Show succeeds in demonstrating how truly sinister the credit bureaus may actually be—worse even than Facebook."
—New York Times Book Review
"Beautifully reported, utterly fascinating, and often chilling, The Hank Show is the story of the brilliant madman who helped give computers the power to track each of us through our daily lives, or as Funk calls it, 'the power to know everything about someone without actually knowing them at all.'”
—Bethany McLean, co-author of The Smartest Guys in the Room
"McKenzie Funk chronicles the birth of Big Data through the story of Hank Asher, who may be the most important person you've never heard of. The Hank Show is deeply researched, thoroughly entertaining, and totally terrifying. Your every move is, indeed, being tracked."
—Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction
“This is one of those rare and mind-blowing books that changes how you see the world. McKenzie Funk has pulled back the curtain on a global surveillance machine that watches all of us, every day, around the clock. The most fascinating part is the actual wizard behind the curtain, Hank Asher himself, whose unbelievable life becomes more wild and fascinating with each turn of the page. Funk is an absolute master of nonfiction narrative, and here he is telling the story for our age.”
—Christopher Leonard, New York Times bestselling author of Kochland and The Lords of Easy Money
"The Hank Show is my favorite kind of book, basically a magic trick: A wildly entertaining, wind-in-your-hair yarn about a specific American weirdo that builds into something big and dark and urgent, a map of the hidden forces that constrain our freedoms and limit our lives. Funk's brilliant account stands alongside The Soul of a New Machine and Hackers as a classic of technology reporting. This may be the greatest Florida Man story ever told."
—Jason Fagone, bestselling author of The Woman Who Smashed Codes
"The Hank Show is so much fun to read that you can almost forget at times how frightening it is. That's OK—the surveillance systems Hank Asher helped create won't forget you. The book is thrilling, bracing, and brilliantly reported. McKenzie Funk has given us a truly original—and necessary—story of the end of privacy."
—Jeff Sharlet, New York Times bestselling author of The Undertow
"This is the story of a half-mad master of data, a crazed genius who figured out early on how to sneak into the lives of others on a grand scale. Hank Asher could be the hero of a science fiction fantasy. But in a world in which everything can be traded for money, his methods were real, legal, and very profitable—and ultimately superseded by a corporate America whose cupidity is even more unrestrained than he was. Funk’s research is impressive, the story fascinating and dreadful."
—Tracy Kidder, author of Rough Sleepers and The Soul of a New Machine
"A timely book that reads like a Hunter S. Thompson adventure."
"This is an account of how the lives of everyday Americans became transparent to the government, insurance companies, banks, fraudsters, and others...Excellent storytelling and impeccable research temper the paranoia that knowledge of Asher’s machines might provoke."
"[Asher] survives today through the legacy of his tech wizardry, which echoes through our current systems of investigative policing and numerous other data networks. Readers concerned with the modern dismantling of personal privacy and rampant data-gathering will be riveted by this meticulous report."
"An engaging, cautiously admiring, portrait of Hank Asher."
—Wall Street Journal
"We devoured this wild biography about the man who basically taught computers to spy on you. It tells the stranger-than-fiction story of Hank Asher, who leapfrogged from painting condos to trafficking drugs before he made waves as a programmer, developing systems that track all sorts of personal data. Journalist McKenzie Funk exuberantly describes Asher’s eccentricities and asks probing questions about how his work has contributed to undermining our privacy and our elections. You don’t need to know a thing about computer programming or data surveillance to enjoy The Hank Show. It’s an entertaining and whirlwind story about a bizarre visionary and his problematic legacy."