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Celebrities Wielding Books: Why Was Julian Assange Holding Gore Vidal’s “History of the National Security State”?

After seven years spent holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Julian Assange was arrested by U.K. authorities on Thursday, on charges of failing to surrender to the courts and also on a U.S. extradition warrant. Footage of the arrest was dramatic, like something out of a John le Carré novel: a cloudy morning, a quiet London street with a red postbox on the corner, a struggling man dragged bodily into a police van as he shouted about the unlawfulness of what was happening.

When the footage circulated on social media and news outlets around the world, much of the immediate commentary centered on Assange’s evident physical decline. He was described as “haggard,” “dazed,” “disheveled,” and “frail-looking.” While a focus on his appearance may have seemed trivial, given the wider issues at stake, it wasn’t necessarily unusual or out of keeping, since Assange’s style choices—the leather biker jackets, the severe part given to his prematurely gray hair—have always been a statement of one kind or another. Before his retreat to the Ecuadorian Embassy, and throughout much of the seven years he spent inside it, he exuded a faintly paint-by-numbers “edginess,” a hacker-hipster straight out of central casting with a rotating selection of complicated-looking jackets.

While the grainy video of his arrest did not allow for much analysis of the clothes that Assange was wearing, the book in his hand sent a message that was clearly legible. He was carrying, face up, a copy of Gore Vidal’s “History of the National Security State.” The book was published in 2014, two years after Vidal’s death, and consists of a transcribed discussion between Vidal and Paul Jay, the editor of the Real News Network, a nonprofit news organization. Per

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