American Kingpin ~ by Nick Bilton

I’ve enjoyed good True Crime books for years (decades).   It goes without saying that the best of them require a lot of solid research and it would seem Bilton really enjoys that because the background and details are evidence of a LOT of hard work.

And the best ones often also employ some of the same techniques and devices as excellent fiction – especially crime fiction.     Without changing the factual evidence,  the author of a work of nonfiction can give it an interesting structure enhancing the suspense,  add dialogue as remembered by interviewees, or describe settings and personalities,  and end up with a real page-turner.   That’s what happened here.    And I really enjoy techie fiction anyway – an added plus here.


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

by Nick Bilton
2017 / 352 pages
read by Will Damron 12h 13m
Rating:   A++  / True Crime (tech) 

I’d heard of the Silk Road website in the general media and kind of what it was about,  but nothing specific,  no names –  just that the culprit was caught and is now in jail.   It was a huge score for some members of law enforcement.

So when I saw this on the new books list (publication date 5/2/2017)  and read the blurbs I snapped it up and then I read it pronto.

The story is basically that of a very bright young man from the suburbs of Austin who has big dreams and a totally libertarian ideal   (I also suspect he may have some kind of sociopathic element to his personality,  but that is not even mentioned in the book.)   Ross Ulbricht believes that all drugs should be legal – period – for the good of mankind.   He wants to change the world.

As an Austen Texas native,   Ross Ulbricht had almost finished his PhD in physics at the University of Texas but was working as a used bookseller on Ebay when he was waylaid by an idea whose time had come – the technology was there.  So between Tor (an anonymous search engine) and the Dark Web,  along with Bitcoin Ross developed a site for his idea,  came up with the name “Silk Road.” With that and some starter mushrooms and pot he then went into business, “advertising” in forums on the Dark Web.  It quickly became- big business and expanded into hard drugs,  guns and even body parts for sale by independent sellers and buyers, like eBay for everything you can’t gt there.   Ross got a small percentage as a fee an got very rich although it was never about that really.   The whole thing was a lot of hard work with tension and problems  mounting – also big time.

He got a kind of partner and friend in a guy named Variety Jones and  Smedley who showed up fairly early on and helped in a variety of ways. :

The trouble with being a very rich drug lord is that it’s usually quite dangerous and there  can be lots of people after you including cops of various sorts, hackers,  employees,  rogue cops,  and so on.  You can’t really tell people what you do for money or perhaps your real name.  The whole situation invites paranoia. Variety Jones

The alternating chapters between Ross (aka “Dread Pirate Roberts”) and the various investigating organizations (from the Baltimore and San Francisco police departments to the Drug Enforcement Administration and the State Department to the FBI and Homeland Security)  individually and trying to cooperate,

There has been some criticism about the ending –  “bumbling” –   but the way Ulbricht was arrested is the way it went down  –  the author can’t help that and it’s the same with the courtroom scenes and the aftermath which really ties ends up.

Will Damron,  the reader,  is amazing with a well paced performance,  clear enunciation and adds to the suspense without ever going over the top.   I’ll have to look for others read by him.

Bottom line –  this one of the best True Crime books I’ve ever read –  if you enjoy the genre,   get it!

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