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American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind behind the Silk Road Drugs Empire

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From New York Times-bestselling author Nick Bilton comes a true-life thriller about the rise and fall of Ross Ulbricht, aka the Dread Pirate Roberts, the founder of the online black market Silk Road. In 2011, Ulbricht, a 26-year-old libertarian idealist and former Boy Scout, launched "a website where people could buy anything anonymously, with no trail whatsoever that could From New York Times-bestselling author Nick Bilton comes a true-life thriller about the rise and fall of Ross Ulbricht, aka the Dread Pirate Roberts, the founder of the online black market Silk Road. In 2011, Ulbricht, a 26-year-old libertarian idealist and former Boy Scout, launched "a website where people could buy anything anonymously, with no trail whatsoever that could lead back to them." He called it Silk Road, opened for business on the Dark Web, and christened himself the Dread Pirate Roberts (after the Princess Bride character). The site grew at a tremendous pace, quickly becoming a $1.2 billion enterprise where you could buy or sell drugs, hacking software, forged passports, counterfeit cash, guns, grenades, and poisons. The Silk Road soon caught the attention of the Feds, who embarked on an epic two-year manhunt for the site's proprietor. Ulbricht, in the meantime, struggled to maintain control of his double life and his marketplace, which he originally started to prove that legalising drugs could make society safer. He gradually abandoned his libertarian ideals to rule Silk Road with increasingly authoritarian force. At one point, he engaged the services of hired hit men to take out employees he felt had wronged him. Soon, some of the Federal agents who were supposed to be hunting for Ulbricht were lured into the dark world and switched sides to join him. This is a true-life thriller about ambition gone awry, spurred on by the defining clash of our time: the new world of libertarian-leaning, anonymous, decentralised web advocates and the old world of government control, order, and the rule of law. Bilton's dazzling rendering and gift for narrative make for an endlessly fascinating drama.

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From New York Times-bestselling author Nick Bilton comes a true-life thriller about the rise and fall of Ross Ulbricht, aka the Dread Pirate Roberts, the founder of the online black market Silk Road. In 2011, Ulbricht, a 26-year-old libertarian idealist and former Boy Scout, launched "a website where people could buy anything anonymously, with no trail whatsoever that could From New York Times-bestselling author Nick Bilton comes a true-life thriller about the rise and fall of Ross Ulbricht, aka the Dread Pirate Roberts, the founder of the online black market Silk Road. In 2011, Ulbricht, a 26-year-old libertarian idealist and former Boy Scout, launched "a website where people could buy anything anonymously, with no trail whatsoever that could lead back to them." He called it Silk Road, opened for business on the Dark Web, and christened himself the Dread Pirate Roberts (after the Princess Bride character). The site grew at a tremendous pace, quickly becoming a $1.2 billion enterprise where you could buy or sell drugs, hacking software, forged passports, counterfeit cash, guns, grenades, and poisons. The Silk Road soon caught the attention of the Feds, who embarked on an epic two-year manhunt for the site's proprietor. Ulbricht, in the meantime, struggled to maintain control of his double life and his marketplace, which he originally started to prove that legalising drugs could make society safer. He gradually abandoned his libertarian ideals to rule Silk Road with increasingly authoritarian force. At one point, he engaged the services of hired hit men to take out employees he felt had wronged him. Soon, some of the Federal agents who were supposed to be hunting for Ulbricht were lured into the dark world and switched sides to join him. This is a true-life thriller about ambition gone awry, spurred on by the defining clash of our time: the new world of libertarian-leaning, anonymous, decentralised web advocates and the old world of government control, order, and the rule of law. Bilton's dazzling rendering and gift for narrative make for an endlessly fascinating drama.

30 review for American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind behind the Silk Road Drugs Empire

  1. 4 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. 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

  5. 5 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.

  6. 4 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.

  7. 5 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 th "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.

  8. 5 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.

  9. 4 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. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Murray

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

  11. 4 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 5 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

  14. 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.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alex Givant

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

  16. 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.

  17. 4 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.

  18. 4 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.

  19. 5 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?

  20. 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.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sandy Nawrot

    I'll be honest, I'd never even heard of the Silk Road before this book. (I guess I don't have cause to buy guns, drugs, organs or hacker equipment on the dark web.) But this is another one of those true stories that play out like a fascinating movie. In fact, there exists a documentary called "Deep Web" about the Silk Road. It couldn't be more fantastical if you made it up. Ross Ulbricht is a gifted, free spirit, a shaggy hipster who meditates and doesn't even swear, who has always wanted to make I'll be honest, I'd never even heard of the Silk Road before this book. (I guess I don't have cause to buy guns, drugs, organs or hacker equipment on the dark web.) But this is another one of those true stories that play out like a fascinating movie. In fact, there exists a documentary called "Deep Web" about the Silk Road. It couldn't be more fantastical if you made it up. Ross Ulbricht is a gifted, free spirit, a shaggy hipster who meditates and doesn't even swear, who has always wanted to make his mark on the world. Up until his mid-20's however, he bounced around from idea to idea, never doing much with his God-given talents. Righteous in his Libertarian views, he firmly believed that drugs should be legalized, and humans should have the right to put whatever they want in their bodies. And hey, it would be safer getting drugs off the street, right? So he learned some programming as he went, and developed the Silk Road, a website that existed on the dark web where nothing is traceable by the government. On Silk Road, you could buy pot, ecstasy, heroin, opioids, meth and have it shipped to the comfort of your home. Soon, it expanded to weapons, organ donations, hacker technology...anything. And the best part? You paid with Bit Coin which is not traceable either. Overnight it started to make Ross millions of dollars. He accumulated staff to help with coding, security, chat boards and customer service. He struggled with problems such as drug dealers who tried to blackmail him, employees who tried to steal from him, and containing leaks (he had to make sure he told NO ONE - he posed as an introverted day-trader). He operated under the name "Dread Pirate Roberts" from The Princess Bride, and soon was a hero in certain circles. Then the DEA, FBI and Department of Homeland Security got wind. Soon a dream team of ambitious agents set their sights on figuring out the identity of Dread Pirate Roberts, some agents going undercover. These were stars in their individual fields, but of course there were turf wars. Everyone wanted to be the one to take this guy down. The one to actually identify Ulbricht was a quiet, unassuming IRS criminal investigator. In the title of the book, the author calls this an epic hunt, and that is exactly what it was. As a reader, it couldn't have been more exciting. I'll warn you, Bilton's writing is rudimentary at best. And while it appears, based on the author's notes at the end, that a tremendous amount of research was performed, Bilton attempted to create dialogue to make it more readable. It just came across as bogus. BUT, I rated the book five stars because the story is as good as it gets. The characters are larger than life, the repercussions were far-reaching, and crazily...Ross Ulbricht is a very likable and very handsome guy! Really this was an incredible read. Our narrator was Will Damron, who I've heard before. His work isn't bad, but his vocal inflections sometimes make the written word seem a bit corny, something I have noticed before. This is probably a personal issue that others may not even notice, as Will has won Audies.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sam Soffes

    I really enjoyed this book. A fair amount of it takes place a few minutes from where I live. Imagining the events unfolding in places I pass through everyday put me there as it was happening. After listening to this book, it makes me want to go build something amazing and change the world. I realize that may not be the proper takeaway. American Kingpin is fascinating story expertly told. Highly recommend.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Coble

    The first half of the book was intriguing and fast paced. Then it got bogged down. Bilton keeps trying to find ways to make the story interesting but instead mires it in unnecessary detail. I didn't need to read 1500 words describing a run-down house in Utah where some drug dealer had a package delivered.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey

    This story is fascinating, but the writing irked me a bit. The author took more liberties than usual in his attempt at narrative nonfiction, and it often pulled me out of the story rather than drawing me in. It does seem to be well researched though.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly Dawn

    Excellent! Very readable and interesting!

  26. 4 out of 5

    PiRAT

    TL;DR: - Author tries to masquerade old tropes as a pitiful excuse for what happened with the silk road. If this was classed as a fiction, not making reference to the real Silk Road or Ross, then maybe, 2/3 stars? As a mediocre crime drama, idk, I don't really read that type of stuff. As it is classed as NON-fiction though, it is an unforgivable, cast iron 1 star, maybe 0. It just fundamentally is wrong about a great many things. The most truly painful thing is though, that people who are unfamil TL;DR: - Author tries to masquerade old tropes as a pitiful excuse for what happened with the silk road. If this was classed as a fiction, not making reference to the real Silk Road or Ross, then maybe, 2/3 stars? As a mediocre crime drama, idk, I don't really read that type of stuff. As it is classed as NON-fiction though, it is an unforgivable, cast iron 1 star, maybe 0. It just fundamentally is wrong about a great many things. The most truly painful thing is though, that people who are unfamiliar with the Silk Road, Ross, dark markets, etc, might pick up this book and ACTUALLY THINK IT HAS ANY FACTUAL VALUE. IT HAS NOT, please keep an incredibly critical mind about you when reading this, or better yet, find better sources on the topic. At all costs, do not pay for this book and encourage the spread of this lazy writing, or perhaps more sinisterly, disinformation... http://reason.com/archives/2017/05/30... The single worst book I have ever come across. Because the author tries to portray it as non fiction... IT IS NOT. It IS a fiction, at best, a fanciful tale mired in half truths. He jumps to many, many conclusions, and would rather chat for pages about some sodding FBI agent's Ford Cortina, instead of going out and fact checking anything. Nick Bolton has written the whole thing incredibly selfishly, with half a mind on his bloody screenplay. It comes across as painfully transparent that he's desperate for someone to pick it up as a show of some description. He's just thrown accuracy, credibility, and objectivity, all to the wind; in favour of tired old stereotypical character arcs. Who cares if it's accurate if you can get dat mega soap opera money ey??? Ross Ulbricht was a hero. A hero of the internet who avidly fought against the failing drugs war which was created to suppress and criminalise black communities with crack, and hippie communities with demonizing cannabis. (Later to be admitted by Nixon's aide, John Ehrlichman: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Eh... ). This is so, so important. The silk road was possibly the biggest blow ever dealt by the people to the instigators of this drugs war. Perhaps the initial reasons for starting it have faded a bit, but we are all still suffering the aftereffects. Why can you stand in Amsterdam with a plant in your pocket, and be fine; whereas if you stand in the US or UK with the same plant, and be imprisoned / have your life ruined. A plant that has never killed anyone, and that is infinitely better for you than alcohol, which is almost universally accepted (despite actively killing brain cells and killing people). The Silk Road was different.. It was better than all the other dark markets. On it's about page, it described how it didn't encourage violent crimes in any way. If you wanted to go buy guns, bombs, or sex slaves, there are dark markets out there to go and do that. NOT the silk road. The silk road was for harmless, victimless stuff. Normal stuff. A chair, some jewelry, pure uncut drugs. In fact, the thing that really got under the FBI's skin, was that DPR was calling for people to use the silk road as the next ebay, and to forgo paying tax on all items! Entirely Peer 2 peer ecommerce. This was to punish the government and force them to END THE DRUGS WAR. This was DPR's aim all along. Not to get rich, not to have an empire, not to laugh maniacally behind a computer screen, but to end the drugs war. To stop law enforcement ruining lives. To stop violent gangs killing each other or customers just to make an extra penny or two that day. Fact is, Ross saw this failure of government to protect our best interests, and was calling for people to fight back against it. He dreamed of a society where people didn't have to take violent risks, just because of unfounded and arbitrary government laws that were introduced to suppress people. Why should people have to meet nefarious individuals just to get their cannabis / cocaine / prescription medication, sometimes vital & illegal medication? This is why it is particularly galling, insulting, and utterly infuriating that this Nick Bolton has been able to slander Ross' noble name, and try and portray his story as some common arc in a tv show. It actually makes me feel sick thinking about it. And I dare say most people who have half an idea about the real situation would too. Bolton goes to lengths to try and pin attempted murders on ross, of which the charges were dropped, and tries to use the old 'rise and fall of a criminal gang' trope. NO. This was not some digital reboot of the sopranos, or the wire. The only reason any of that got a mention was on false charges, and the FBI torturing and trumping up their own charges. Really is disgusting. These FBI agents even stole from Ross. They pretend to be better, and Bolton tries to elevate them as such; but they are not. The silk road saved lives and granted freedoms en mass. These FBI leeches merely just stole and harassed poor old Ross who was striving to make the world a better place: http://thehackernews.com/2017/08/mone... The silk road was, and will always remain in history, a force for good. - Cruelly attacked out for greed, stubbornness / pig ignorance, and oppression. As a result though, dark markets have only ever surged since.. Except now without the altruistic and good natured DPR.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

    I knew from Chapter One that I was going to love this book. Having previously read Bilton's Hatching Twitter created high hopes and Bilton did not dissipoint! Immediately addicted, I was worried that I was going to blow through this book in the first day. The thought of not having it to savor each day was depressing because finding a book this exciting is a rarity. I tried so hard to make this book last, promising myself to only listen to the audio version while on the treadmill. (What a great r I knew from Chapter One that I was going to love this book. Having previously read Bilton's Hatching Twitter created high hopes and Bilton did not dissipoint! Immediately addicted, I was worried that I was going to blow through this book in the first day. The thought of not having it to savor each day was depressing because finding a book this exciting is a rarity. I tried so hard to make this book last, promising myself to only listen to the audio version while on the treadmill. (What a great reward book!) I wish it could have lasted longer. How does a guy who is not that good at programming or cyber security end up being the biggest online drug dealer of all time? How does someone like that create the Silk Road, a site that not only sold drugs but guns, contracts on human life, and more? Well, it seems he could not have been as successful if not for a little help from law "enforcement." I won't detail how, because that would spoil some of the best parts of the book. How does a sweet kid turn into someone who controls an online empire and has no qualms about ordering the murders of people who get in his way? I am not sure if this book is even able to answer that question, but the details it provided about Ulbricht's life was seriously vitamin enriched food for thought.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    Ross Ulbricht was a soft-spoken kid from Austin looking for an opportunity. Raised by libertarian parents Ulbricht was a confirmed Ayn Rand/Ludwig Mises-reading libertarian himself. He was also a big fan of drugs, especially marijuana and mushrooms, with a strong libertarian belief that the government had no business telling people what they should be putting into their bodies. He had a flash of an idea for creating an Amazon.com for drug dealers and buyers. He was convinced that such a website w Ross Ulbricht was a soft-spoken kid from Austin looking for an opportunity. Raised by libertarian parents Ulbricht was a confirmed Ayn Rand/Ludwig Mises-reading libertarian himself. He was also a big fan of drugs, especially marijuana and mushrooms, with a strong libertarian belief that the government had no business telling people what they should be putting into their bodies. He had a flash of an idea for creating an Amazon.com for drug dealers and buyers. He was convinced that such a website would make the world a safer place for those wanting to buy drugs. Unlike Amazon, however, he needed a way for people to be able to exchange money without a paper trail. Nearly a year after his original idea Bitcoin became a growing entity allowing users to exchange bitcoins for products or services without out any way of tracing the transaction. When that exchange system became available Ulbricht began to write the basic program for Silk Road. Starting with his own harvest of 'shrooms Ulbricht began selling on the site. Soon other sellers joined him, with each transaction paying him a percentage not unlike the seller's fee on eBay. As the site began to grow and prosper he was taking in tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars daily. Better yet he was being paid in Bitcoin currency which was growing in value daily. Ulbricht began using the name Dread Pirate Roberts (from The Princess Bride) and started a paranoid journey in which only one other person knew his identity. This was his girlfriend and he was eventually able to convince her that, like the Dread Pirate Roberts, he had turned the company over to another anonymous person while he had switched to earning a living by day-trading stocks. Instead he was continuing on what he saw as a libertarian mission, so clear on his being right that he even kept a journal. He stayed anonymous to his growing number of employees who kept the site secure or acted as moderators. These employees he tried to motivate by writing emails that made pronouncements on the glories of the site's libertarian goals. At the same time the "product lines" became more diverse as sales expanded for heroin, cocaine, various designer drugs along with computer invasion tools, weapons, and even murder for hire. Each new landmark was given justification, even as Ulbricht became more secretive and solitary. In his eyes what he did was no worse than the suicide-inducing conditions created by Steve Jobs and Apple while producing their products in China. The cost of doing business. At the same time various law enforcement agencies were becoming more frustrated with drugs being passed through the US Mail. The book details the various agencies involved in trying to find Ulbricht and shut down the site. Some were heroic, some were worse than the man they were trying to arrest, and we're talking about a man who eventually ordered at least six hits to keep his organization supporting freedom. Bilton keeps the narrative together well, condensing tons of research, including all the captured chat talks between Ulbricht and his employees, into a compelling story. If there's a fault it's from a general tendency these days to overdue an attempt to make a work of journalism read like a novel. I don't need to know how people felt when they woke up or looked out a window, and I find it stretches credibility to think that these emotional twists and turns actually show up in his research notes. Beyond that it's an amazing subject still just a few years in our past and Bilton spares neither Ulbricht nor some of the agents chasing him from criticism where it's deserved.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Roy

    Really enjoyed this. A historical account of the online drug empire known as The Silk Road. Its written in that fiction style whilst allowing the true story to unfold. Not sure if all the facts presented are true but it makes for entertaining reading. Could definitely see Hollywood making this into a feature film.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mark Yellis

    Remember the Silk Road website? Remember Dread Pirate Roberts? Do you? If so, you will find this well researched account of a young libertarian who became the most notorious criminal in the world over a stretch of a few years quite fascinating. I memba!

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