A NEW YORK TIMES TOP TEN BOOK OF THE YEAR • A wild, humane, and hilarious meditation on post-privacy America—from the acclaimed author of Thrown
"At 25, [Reality] Winner—yoga teacher, beloved sister, AR-15 owner—was sentenced to five years in prison for leaking classified documents about a Russian election attack. Howley deftly analyzes the brutal, surreal conditions that underlie this drama and the way that they implicate all of us.”
Who are you? You are data about data. You are a map of connections—a culmination of everything you have ever posted, searched, emailed, liked, and followed. In this groundbreaking work of narrative nonfiction, Kerry Howley investigates the curious implications of living in the age of the indelible. Bottoms Up and the Devil Laughs tells the true story of intelligence specialist Reality Winner, a lone young woman who stuffs a state secret under her skirt and trusts the wrong people to help. After printing five pages of dangerous information she was never supposed to see, Winner finds herself at the mercy of forces more invasive than she could have possibly imagined.
Following Winner’s unlikely journey from rural Texas to a federal courtroom, Howley maps a hidden world, drawing in John Walker Lindh, Lady Gaga, Edward Snowden, a rescue dog named Outlaw Babyface Nelson, and a mother who will do whatever it takes to get her daughter out of jail. Howley’s subjects face a challenge new to history: they are imprisoned by their past selves, trapped for as long as the Internet endures. A soap opera set in the deep state, Bottoms Up and the Devil Laughs is a free fall into a world where everything is recorded and nothing is sacred, from a singular writer unafraid to ask essential questions about the strangeness of modern life.
In this fascinating dispatch from the height of the surveillance age, Howley (Thrown) expands on her New York magazine profile of Reality Winner, the intelligence specialist who leaked classified reports on Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. Born in Texas in 1991, Winner was a "comically mature adolescent... with a compulsive drive to improve herself." Skilled with foreign languages, she joined the Air Force after high school and learned Dari, Pashto, and Farsi; assigned to the drone program, she sat "in a cubicle in Maryland and eavesdropped on Pakistani men day after day." After her honorable discharge from the military, Winner was hired by an NSA contractor to translate intercepted communications related to Iran's aerospace program. Her security clearance gave her access to a top-secret report on Russian efforts to hack into U.S. election systems, which she leaked to the Intercept in 2017. Based on extensive interviews with Winner, her family, and her friends, and enriched by incisive character sketches of Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and other whistleblowers, Howley reveals how the gravest threat to the national security state has become "ideological, morally serious twentysomethings finding themselves as they sifted through secrets their younger selves had promised to keep." Witty, humane, and fiercely intelligent, this is a striking critique of a world intent on "burying itself" in information.