American Kingpin
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.

American Kingpin Details

TitleAmerican Kingpin
Author
FormatHardcover
ReleaseMay 2nd, 2017
PublisherPortfolio
ISBN1591848148
ISBN-139781591848141
Number of pages352 pages
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Crime, True Crime, History, Business, Mystery

American Kingpin Review

  • Olivier Schreiber
    May 4, 2017
    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 BiltonYet, 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.
    more
  • Ryan Shaw
    May 2, 2017
    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.
  • Jillian Doherty
    January 20, 2017
    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!
    more
  • Virginia
    January 31, 2017
    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.
    more
  • Future-Jess ✮ The Book Eating Dinosaur ✮
    October 26, 2016
    There are no words to describe how much I need this.
  • Mark Yellis
    May 20, 2017
    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!
    more
  • Chris
    May 11, 2017
    A great read, thoroughly researched and convincingly told. It illuminates the insightful idea but also the confounding shortcomings of Mr. Ulbricht, who was driven by idealism but ended up lost in hubris, which eventually brought him down.
  • Charlene
    May 19, 2017
    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.
    more
  • Amanda Peyton
    May 16, 2017
    Wonderful, engrossing, and thoroughly researched tale of Silk Road and Dread Pirate Roberts. At its core, this is a story about ambition and the dogged and intoxicating hunt for success and for making one's vision a reality. For Ross, his beliefs around government regulation led him to construct an empire that managed the peer-to-peer sale of not only drugs, but weapons and even human organs. From the publication of Adrian Chen's June 2011 Gawker article (which I remember reading that year), it Wonderful, engrossing, and thoroughly researched tale of Silk Road and Dread Pirate Roberts. At its core, this is a story about ambition and the dogged and intoxicating hunt for success and for making one's vision a reality. For Ross, his beliefs around government regulation led him to construct an empire that managed the peer-to-peer sale of not only drugs, but weapons and even human organs. From the publication of Adrian Chen's June 2011 Gawker article (which I remember reading that year), it took various United States law enforcement agencies over two years to actually track Ross down. To me, that's one of the most stark pieces of commentary on how out of touch the U.S. government is with the changing nature of technology. Bilton's meticulous research shines in this beautifully written tale. Get the hardcover.
    more
  • Ben
    May 15, 2017
    Can you imagine if there was a modern day Al Capone? Or perhaps an American Pablo Escobar? Enter Ross Ulbricht, the first major drug kingpin of the internet age. Ulbricht founded the Silk Road, a deep web marketplace specializing in drugs, guns, and even human organs with buyers in every corner of the world. American Kingpin follows the rise and fall of Ulbricht's black market empire, following both Ross as he goes full Heisenberg - transforming from an idealistic libertarian to a full fledged r Can you imagine if there was a modern day Al Capone? Or perhaps an American Pablo Escobar? Enter Ross Ulbricht, the first major drug kingpin of the internet age. Ulbricht founded the Silk Road, a deep web marketplace specializing in drugs, guns, and even human organs with buyers in every corner of the world. American Kingpin follows the rise and fall of Ulbricht's black market empire, following both Ross as he goes full Heisenberg - transforming from an idealistic libertarian to a full fledged ruthless kingpin with no problems eliminating anyone who stood in his way, as well as the law enforcement agents that hunted him down and captured him. American Kingpin is a page turner, a true technocrime thriller with a scope larger than most other modern crime stories. Ulbricht's story is arguably the first major crime epic of the internet age.
    more
  • Dave
    May 16, 2017
    This was a really gripping read. I went into it only have a vague idea of the Silk Road and the guy behind it, but the story goes into a huge amount of detail about him, his development of the site, and the various investigations into the Silk Road. It reminds me a bit of Breaking Bad, how the guy starts from nothing and rises up to be huge in the drug/criminal world, whilst multiple government agencies try to track him down.It's an easy read as well, very interesting and I raced through it.
    more
  • Sandi
    May 18, 2017
    It is a rare occurrence that I rate a book as five stars. This book was the exception. The story line was fascinating and the fact it wasn't really a story but was real life made it even more amazing.
  • Kent
    May 16, 2017
    Even though I was familiar with the story of the Silk Road, this was a fascinating and, in many ways, an empathic read. The book is well researched and the uncovered details bring this bit of history to life. I followed this story in the press and my heart was still pounding during the key moments.
    more
  • Jordan Schneider
    May 18, 2017
    Narrative non-fiction portrayal of Ross Ulbricht, the man behind the Silk Road. I remember first reading that gawker piece by adrian chen (http://gawker.com/the-underground-web...) and installing Tor to peer into the abyss. This book is light on the tech behind Ross' operation and heavy on his personal and professional relationships. Bilton tries with the 'new journalism' "let's tell everyone about the smells of the room"-type writing but given that his protagonist spends most of his time lookin Narrative non-fiction portrayal of Ross Ulbricht, the man behind the Silk Road. I remember first reading that gawker piece by adrian chen (http://gawker.com/the-underground-web...) and installing Tor to peer into the abyss. This book is light on the tech behind Ross' operation and heavy on his personal and professional relationships. Bilton tries with the 'new journalism' "let's tell everyone about the smells of the room"-type writing but given that his protagonist spends most of his time looking at a laptop there isn't all that much color to squeeze out of his story.Bilton portrays him as a genius startup founder of sorts yet I would have liked a deeper sense of how technically and organizationally exceptional he was. At one point, Bilton hints that Ross' libertarian outlook is just another more extreme strain of the worldviews personified by other silicon valley unicorn ceos (see: Kalanick, Travis). A deeper dive into this vein would have been appreciated.Shoutout to the portrayals of the hardworking bureaucrats, like the lowly IRS black agent who knew Ross was a white guy from the suburbs because he was scared of buying drugs and the TSA employee who went against his superiors' orders to stop stirring the pot and kept investigating the Silk Road on his own.
    more
  • Jared Della Rocca
    May 9, 2017
    When the center of your work is an underground website on the dark web trafficking in over a billion dollars a year worth of drugs, guns, and any other illegal material or activity you can think of - you're going to have an interesting book. Add in the mastermind behind it all, a galaxy of government agents who both hunt down and, occasionally, participate in and profit from that website, and you've got a REALLY interesting book! Bilton's previous work on Twitter gives him the bona fides to chro When the center of your work is an underground website on the dark web trafficking in over a billion dollars a year worth of drugs, guns, and any other illegal material or activity you can think of - you're going to have an interesting book. Add in the mastermind behind it all, a galaxy of government agents who both hunt down and, occasionally, participate in and profit from that website, and you've got a REALLY interesting book! Bilton's previous work on Twitter gives him the bona fides to chronicle the history and workings of an Internet business, but not always the narrative to tell it as explosively as it could. So while you're gripped by the (short) chapters, there's always the sense that more could have been done. It's a page turner that feels like it could have been a book you couldn't put down.Overall, though, a great read and one worth checking out.
    more
  • Nick
    May 9, 2017
    Unbelievably talented reporting on one of the most fascinating modern criminals of our time. Bilton crafts a fast paced non-fiction thriller that makes it impossible to put the book down. Considering the fact that book was written in such depth without a single interview from Ross Ulbricht makes it all the more impressive. It's actually quite surprising Ross declined the opportunity to help paint his legacy via interview. I cannot recommend this book enough if you're even remotely interested in Unbelievably talented reporting on one of the most fascinating modern criminals of our time. Bilton crafts a fast paced non-fiction thriller that makes it impossible to put the book down. Considering the fact that book was written in such depth without a single interview from Ross Ulbricht makes it all the more impressive. It's actually quite surprising Ross declined the opportunity to help paint his legacy via interview. I cannot recommend this book enough if you're even remotely interested in learning more about one of the most impressive cyber criminals of our time.
    more
  • John Dito
    May 17, 2017
    Entertaining read and a solid case for libertarianism imho. Nick Bilton is a solid investigative reporter type, getting better with age....up there with Matt Taibbi. Interesting sidenote for me, I found this to be a tale of the consequences of the narcissistic millennial, this is what happens when you never tell kids they are wrong. I mean honestly the parents were like "oh ok you are daytrading now and now you are living in Australia for months...wtf??"
    more
  • Biblio Files
    May 4, 2017
    A massive website dealing in every kind of banned drug, weapon, and even human organs. Libertarian ideals gone to a criminal extreme. Crooked federal agents who can't decide which side of the law they are on. Computer nerds on both sides of the law. Greed. Love. Great ingredients for a summer thriller, and the only thing that could make it better -- it's all true.
    more
  • Lukas
    May 14, 2017
    This reads like a fictional tale, but it is not. Indeed, it's a real-life story that you will not be able to put down. I have a feeling Ross Ulbricht's story might just be the first of a plethora of similar lives being lived right now.
  • Jonathan Jesse
    May 13, 2017
    Great story and great reportingNick Bilton weaves a great story here while telling so many facts. It was a very enjoyable read and I learned a lot about Dread Pirate Roberts and the Silk Road.Its clear he did his research and also weaves a great story.Highly recommend
    more
  • Warren Mcpherson
    May 11, 2017
    Fascinating contemporary crime story highlighting ideas, and drama of the development of the Silk Road on-line drug market. Vivid character development and storytelling you would expect from fiction. The fact it isn't added to the thrill of an exciting climax.
    more
  • Brian
    May 22, 2017
    Fascinating look into a world that I imagine many assume exists but know so little of, myself included.
  • Gregarious cline
    May 8, 2017
    WOW! Do not start this book unless you have time set aside to finish it in one read. So well paced and impossible to put down. I'm sure they are casting the movie as I type this!
  • Praveen Kumar Garlapati
    May 7, 2017
    Story of Silk Road - The infamous dark web where drugs can be bought and sold freely.Enjoyed the read.
  • Andrea
    May 18, 2017
    Interesting
  • Matthew Murray
    May 23, 2017
    This book is another reason why I don't read fiction anymore. Crazy story.
  • Michael Galpert
    May 6, 2017
    I didn't know much about the Silk Road story and hot damn. Bilton did a great job retelling the story
  • Joshua
    May 20, 2017
    Read this entire book today - I absolutely could not put it down!
Write a review