Monday, July 03, 2017

"American Kingpin", a fascinating story tediously told by Nick Bilton

Among the taglines for this book are "The unbelievable true story of the man who built a billion dollar online drug empire from his bedroom --- and almost got away with it" and "The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road".  The book is written in short chapters of three to seven pages.  At first the book flows well and focuses on Ross Ulbricht, a young man, with strong libertarian views, from Austin, Texas, who created the deep web bazaar for drugs with limited expectations.  As it grew he assumed the pseudonym The Dread Pirate Roberts and the momentum of the site, Silk Road, was unstoppable.  The ability of the site to exist more than two years and not penetrated by or even known by law enforcement speaks to the internet's many tentacles that remain untamed.

As the book develops more characters come into play, most from law enforcement.  Bilton attempts to turn these agents into interesting people like Ross and his girlfriend Julia, but they do not seem to be anything but normal hardworking people.  Trying to turn minor quirks and eccentricities into compelling characters is not easy to do, or to read.  While the accomplishment of writing any book and having it published is always viewed positively here, the writing is not too terrific.  Bilton's observations about life are mundane and familiar, not insightful.  His efforts at a literary style as the book develops stick out like a sore thumb.  Repetition from tiny chapter to the next is annoying.

Yet Bilton had interesting material and the first half of the book works.  He could not sustain it as the tale evolves.  It IS a fascinating story of our time and this book is worth checking out from the library but not a place on the bookshelf.

As to Ulbricht, he was caught, tried, and sentenced to life in prison.  None of the crimes he was convicted of were worthy of a life sentence.  Added up consecutively they are much more than that. While not tried for murder or conspiracy to commit murder,  none of which actually occurred even as agents for the DEA, Homeland Security, the Secret Service, and FBI faked false choices for Ulbricht to make that showed purpose if not action, there are some who think that the life sentence is too much and was handed down based on the entrapments planned rather than evidence.

The lead agents for the DEA and the Secret Service both were convicted  of stealing money from the Silk Road site which they had penetrated, about $750,000 each separately done, something they thought would not be noticed.  There were other questionable actions by law enforcement.  The future may hold some hope for Ulbricht, a former Eagle Scout.  In any event he is looking at a long stay in prison.



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