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Book Reviews

#WavellReviews The Rise of Security by Mike Croll

The Rise of Security and Why We Always Want More is available from Universal Publishers.

Mike Croll’s text charts the rise of security and argues that the more security we have, the more we want: “Collectively, we are like a donkey trying to eat a carrot on the end of a stick that is harnessed to our neck….  We can never be free of worry, so we try to soothe ourselves with ever-increasing security measures”.  The rise of security is a trend for which Croll finds no simple explanation.  Alongside human instinct, there is also an alignment of the powerful interests of politicians, intelligence agencies, newspapers,  and the security and insurance industry.  Security, Croll suggests, has become a religion. 

Cover art from The Rise of Security

The Rise of Security explores this idea.  It is a compelling text, well-written, and comfortable to read.  But who is Mike Croll?  And is he credible?  Croll is a security expert with appointments across governments, international organisations, and corporations such as Facebook.  Whilst The Rise of Security is not an academic text, this does not dent the text’s credibility.  Academically the arguments can appear simplistic.  Croll chose not to footnote to balance readability.  A cynic may argue that correlation seems to equal causation throughout the text.  But that doesn’t make the book any less compelling or engaging.  

Insatiable appetite for security

Until the 1970s, you could fly on an aeroplane without ID and smoke with the pilot in the cockpit… then came hijacking.  Lawyers arrived with the notion of duty of care and ‘no win no fee’ business models.  The Rise of Security charts technological and social developments with how the security business has responded.  The counter to this, of course, is that many of us misunderstand human nature and that security is just one concern.  

Croll argues that the rise of TV and social media makes security news real.  For example, the Aberfan disaster was far less destructive than some events of its time, yet it shocked the UK.  For Croll, “Television took viewers to the scene and showed the devastation and the grief up close.  It was both compelling and disturbing”.  TV is one of the recurring things he uses to evidence the rise of security.  Even Hollywood isn’t spared with the glamour and danger of aircraft hijacking portrayed on the big screen being partly responsible for our desire for more security.

The Rise of Security adds grim detail and realism to these events.  His use of data to show that many of the things we secure against aren’t the dangerous challenges we believe they are.  Arguably, in doing so, he forgets the human angle. But Croll is not an emotionless robot and bases his argument in well established theory such as Maslow’ hierarchy of needs and sees psychology as a constand that makes us seek more security. Rutger Bregman’s Humankind comes immediately to mind as offering an alternative perspective in which the rise of security would not be as critical as a positive human mindset.  But such critique would be unfair and suggests we must prioritise viewing events as human tragedies instead of professional problems.  Are we securing against the right things?  Possibly not.


One of the reasons for the rise of security, according to Croll, is because security is popular with voters.  The 9/11’ security bonanza’ saw President George Bush’s ratings improve.  Croll quotes Bush’s infamous phrase “If you are not with us, you are against us,” underpinning the human nature argument of the marching increase of security.  Medieval Kings found similar results when they did similar things.

The role of industrial legislation to stop children working and the creation of the Health and Safety Executive demonstrate the role of policymakers and the law in increasing safety.  Croll’s own experience managing security at Facebook provides interesting anecdotes of how corporate culture is also changing.  There is tension between the rise of security,which always costs money, time and liberty, as Croll sees it, and the rise of efficiency and increasing productivity.  Croll sees everything as the rise of security.  Others may argue that the bottom line remains profit and productivity, which arguably isn’t the rise of security but of pragmatism and profit.  The Rise of Security walks the line between these themes with Croll’s experience and his data showing both are true. 

Intertwined into that argument are some stronger social narratives.  Many readers may believe variations of the rise of a nanny state.  At one point, The Rise of Security questions if Goldilocks would go into the wood today without a risk assessment?  British military readers will be well-versed in a corporate culture that needs spreadsheets to manage risk.  The duty of care narrative is explained with references to the law and the writer’s experience.  

Cynical power?

Croll also proposes a more cynical justification for the rise of security.  National intelligence communities, for example, find power in making people believe that they know something an ordinary person does not.  He argues, “Spooks realise (sic) that you have seen The Bourne Supremacy, and that whatever you imagine they know is much more exciting that what they do know”.  This highlights a greater discussion about who is responsible for security – governments, individuals, or business. 

The Rise of Security engages with the question.  Are businesses playing on fear?  Despite no real evidence of threat, the rise of CCTV and gated communities in recent years suggests that they are.  It helps underpin his central idea that needing more security is a human trend.  Is the rise of security linked to our intrinsic fears?  Croll thinks so.  But he highlights that security is big business worth billions of pounds annually.

His conclusion suggests nothing will change, and the rise of security will continue.  Croll’s forecasts for the future are for increasing data surveillance and near-total control of our lives as technology does more for us.  It may not all be bad, of course.  Cars with monitored driving are involved in 20% less accidents.  It can make us safer.  But, for Croll, “the irony is that, in the developed world, we have never lived in more secure times, yet we continue to strive for more”.  The rise of security or the rise of the real world with security following behind?  There are no real answers. 

Should you read it?

Yes.  It’s interesting.  The Rise of Security offers a compelling narrative and ideas as to why humans will look for more.  Will it change the way you view security?  Probably not.  You may end the book more cynical.  Or angry.  But you will likely agree with the central arguments of Croll’s text. 

The Wavell Room Team

The Wavell Room Team are a bunch of enthusiastic individuals who believe strongly in constructive debate, discussion and openness in order to arrive at a sound, non-bias and informed position on many subjects.  The team are all volunteers and support this non-profit in their own time.

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