American Kingpin

Nick Bilton

Quick Synopsis

The unbelievable true story of the man who built a billion-dollar online drug empire from his bedroom—and almost got away with it.

Publisher’s Synopsis

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.

Book Review

American Kingpin is not your average true crime book. From the title, I initially thought it was about a mob boss or something similar. Instead, American Kingpin is the fascinating story of the Silk Road, a clandestine online drug bazaar hidden on the dark web, and its creator, Ross Ulbricht. Interwoven into Ross’s story is the stories of those trying to bring down the Silk Road.

I went into American Kingpin blind, putting my faith into my friend’s recommendation. I would highly recommend that you do the same. Do not Google Ross Ulbricht or the Silk Road, and do not read news articles. This allows for the storyline to be suspenseful. Plus, everything you need to know is in this extensive piece of investigative journalism.

I do not want to dive into the actual story within American Kingpin and ruin it for anyone. But I have to say that a lot of work was put into researching this book and compiling the story from diaries, online conversations, and the like. It blows my mind how Nick Bilton crafted this narrative so well.

I have not read Bilton’s other books, but I definitely would give them a shot after reading American Kingpin. I found his writing easy to follow (great for audio) and containing the perfect amount of description and detail. As this book also contained technology I was unfamiliar with, I thought Bilton did an excellent job describing it for the layman. In addition, Bilton wrote the story in a way that allowed easy identification of the more minor characters every time they were discussed.

Overall, I really enjoyed American Kingpin. It was an impressive piece of journalism about a fascinating subject and filled with great storytelling. I highly recommend it whether you think the subject will interest you or not, because it will surprise you!


Overall Rating

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.


Rating: 4 out of 5.


Rating: 5 out of 5.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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


Nonfiction – True Crime

Publication Date
May 2, 2017


Storygraph Rating
4.25 stars

Goodreads Rating
4.39 stars

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