• Rush Eby

American Kingpin: Books To Read Before You Die

I’ve always been fascinated by large-scale criminal enterprises from a marketing perspective. This story delivers a comprehensive telling of the creation and eventual destruction of the Silk Road, a major drug and gun-running empire built on the dark web.

Now, there are a lot of mixed reviews on this book; it’s polarizing in many ways. One of the charming yet controversial choices the author Nick Bolton made, was to write it as narrative prose. Simply said, American Kingpin reads like a fiction novel.

Some have chastised Bolton for fabricating whole conversations between characters, but I wasn’t looking for courtroom transcripts when I picked up American Kingpin. I wanted an exciting account of the largest drug-running website the world has yet known; I don’t mind a little conjecture here and there.

For me, Bolton really paints a picture of the sheer scale and operational tempo of running this dark-commerce site. I was explicitly interested in reading how Ross Ulbricht (The creator of the Silk Road) was able to create such a monolith of an organization. Learning about the moral dilemmas faced throughout was far less satisfying to me than watching Ross put out day-to-day fires.

It’s really a book about a guy who challenged the U.S. Government to a cyber-duel and lost. Libertarian philosophy runs heavy throughout this work, but the real motivator from all accounts is the need to prove himself. Whether you admire him or not, Ross Ulbricht was extraordinary; this book covers his life in a way that allows you to understand him along with the facts.

Again, I know it’s not winning the award for journalist integrity any time soon, but it is a genuinely fascinating read.

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