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American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road

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The unbelievable true story of the man who built a billion-dollar online drug empire from his bedroom—and almost got away with it. In 2011, a twenty-six-year-old libertarian programmer named Ross Ulbricht launched the ultimate free market: the Silk Road, a clandestine Web site hosted on the Dark Web where anyone could trade anything—drugs, hacking software, forged passport The unbelievable true story of the man who built a billion-dollar online drug empire from his bedroom—and almost got away with it. In 2011, a twenty-six-year-old libertarian programmer named Ross Ulbricht launched the ultimate free market: the Silk Road, a clandestine Web site hosted on the Dark Web where anyone could trade anything—drugs, hacking software, forged passports, counterfeit cash, poisons—free of the government’s watchful eye. It wasn’t long before the media got wind of the new Web site where anyone—not just teenagers and weed dealers but terrorists and black hat hackers—could buy and sell contraband detection-free. Spurred by a public outcry, the federal government launched an epic two-year manhunt for the site’s elusive proprietor, with no leads, no witnesses, and no clear jurisdiction. All the investigators knew was that whoever was running the site called himself the Dread Pirate Roberts. The Silk Road quickly ballooned into $1.2 billion enterprise, and Ross embraced his new role as kingpin. He enlisted a loyal crew of allies in high and low places, all as addicted to the danger and thrill of running an illegal marketplace as their customers were to the heroin they sold. Through his network he got wind of the target on his back and took drastic steps to protect himself—including ordering a hit on a former employee. As Ross made plans to disappear forever, the Feds raced against the clock to catch a man they weren’t sure even existed, searching for a needle in the haystack of the global Internet. Drawing on exclusive access to key players and two billion digital words and images Ross left behind, Vanity Fair correspondent and New York Times bestselling author Nick Bilton offers a tale filled with twists and turns, lucky breaks and unbelievable close calls. It’s a story of the boy next door’s ambition gone criminal, spurred on by the clash between the new world of libertarian-leaning, anonymous, decentralized Web advocates and the old world of government control, order, and the rule of law. Filled with unforgettable characters and capped by an astonishing climax, American Kingpin might be dismissed as too outrageous for fiction. But it’s all too real.


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The unbelievable true story of the man who built a billion-dollar online drug empire from his bedroom—and almost got away with it. In 2011, a twenty-six-year-old libertarian programmer named Ross Ulbricht launched the ultimate free market: the Silk Road, a clandestine Web site hosted on the Dark Web where anyone could trade anything—drugs, hacking software, forged passport The unbelievable true story of the man who built a billion-dollar online drug empire from his bedroom—and almost got away with it. In 2011, a twenty-six-year-old libertarian programmer named Ross Ulbricht launched the ultimate free market: the Silk Road, a clandestine Web site hosted on the Dark Web where anyone could trade anything—drugs, hacking software, forged passports, counterfeit cash, poisons—free of the government’s watchful eye. It wasn’t long before the media got wind of the new Web site where anyone—not just teenagers and weed dealers but terrorists and black hat hackers—could buy and sell contraband detection-free. Spurred by a public outcry, the federal government launched an epic two-year manhunt for the site’s elusive proprietor, with no leads, no witnesses, and no clear jurisdiction. All the investigators knew was that whoever was running the site called himself the Dread Pirate Roberts. The Silk Road quickly ballooned into $1.2 billion enterprise, and Ross embraced his new role as kingpin. He enlisted a loyal crew of allies in high and low places, all as addicted to the danger and thrill of running an illegal marketplace as their customers were to the heroin they sold. Through his network he got wind of the target on his back and took drastic steps to protect himself—including ordering a hit on a former employee. As Ross made plans to disappear forever, the Feds raced against the clock to catch a man they weren’t sure even existed, searching for a needle in the haystack of the global Internet. Drawing on exclusive access to key players and two billion digital words and images Ross left behind, Vanity Fair correspondent and New York Times bestselling author Nick Bilton offers a tale filled with twists and turns, lucky breaks and unbelievable close calls. It’s a story of the boy next door’s ambition gone criminal, spurred on by the clash between the new world of libertarian-leaning, anonymous, decentralized Web advocates and the old world of government control, order, and the rule of law. Filled with unforgettable characters and capped by an astonishing climax, American Kingpin might be dismissed as too outrageous for fiction. But it’s all too real.

30 review for American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Shaw

    I don't have the energy or will to write an actual review but I will say this: I started the book and then I finished the book. There may have been a bathroom break in there but this book had me from beginning to end.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Olivier Schreiber

    Ross's mother wrote the following: A book called American Kingpin by Nick Bilton claims to be the “unbelievable true story” of my son, Ross Ulbricht. After reading an online adaptation, I agree: It’s unbelievable. Just the headline and subhead demonstrate the hyperbole, sensationalism and inaccuracy of this coverage: It calls the case a “murder mystery,” yet no murders occurred. The Silk Road was not a “billion-dollar enterprise.” The government says the site’s total revenue was a fraction of that ( Ross's mother wrote the following: A book called American Kingpin by Nick Bilton claims to be the “unbelievable true story” of my son, Ross Ulbricht. After reading an online adaptation, I agree: It’s unbelievable. Just the headline and subhead demonstrate the hyperbole, sensationalism and inaccuracy of this coverage: It calls the case a “murder mystery,” yet no murders occurred. The Silk Road was not a “billion-dollar enterprise.” The government says the site’s total revenue was a fraction of that ($183,961,921, 82% less). Ross is not “dangerous.” All his convictions were non-violent. He has no record of hurting anyone. No victims came forward at trial to claim that Ross had harmed them in any way. Rather, he is widely known as peaceful and compassionate. Read what 100 people who actually know him have to say. And that’s just the headline! Other points: Bilton portrays Ross as having arranged murder-for-hire, yet this was never proven and Ross was not charged with this at trial. Note: There is a 3-year-old, unprosecuted indictment in Maryland based on the word of ex-DEA agent Carl Mark Force. Force is now in prison for corruption along with ex-NSA/Secret Service agent Shaun Bridges. As computer experts, these two agents had unfettered access to the site and the ability to act as DPR, change evidence, steal money and more. Bilton conflates Dread Pirate Roberts and Ross. Yet, as Ross’ appeal states on page six, the government did not produce a single witness to authenticate a connection between Ross and any of the communications attributable to DPR. Note: The question of multiple DPRs was touched on (and blocked) at trial, yet recent evidence shows that someone using the DPR account logged into the Silk Road seven weeks after Ross was arrested. Who was that? In addition, evidence of tampering of the Silk Road forum database has been discovered. None of this is mentioned. Ross is not a computer programmer or coder and never was. Bilton extensively quotes Ross’ journal. Yet, as technical experts know, digital evidence is vulnerable to planting, deleting, altering. Incriminating content could have easily been planted when Ross was arrested (he was on an open source network), or at other times before or after. There are many issues with the laptop investigation, among them: the laptop crashed during investigation and one agent testified that he didn’t follow the guidelines when investigating it. Ross is not violent. He is not a murderer. He is a danger to no one and should not be locked away, especially for life. I think Nick Bilton knows this, as he emailed me the following: “I’ve spent a hundred hours talking to people who knew Ross over the years, and what I find truly remarkable is that there hasn’t been a single person who disliked him. People have told me he was kind, thoughtful, compassionate, and how he was helpful and caring to everyone, especially to those in society that most people judge and ignore.” – Nick Bilton Yet, presumably for money, Bilton has used unproven allegations to produce a book that smears a man who is fighting for his life. Ross cannot defend himself or his reputation against this media onslaught. He is helpless to stop the feeding frenzy, sensationalizing, fictionalizing and profiting from his life. He’s just trying to survive yet another day in a cage, trusting that the appellate court cares more about the truth than the media does.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Smith

    Ross Ulbricht, born in Texas in 1984, is a libertarian and one of his staple beliefs is that people should be able to put into their bodies whatever they wish, including any type of drug they choose. To this end, he believes that the sale of drugs should be decriminalised. So it’s probably not that surprising that this highly educated individual (bachelor’s degree in physics and masters degree in materials science and engineering) would be attracted to the idea of building an online site to prov Ross Ulbricht, born in Texas in 1984, is a libertarian and one of his staple beliefs is that people should be able to put into their bodies whatever they wish, including any type of drug they choose. To this end, he believes that the sale of drugs should be decriminalised. So it’s probably not that surprising that this highly educated individual (bachelor’s degree in physics and masters degree in materials science and engineering) would be attracted to the idea of building an online site to provide a service supplying drugs to anyone willing to stump up the appropriate cost. This he did, with the site being situated on the darknet and accessible via a browser called Tor. Payments were to be made using the cryptocurrency bitcoin, as with due care transactions could thereby be conducted with relative anonymity. The drug suppliers who utilised this site (it was similar in set-up to eBay or Amazon) simply sent the product to customers via the standard mail system, with Ulbricht collecting a commission on all sales. This book tells the story of Ulbricht’s ‘adventure’ as he progresses from Texas Boy Scout to becoming, effectively, the largest online supplier of drugs in the world – and in the process a multi-millionaire. There’s a great deal of research behind this real life tale, the detail of which is documented at the end of the book. The story is told, however, in narrative form and it therefore has the flow and feel of a fictional tale. I liked this way of taking in events as it kept the suspense element alive, even though it was ever evident that Ulbricht would not escape eventual capture. The site (given the name Silk Road) was launched in 2011 and initially, because individual purchases tended to be for small amounts of the chosen drug, delivery was relatively problem free. Even when packages were considered suspicious and intercepted, the fact that they contained such a small amount of the drug (sometimes as little as a single tablet) ensured that authorities weren’t inclined to launch an investigation to track down the supplier – they were after bigger fish. Eventually that would change as federal agencies learnt more about the aggregate volumes being shipped via this supply route. For me there were two key points of interest: 1. I enjoyed the story of Ross: how he developed this idea and, using admirable entrepreneurial drive, built a massive money spinning business. We’re introduced some really interesting characters and get a feel for how ruthless he’s forced to become to avoid capture and to protect his site from hackers and other undesirables. 2. The parallel effort of various agencies to track down the operators of the site and the drug traffickers who used the site to sell their wares is, at times, a Keystone Kops tale of mistakes, clashing egos, inter-agency rivalries and crooked agents. If it wasn’t true it’d be hilarious! Of course they got their man in the end, but it was anything but a smooth operation. It’s a fascinating story on a number of levels – certainly one to catch if the subject matter in any way floats your boat.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jason Pettus

    DECLINED TO REVIEW. Generally speaking, it's a pretty typical phenomenon that when we get interested in a nonfiction book because of the subject it's covering, most of us are willing to put up with pretty lousy actual writing in order to read more about that subject, with me being no exception. But man, I just reached my limit when it came to Nick Bilton's American Kingpin, which takes on an utterly fascinating subject (it chronicles the rise and fall of "dark web" location Silk Road, one of the DECLINED TO REVIEW. Generally speaking, it's a pretty typical phenomenon that when we get interested in a nonfiction book because of the subject it's covering, most of us are willing to put up with pretty lousy actual writing in order to read more about that subject, with me being no exception. But man, I just reached my limit when it came to Nick Bilton's American Kingpin, which takes on an utterly fascinating subject (it chronicles the rise and fall of "dark web" location Silk Road, one of the first-ever sites to take advantage of the anonymous and untraceable BitCoin in order to let people openly buy illegal drugs), but then presents the journalistic story in the prose of a narrative fiction novel, doing that hackneyed trick of making up dialogue that the author couldn't possibly know actually took place in order to "make the story feel more real." (So in other words, instead of simply telling us that Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht was a libertarian, like any decent journalist should've, Bilton decides to write out an entire made-up debate between Ulbricht and his stoner roommates about libertarianism, despite Bilton not knowing whether such a discussion ever actually took place, or what actual words might or might not have been said during this hypothetical conversation that may or may not have ever happened.) Like I said, I've read journalistic books like this before, and have generally stuck in there because the subject being covered was just too interesting not to, despite this being literally the hackiest, most eye-rolling way humanly possible to tell a non-fiction story. The deal-breaking problem here, though, is that Bilton is an unbearably, unreadably shitty fucking prose writer; and I barely made it even 40 pages into this book before angrily throwing it in the trashcan and audibly cursing Bilton for taking such an interesting subject and turning it into such a heartbreakingly awful book. I no longer publish reviews at my arts center's blog, or give scores here at Goodreads, to books I didn't finish; but suffice to say that American Kingpin went way beyond me simply disliking it, and into the realm of becoming personally furious at the author, for his refusal to write a simple journalistic account of a subject I had been highly looking forward to learning more about. Unless you enjoy prose at the level of a 13-year-old taking a junior-high-school Creative Writing 101 class, avoid this book at all costs.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    It would be exaggerating to say that I found this book a struggle, but it didn’t hold my interest as much as I had expected. I seem to be in a minority on that, as other reviewers describe the book as a page turner. For my part, there was a particular element to it that reduced my overall enjoyment. True crime isn’t a genre I turn to very often, but this did look like an interesting story. I was vaguely aware of the Silk Road website when it was active, but I’d never heard of Ross Ulbricht until It would be exaggerating to say that I found this book a struggle, but it didn’t hold my interest as much as I had expected. I seem to be in a minority on that, as other reviewers describe the book as a page turner. For my part, there was a particular element to it that reduced my overall enjoyment. True crime isn’t a genre I turn to very often, but this did look like an interesting story. I was vaguely aware of the Silk Road website when it was active, but I’d never heard of Ross Ulbricht until reading the book. Initially the author portrays him quite sympathetically, as a libertarian who was genuinely outraged at the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of people in the US purely because of their involvement with drugs. The arguments around this issue are well-known and I don’t propose to go into them here. It seems that Ulbricht initially saw the Silk Road website as a place where he could make a bit of a profit hosting a platform where people could sell weed and magic mushrooms via mail order, which would also have the benefit of allowing buyers to avoid the dangers of dealing with street dealers. The site soon exploded into something far bigger than Ulbricht had ever imagined, where people traded all sorts of hard drugs as well as fake IDs, forged passports, computer hacking tools, counterfeit cash, and weapons, apparently up to and including rocket launchers. (That last reference did have me wondering how much delivery charge the U.S. postal service would put on a rocket launcher). The story gets even stranger with the involvement of a corrupt DEA official who sold information to Ulbricht, and another DEA official who straight out stole money from the Silk Road site. Ulbricht is portrayed as a man who allowed his libertarian philosophy to blind him to the harm the website was causing. My main problem with the book was that all the way through it the author describes, in great detail, conversations and meetings where he wasn’t present. He even describes the internal feelings of those involved. This gives the book the feel of a novel, but it is badged as non-fiction and the obvious question is “How does he know these things?” In fairness, he did interview many of the participants, who might have told him of events, but at no point does the author provide any sources for the conversations he reports. In addition, he was unsuccessful in getting an interview with Ross Ulbricht, so I am puzzled, for example, by the following extract, describing Ulbricht’s reaction to being arrested: “Ross sat staring at a concrete wall, frightened by where he found himself but unfazed by how long he might be in jail. He had played through this scenario a thousand times before.” Paragraphs like the above definitely blur the line between fiction and non-fiction, and left me doubting the overall authenticity of the book. Not a comment on the book itself, but I was astonished to read, near the end, that Ulbricht had been sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. To a non-American this seems like a harsh sentence for a first-time offender. Where I live in Scotland, nobody, no matter how depraved their crime, would ever be sentenced to life without possibility of parole. It is possible to receive such a sentence in England and Wales, but they are only ever handed down to those found guilty of multiple killings or particularly vile crimes such as the rape and murder of children. Customs vary. For me, 2.5 stars rounded up to three.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ammar

    This book that reads like a thriller is pure joy and information. The author did a great job creating all the events based on primary documents and interviews with the people who took down The Silk Road. An adventure into the dark web, Tor, drugs, murders, an all you can buy from illegal bazaar. Ross Ulbricht the mastermind behind this massive network of drugs and other activities is hunted down by an array of government services and agents. His libertarian ideas that nothing should be controlled This book that reads like a thriller is pure joy and information. The author did a great job creating all the events based on primary documents and interviews with the people who took down The Silk Road. An adventure into the dark web, Tor, drugs, murders, an all you can buy from illegal bazaar. Ross Ulbricht the mastermind behind this massive network of drugs and other activities is hunted down by an array of government services and agents. His libertarian ideas that nothing should be controlled by the government gave him the seed to start this project that ravelled anything ever seen in our time. This book is so well written than anyone who dislikes nonfiction would like it and anyone who loves a good chase and a good thriller would eat the whole thing out. Ross is a kingpin.. a mobster of the 21st century

  7. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    Shelve this in the category of truth is often stranger than fiction… This is a fast-paced, well-researched and documented account of the man who built the Silk Road--the infamous marketplace for selling drugs and weapons on the dark web--and it reads like a suspense thriller. Written in a narrative nonfiction style, Bilton delivers one of the most compelling true crime books I’ve listened to replete with characters tailor made for a Quentin Tarantino movie. Ross Ulrich, the self-titled Dread Pirat Shelve this in the category of truth is often stranger than fiction… This is a fast-paced, well-researched and documented account of the man who built the Silk Road--the infamous marketplace for selling drugs and weapons on the dark web--and it reads like a suspense thriller. Written in a narrative nonfiction style, Bilton delivers one of the most compelling true crime books I’ve listened to replete with characters tailor made for a Quentin Tarantino movie. Ross Ulrich, the self-titled Dread Pirate Roberts, is the consummate free thinker, but also incredibly naïve and ultimately a cunning criminal. The genesis of how he goes from Libertarian college dropout to becoming the mastermind of one of the most nefarious websites in the world is bone chilling. Mix in agents from the DEA, FBI, Homeland Security and even the IRS (remember that’s how Al Capone was eventually brought down) and you have all of the elements for a riveting read. I’m not giving it the full five because in the author’s attempt to make this more of a narrative, he inserts dialogue that often comes off a bit corny and I felt there was a bit of padding in the middle. But those are minor quibbles for a book that is this gripping, all the more so because it is true. Highly recommended if you’re a fan of true crime nonfiction. Side note and further adventures in the bizarre: The second most liked review of this book posts one star, is not actually a review but a comment purportedly made by Ulrich’s mother professing his innocence and posted by a person whose bookshelves include only this book. All seemingly part of the campaign to free Ulrich. And the comments section? Make sure you wear your tin foil hat, the conspiracy theorists are in full force.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dino-Jess ✮ The Book Eating Dinosaur ✮

    I have a confession to make..... I had never heard of the black market website Silk Road until sometime last year. When an interpretation of the site was featured on Mr Robot's second season, my friend sent me a message that said "DPR!" with no other explanation. When I mentioned that I didn't know what he was referring to, he sent me to this wonderful article that helped bring me up to speed. And from then on, I was fascinated with this story. When I found out that American Kingpin was yet to be I have a confession to make..... I had never heard of the black market website Silk Road until sometime last year. When an interpretation of the site was featured on Mr Robot's second season, my friend sent me a message that said "DPR!" with no other explanation. When I mentioned that I didn't know what he was referring to, he sent me to this wonderful article that helped bring me up to speed. And from then on, I was fascinated with this story. When I found out that American Kingpin was yet to be released, I was so eager to read something by Nick Bilton, that I bought his other book, Hatching Twitter and loved it so much I immediately began worrying that this one wouldn't stack up. And it didn't. Not quite. I really think I did myself a disservice in reading extensively about the Silk Road and DPR before embarking on this book - as I knew all the twists and turns in this story ahead of time. That is not to say that Nick Bilton doesn't deliver a fantastic, if a little overwhelming, narrative of events in this. He does such a superb job of delivering facts, figures and tidbits of information that at times you might actually scratch your head and wonder how on earth he got his hands on this type of information. Never fear - he explains the entire research process at the end of the book which I found incredibly enlightening and mildly astonishing. But what I enjoyed the most was that even though Ross Ulbricht was not talked to for this book, I feel like I know and understand the so-called mastermind behind Silk Road for having read it. His beliefs, trials and tribulations were woven together with such coherency that even though I knew how this story played out, I wanted him to triumph. I wanted the ending of this story to be different. Nick Bilton sure knows how to tell a story. His attention to detail is incredible and even when explaining complex and overwhelming computer systems, coding and all sorts of other technological jargon, his writing style is so readable that you will zoom through the pages faster than you thought possible. At first I wasn't sure about how short some of the chapters were, and the ends of some of them didn't leave me NEEDING to continue reading right away. But with so much of the story to be set up, it's understandable why the story was written this way. It's a fascinating story that I will likely read again, because it very subtly makes you question your beliefs, morals and integrity as it paints you a portrait of a small idea taken to the grandest of scales and turned awry as a result of its successes. I guess the most important part of me reading this book is that even though the entire thing was a giant neon flashing sign of Ross's guilt - with his association to the sales of drugs, guns and anything else illegal that the Silk Road wanted to dabble in.... At the end of the day I am not entirely convinced that Ross Ulbricht is DPR. Because... "There could be more than one Dread Pirate Roberts, like the old tale in The Princess Bride." 4 Stars Nick Bilton, I will read your shopping lists. You are a unicorn.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jess

    It reads like it was written by a 16 year old who had to come up with something quickly for their English homework. So cliche and plays into so many stereotypes! I really wanted to get on with this book and had expectations due to the other reviews on here but ended up very disappointed.

  10. 4 out of 5

    SAM

    "The Silk Road, after all, was just the platform - no different from Facebook or Twitter or Ebay - on which users communicated and exchanged ideas and currency. So who was DPR to err on the side of anything but yes? It wasn't as if twitter dictated what kind of opinions people could and could not write in the little box at the top of the screen. If you wanted to spew brilliance or idiocy in 140 characters, then so be it. It was your God-given right to say what you wanted on the Internet, in "The Silk Road, after all, was just the platform - no different from Facebook or Twitter or Ebay - on which users communicated and exchanged ideas and currency. So who was DPR to err on the side of anything but yes? It wasn't as if twitter dictated what kind of opinions people could and could not write in the little box at the top of the screen. If you wanted to spew brilliance or idiocy in 140 characters, then so be it. It was your God-given right to say what you wanted on the Internet, in the same way it was your God-given right to buy or sell whatever you wanted and put it into your body – if you chose.” It's interesting that i write this review the day after 'AlphaBay' and 'Hansa', two more Silk Road-esque websites, were closed down. It's like the mythical monster Hydra 'cut off one head, two more shall grow back' (yes, i stole this from Captain America! Whatever!). I wonder if Ross Ulbricht is sitting in his jail cell now smiling at this mornings news and the drug-revolution he started. A few years ago one of my work colleagues says to me 'i see they closed The Silk Road down', to which my response was 'what are you talking about?'. Although i briefly looked, i wasn't really interested, as back then i'd rather spend my time looking at conspiracies such as Nibiru and other pointless shit. Thankfully I've grown out of all that and concentrate my time on the truth, as it makes for much more interesting reading. In 2016 i saw the documentary 'Deep Web', which looks at Silk Road, Tor and the darker side of the internet; a fascinating film. I'm one of those people who will happily read about the seedy, dark, grim, dirty, tainted underworld side of the internet but would never take that step into downloading software like Tor. To me it's a step too far. My only concern with American Kingpin was if the author would be biased toward the American Authorities, making them out to be superheroes but this wasn't the case. The author tells both sides of the story from a neutral standpoint and doesn't judge Ross Ulbricht for his choices. He tells the story from the beginning to end and lets the reader decide if he's a Visionary or a Criminal. I personally think his heart was in the right place. He wanted to stop the endless war on drugs by legalising them, which in his mind would stop the violent drug deals, gang turf wars, smuggling and mass murder and maybe his philosophy was right but no current government is going to legalise hardcore drugs. It's complete fantasy. Whether they should or not is a different matter and frankly an issue i'm not going to dwell on. Anyway, i'm diverting from the review. The book is awesome, easily the best thing i've read this year. The author tells the story without adding any filler so all we get is the action. I would have liked more on the trial as the author only give's it about twenty or so pages but that aside i can't fault it. It's an important book that details an important event in our history. Enjoy.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joy D

    Narrative non-fiction that reads like a cybercrime thriller, this book tells the true story of Ross Ulbricht (aka Dread Pirate Roberts), creator of the Silk Road website (now defunct) on the dark net where drugs, weapons, body parts, and other contraband were offered for sale using Bitcoin virtual currency. It is a story of the rise and fall of the Silk Road, the transformation of mild-mannered college-educated Ulbricht into the head of a global criminal enterprise, and the government agents and Narrative non-fiction that reads like a cybercrime thriller, this book tells the true story of Ross Ulbricht (aka Dread Pirate Roberts), creator of the Silk Road website (now defunct) on the dark net where drugs, weapons, body parts, and other contraband were offered for sale using Bitcoin virtual currency. It is a story of the rise and fall of the Silk Road, the transformation of mild-mannered college-educated Ulbricht into the head of a global criminal enterprise, and the government agents and agencies that brought him down. The author pieces together a vast array of data from Ulbricht’s electronic trail, chat logs, photos, social media, courtroom transcripts, and interviews with family, friends, and participants (excluding Ulbricht) to assemble this riveting story. He does not use footnotes or specifics in documenting sources but provides a summary of all resources in the Appendix and does not identify where the quoted conversations originate. The reader does not need detailed technical knowledge to appreciate this book. In fact, techies will probably want more detail than is provided. It is a fast-paced engrossing story that I found hard to put down.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Virginia

    A thrilling tale of the modern crime world that is so insane you couldn't make any of it up! Following the steps of Ross Ulbricht, the mastermind behind The Silk Road, and the law enforcement agents out to stop him, you get an incredible insight into the cyber criminal world and how it's evolving. You also get to see how law enforcement departments both help and hinder each other as well as how easy it is to blur the line between what is legal or not. Good guys become bad guys and bad guys beco A thrilling tale of the modern crime world that is so insane you couldn't make any of it up! Following the steps of Ross Ulbricht, the mastermind behind The Silk Road, and the law enforcement agents out to stop him, you get an incredible insight into the cyber criminal world and how it's evolving. You also get to see how law enforcement departments both help and hinder each other as well as how easy it is to blur the line between what is legal or not. Good guys become bad guys and bad guys become human. It's a very cool story that I still can't believe is non-fiction. I recommend this to anyone who enjoy thriller novels, those interested in modern crime, and anyone who's ever thought about their impact in the world.

  13. 5 out of 5

    britt_brooke

    Damn, it’s hard to beat good narrative nonfiction! This is the rise and fall of Ross Ulbricht, a staunch libertarian, who believed people should be able to buy and sell whatever they wish without government regulation. It’s your body, put what you want into it. He created the Silk Road, a darknet marketplace where patrons could buy and/or sell illicit items, primarily drugs, anonymously. This shit is crazy. I couldn’t stop listening.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Murray

    This book is another reason why I don't read fiction anymore. Crazy story.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tooter

    5 Stars. Loved it!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jillian Doherty

    Holy awesome read batman!! If you like literary story telling that just happens to be a roller coaster of legit events~ you'll love this too! It has every element of a good narrative, while being able to google all the characters and timelines = story happiness!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chuck

    5-stars Wow! This one really pisses me off, but it’s a marvelous read. What a shame that more nonfiction isn’t written in this style. This is the can't-miss book of the year, for sure. Guaranteed.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Moonkiszt

    American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road Incredible. This was just a few years ago, folks! It's clear there will be more of this type of chicanery ahead, and we are certainly stepping in the middle of it right now. Deep and dark and full of nasty consequences. This is not my usual topic, but this tale had me high-fiving strangers at the end when Ross and all his buddies were caught up in their consequences. (You gotta love Target! Earbuds and all. Nothing p American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road Incredible. This was just a few years ago, folks! It's clear there will be more of this type of chicanery ahead, and we are certainly stepping in the middle of it right now. Deep and dark and full of nasty consequences. This is not my usual topic, but this tale had me high-fiving strangers at the end when Ross and all his buddies were caught up in their consequences. (You gotta love Target! Earbuds and all. Nothing phases some people. . . awesome.) The author did a great job laying out the bricks of this story in a way that someone with no knowledge of this world or topic could jump on and stay on. Authorial invasions were kept to a minimum. I like that. Catching all the loose ends and tying in order of operations was neatly done. It's a crazy world. A four-star read about this crazy world.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    Review of the audiobook narrated by Will Damron. This book is nonfiction written like fiction, which means the author has to make up dialog and even scenes in many places throughout. This is both the best and worst thing about the book, as there are many gripping sequences, but many times the dialog between characters sounds fake. However, the eventual police takedown of DPR (Dread Pirate Roberts, the moniker taken on by Ross Ulbricht) by itself justifies the fiction-like storytelling. It has a g Review of the audiobook narrated by Will Damron. This book is nonfiction written like fiction, which means the author has to make up dialog and even scenes in many places throughout. This is both the best and worst thing about the book, as there are many gripping sequences, but many times the dialog between characters sounds fake. However, the eventual police takedown of DPR (Dread Pirate Roberts, the moniker taken on by Ross Ulbricht) by itself justifies the fiction-like storytelling. It has a great buildup and was one of the most memorable scenes I've read in a long time. As a web developer I love all of specific details on the encryption, security, servers, etc. I'd have loved to have more of that then there was, but it did seem like the right amount (and explained well enough) for readers who aren't as interested in technology. This is the second book I've listened to narrated by Will Damron. He's a good fit in that his voice sounds like he's around the same age as DPR. Other than that he gets the job done. Final verdict: 4 star story, 4 star narration, 4 stars overall

  20. 5 out of 5

    Paul Ataua

    I was really looking forward to finding out more about the whole Silk Road story, but even after a few pages of this I knew I would have to look elsewhere to get a more informed picture. The telltale signs were there from the beginning when the author, telling of minor incidents five or ten years earlier, was able to add the exact moment in the sentence when someone batted her eyelids or when someone scratched his nose, and exactly what he was thinking in the quiet of his room some five years ea I was really looking forward to finding out more about the whole Silk Road story, but even after a few pages of this I knew I would have to look elsewhere to get a more informed picture. The telltale signs were there from the beginning when the author, telling of minor incidents five or ten years earlier, was able to add the exact moment in the sentence when someone batted her eyelids or when someone scratched his nose, and exactly what he was thinking in the quiet of his room some five years earlier. I realize that modern nonfiction likes to dramatize and bring events to life, to embellish for effect, but I was just unable to suspend my disbelief.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alex Givant

    Excellent account on hunt for Silk Road owner, read absolutely like a fiction.

  22. 5 out of 5

    awwsalah

    Ross Ulbricht, great man with a vision. libertarian he was. Sure. he wanted to make money. That was the libertairian way. But he wanted to free poeple too. There were millions of souls crammed into jails across the country because of drugs. mostly inconsequential drugs like weed and magic mushrooms. A vile and putrid prison system kept those people locked away; lives destroyed because the government wanted to tell people what they could and could not do with their own bodies. This site Silkroad Ross Ulbricht, great man with a vision. libertarian he was. Sure. he wanted to make money. That was the libertairian way. But he wanted to free poeple too. There were millions of souls crammed into jails across the country because of drugs. mostly inconsequential drugs like weed and magic mushrooms. A vile and putrid prison system kept those people locked away; lives destroyed because the government wanted to tell people what they could and could not do with their own bodies. This site Silkroad he believed could change that. a tittle borrowed from the ancient Chinese trade route of the Han dynasty. but when julia snitched. that was  the last time he ever trusted someone. he's believed "if cuba had Che Guevara and Irland had Micheal Collins, then the war on drugs would have the Dread Pirate Roberts". friend from highschool Renè once asked him, do you think you're going to live forever?. "i think it's a possibility i honestly do. i think i might live forever in some form." and sure he did. after FBI Shutdown the site. some dude's created another site co-named Silkroad 2.0. sure this book was a great experience. it gave me a good glance how is like to hold a big secret. that you cant even trust it with your beloved one's. and how's like to even to face the government.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Brendan Monroe

    I like Ross Ulbricht. I do. I think he went up against what is, frankly, an unjust system that had to get rid of him for fear that he would bring it crumbling down. Ulbricht is not that much different in my mind from people like Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Daniel Ellsberg. Did those men all undermine U.S. laws? Yes. But the laws they undermined were, for the most part, bad laws. Ulbricht's case is admittedly different from those of the above men in that he went too far in pursuit of what I like Ross Ulbricht. I do. I think he went up against what is, frankly, an unjust system that had to get rid of him for fear that he would bring it crumbling down. Ulbricht is not that much different in my mind from people like Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Daniel Ellsberg. Did those men all undermine U.S. laws? Yes. But the laws they undermined were, for the most part, bad laws. Ulbricht's case is admittedly different from those of the above men in that he went too far in pursuit of what he viewed to be right. Believing that drugs should be legal and allowing for the sale of such drugs to anyone who wanted them is something that I think is very defensible, given that I share Ulbricht's libertarian views ... to an extent. People should be able to do whatever they want to themselves, provided it doesn't hurt anyone else. And no, I don't think that you can defend not giving people the right to make those decisions because "it might hurt those who love them". Sure it might, and it has, but ultimately that doesn't matters less than giving people their rights. How a "free" country can defend a policy — like the U.S. policy on drugs and the insanely harsh sentences levied on those who are caught buying, selling, or even carrying such drugs — as being in the public interest is being questioned more and more these days, which is undoubtedly a good thing. This made me think back to that great masterpiece of cable television, "The Wire", and the solution the "good" cops in the show had to Baltimore's drug problem, which was to make drug use legal in certain parts of the city — legal to sell, legal to buy, and clean needles for everyone! Being the American tragedy it was, fans of "The Wire" will recall that that solution was quickly killed by the powers above. But as "The Wire" and real life have made abundantly clear in the decades since its implementation, the U.S. policy on drugs simply doesn't make sense. I'm not arguing that we should go back to prohibition, but it's become such a cliche to say that alcohol has had a far more devasting effect on people's lives than drug use because it's already something we all already know to be true. So there were times that this book had me cheering for Ulbricht in his battle with a corrupt system. But Ulbricht went too far. Sure, people should be allowed to inject whatever terrible poison they want into their bodies and suffer the consequences, but allowing guns to be freely sold to anyone who wants one is totally different. Why? Because the entire purpose of a gun is to inflict harm on others (except in those exceptionally rare cases when someone is buying a gun to commit suicide — in which case I believe the right to kill yourself should similarly be granted to anyone who wants it, though perhaps a far kinder, less messy suicide than that which would result from a gunshot). I think those second amendment advocates who believe in stockpiling guns because they'll one day need them to rise up against a tyrannical government are idiots. Do you see how militarized even local police forces are today? I don't care what kind of assault weapons you have, it wouldn't even be a fight. But where Ulbricht really stepped over the line — far, far over the line — was in his ordering hits on former employees who'd gone rogue. The problem with acting outside of the law, even if the law you're subverting is a terrible one, is that doing so often requires you to break other, sometimes good, laws — like those criminalizing murder. So this was a difficult read. Difficult because while I agreed with Ulbricht on his initial "America's war against drugs is idiotic — I'm going to make it easier for everyone to buy drugs" flouting of U.S. law, he quickly went too far and, rightly, ended up suffering the consequences. Ultimately though, I don't blame Ross Ulbricht, but rather the U.S. Government for its bad laws. The whole case reminded me of the movie "The Untouchables". In the film, Eliot Ness, played by Kevin Costner, informs the officers assigned to assist in his case against the legendary crime boss and bootlegger Al Capone that he won't tolerate them drinking because it's against the law. At the end of the film, having successfully put Capone behind bars, Ness is asked by a reporter upon leaving the courthouse what he'll do now that America's prohibition against alcohol is set to be overturned. Ness' response? "I think I'll have a drink". Ness to a large extent was embodying, I believe, those working to enforce U.S. laws even today. He wasn't against drinking because he believed drinking to be bad in and of itself. He was against drinking because it was against the law. In other words, he was a good soldier just following orders because he believed in the authority of those issuing them. A good soldier following orders issued by a "good" government is awarded medals and applauded. But when does a good government become a bad one?

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Gail

    3.5 stars. Quick side note: if you haven't finished Breaking Bad, this spoils the ending. American Kingpin does I mean, my review doesn't. My review will encourage you to watch Breaking Bad however. If I can quote another fantastic reviewer for a quick sec, the fantastic Dino-Jess said, "I really think I did myself a disservice in reading extensively about the Silk Road and DPR before embarking on this book - as I knew all the twists and turns in this story ahead of time." And that was 100% true 3.5 stars. Quick side note: if you haven't finished Breaking Bad, this spoils the ending. American Kingpin does I mean, my review doesn't. My review will encourage you to watch Breaking Bad however. If I can quote another fantastic reviewer for a quick sec, the fantastic Dino-Jess said, "I really think I did myself a disservice in reading extensively about the Silk Road and DPR before embarking on this book - as I knew all the twists and turns in this story ahead of time." And that was 100% true for me as well. I had already listened to Casefile's three part series on the Silk Road back in February, which actually used this book as one of it's sources. The story remains fascinating, but doesn't tread any new ground if you already know the DPR deets. Do kids still say deets? Apparently yeet is a thing and I still have no clue what that means. Only that my 20 year old coworkers say it and it makes me feel super old. I guess I could google it, but if I had to google every single bit of new slang I don't understand, I would have no time to make pointless rants in the midst of my reviews. So if you're going to read this, go in blind. That's the gist of that ramble. The writing is okay. It's a bit dramatic at times, but I usually didn't mind it too much. It's a very quick read (or listen, as I went the audiobook route. For a 12 hour book, it went by in a snap.) I would have finished it sooner, but generally restrict myself to audiobooks when I'm driving or deep cleaning. It's like a reward to myself for vacuuming the cobwebs on the ceiling! I don't have much else to say about this one. It's a really fascinating case, especially if you don't know much about it. There's murder for hire, magic mushrooms, The Princess Bride, libertarian ideals, multiple government agencies, and a silver Samsung laptop that contains a whole dark world inside. It's not my favorite nonfiction I've ever read but it's entertaining for sure.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Oscar Calva

    "Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism." - Carl Jung "Most of the people on this site are just nerds," he said. "They're not ruthless drug lords." - Jared Der-Yeghiayan, DOHS special agent I remember when news started to pop some years ago about that dark web site "The Silk Road" a black market for drugs, guns, and all things illegal trade (highly sensationalized news indeed). That was the first time I ever heard of the dark web, it eve "Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism." - Carl Jung "Most of the people on this site are just nerds," he said. "They're not ruthless drug lords." - Jared Der-Yeghiayan, DOHS special agent I remember when news started to pop some years ago about that dark web site "The Silk Road" a black market for drugs, guns, and all things illegal trade (highly sensationalized news indeed). That was the first time I ever heard of the dark web, it even made me install the TOR browser to see it by myself (my limited technical knowledge couldn't get the thing setup so it was no use). Back then I think most people thought the site was the creation of criminal organizations catching up to technology trends, little was known the Silk Road was the brain child of a 20-something ordinary college student with more ingenuity and free time than money. On "American Kingpin..." Nick Bilton gives us a very immersive novelized count of the facts surrounding the creation of the Silk Road, its evolution and the efforts from multiple agencies to discover the people behind it and take down the site. Ross Ulbricht the creator and owner of the site was not by any means a mastermind druglord, first and foremost, he was a dreamer, a young kid with some very distorted libertarian ideals, which viewed free drug trade as means to challenge the system and its control over individual freedoms, but whether one agrees or not with his views, the bottom line is he created a multi-million platform for easing illegal drug trafficking and is now serving life imprissonment, a harsh sentence perhaps, but if you play with fire you certainly get burned. The book is well researched, and while there might be some inaccuracies here and there, the overall story, context and narrative is accurate and objective. It's a shame a bright young man wasted his talents and his life on that path, and the harsh sentence he got might have not been fair, but in the end, you reap what you sow, there is no one to blame in this case than himself.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mona

    If you like true crime non-fiction this is a very good read.  It's one of those books where story is so interesting, that you forgive author all writing lapses. The story of Silk Road creator from the beginning to the very end. I found an evolution of the main character and his motivations to create his website to be very interesting. Also, equally fascinating was to read about investigations conducted by different branches of the government and how they competed with each other. After reading thi If you like true crime non-fiction this is a very good read.  It's one of those books where story is so interesting, that you forgive author all writing lapses. The story of Silk Road creator from the beginning to the very end. I found an evolution of the main character and his motivations to create his website to be very interesting. Also, equally fascinating was to read about investigations conducted by different branches of the government and how they competed with each other. After reading this book, the main conclusion which comes to mind - there's is one common problem regardless on which side of equesion one is situated........ Ego. That was a main motivator of Silk Road creator and problem of all his investigators who didn't cooperate. At the end of the day, no one wins with government infinite resources and time. Thinking otherwise is just youthful naiveté. And few exceptions confirm the rule.  When it comes to cons of this book - it was hard for me to pass over author's sensational tone and tabloid - like writing style. There were also quite a few repetitions and unnecessary overdramatization of facts. Author seems to describe feelings and thoughts of main character in great detail, despite not being able to interview him. Ever. This story is interesting enough for reader not to be able to put this book down. Author could simply tell the story. No need to make it more vivid.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Bilton is a Special Correspondent for Vanity Fair where he often writes about technology, and is the author of Hatching Twitter. His experience in being able to present complicated internet technology concepts in a form understandable to the average reader proved to be invaluable in writing about the Silk Road and its founder, Ross Ulbricht. Ulbricht lived on the Dark Web, using the browser Tor that provides anonymity for its users, and the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. All he needed to build his $1.2 Bilton is a Special Correspondent for Vanity Fair where he often writes about technology, and is the author of Hatching Twitter. His experience in being able to present complicated internet technology concepts in a form understandable to the average reader proved to be invaluable in writing about the Silk Road and its founder, Ross Ulbricht. Ulbricht lived on the Dark Web, using the browser Tor that provides anonymity for its users, and the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. All he needed to build his $1.2 billion business over two years was his laptop computer and an anti-authoritarian libertarian obsession. He felt that he could force the government to legalize drugs if he made them available to anyone who wanted them. Of course, he got greedy and soon was selling guns, poisons, forged identity documents and more on his Silk Road website. Not that he wanted to spend a lot of money. He actually lived pretty frugally for a billionaire. He just wanted to HAVE a lot of money. He was also a control freak and found himself warming to murder contracts to keep employees ‘in line’. Bilton helps the reader understand how the Government hunted down this elusive criminal. It wasn’t easy, and there were a lot of jurisdictional squabbles as different agencies grabbed pieces of the evidence that would eventually bring down Ross Ulbricht (aka, Dread Pirate Roberts). It wasn’t until the Department of Justice forced the agencies to collaborate that significant progress was made. The individuals who made up this formidable team were amazing. Unfortunately, the lure of untraceable bitcoin money proved too tempting for two Government employees. One stole directly from the Silk Road when the FBI nabbed one of Ulbricht’s employees and he learned how he could do it after interrogating the employee; and the other provided Government investigative progress to Ulbricht for a fee. This is a fascinating story about a quirky guy who viewed himself as a Libertarian warrior. All be it, one without any moral compass. Highly recommend.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Blaine

    You type lines of code into a computer, and out comes a world that didn’t exist before. There are no laws here except your laws. You decide who is given power and who is not. And then you wake up one morning and you’re not you anymore. You’re one of the most notorious drug dealers alive. And now you’re deciding if someone should live or die. You’re the judge in your own court. You’re god. American Kingpin tells the fascinating true story of the rise and fall of Ross Ulbricht, aka the Dread Pirate You type lines of code into a computer, and out comes a world that didn’t exist before. There are no laws here except your laws. You decide who is given power and who is not. And then you wake up one morning and you’re not you anymore. You’re one of the most notorious drug dealers alive. And now you’re deciding if someone should live or die. You’re the judge in your own court. You’re god. American Kingpin tells the fascinating true story of the rise and fall of Ross Ulbricht, aka the Dread Pirate Roberts (“DPR”), a 20-something who built the Silk Road, a website started in 2011 on the Dark Web that allowed the anonymous purchase of illegal drugs and other contraband. Motivated by a zealous belief in libertarianism, a longing to make a mark on the world, and a dash of inspiration from Breaking Bad’s Walter White, Ross/DPR is a fascinating character. Equally interesting are many of the government agents working on the task force to bring him down, including the ones who give in to temptation and undermine the investigation through theft and selling information back to DPR. The story is full of near misses and human mistakes that nearly derailed the investigation. The scene with DPR’s arrest is as dramatic as any scene in fiction. My only knock on the book is that there is simply too much inner monologue from DPR, who refused to be interviewed, to truly believe that all of the conversations were factual and not somewhat fictionalized for dramatic purposes. Still, it’s a great read. Highly recommended.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly Dawn

    Excellent! Very readable and interesting!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Canaves

    Super Good Nonviolent True Crime! (TW briefly mentions domestic violence and eating disorder) If you like narrative nonfiction and have enjoyed nonviolent true crime books like The Feather Thief and Bad Blood–and like me hadn’t gotten to this one yet–run to it. It’s pretty bonkers but also “Holy white privilege, Batman!” Basically, this young guy took his libertarian beliefs to the max by building the Silk Road on the Dark Net, essentially allowing people to sell and buy anything. Beginning with Super Good Nonviolent True Crime! (TW briefly mentions domestic violence and eating disorder) If you like narrative nonfiction and have enjoyed nonviolent true crime books like The Feather Thief and Bad Blood–and like me hadn’t gotten to this one yet–run to it. It’s pretty bonkers but also “Holy white privilege, Batman!” Basically, this young guy took his libertarian beliefs to the max by building the Silk Road on the Dark Net, essentially allowing people to sell and buy anything. Beginning with his belief that people should be allowed to do drugs because it is a person’s right to do with their body as they wish, the site started by letting people buy illegal drugs and finding a way to mail them throughout the world. The book takes you into how he created the site, the decisions he was faced with as it expanded, the law enforcement officers that would not let go of figuring out who the Dread Pirate Roberts was, and how it all came to an end. I love these nonfiction books that read like thrillers, plus, the case and “plot-twist” were super interesting but, beyond that, this book is a hell of a look at privilege starting with Ross Ulbricht. And in a time where tech companies are forgoing moral and ethical thought because everyone seems to ignore the “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should” message, there’s a lot to sit back with and think on. --from Book Riot's Unusual Suspects newsletter: https://link.bookriot.com/view/56a820...

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