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

Dick Dastardly is a cartoon character, literally and figuratively. He, as well as Boris and Natasha, have become metaphors for the simplistically evil. Those people don’t actually exist. What does exist are a whole lot of people who start down a road and lose control. They are probably pretty normal people on some level, and where exactly they went wrong is really the crux of their personal narrative. But it should ground us to remember that these people, and all people, are not evil in any totalizing way.

That wasn’t anything I expressly learned reading Nick Bilton’s American Kingpin, but it is certainly something that the book reinforces. It follows the story of Ross Ulbricht, otherwise known as The Dread Pirate Roberts, who founded the black market website The Silk Road in 2011. It follows Ross from the events of his life that ultimately led to the genesis of the website, giving you a very clear insight into who the person really is. It also gives you equal insight into many of the different federal agents and officers who ended up tracking and ultimately catching Ross. The book is surprisingly dense, and even manages to fit in a fair bit of Ross’ romantic life (which was surprisingly relevant to what was going on).

The writing in this book has a lot of virtues. The book is accessible, it reads easily, and the author wastes very little time getting into the story. It’s short, but you never feel like you are being cheated on the details. The author is also surprisingly even handed with what is going on – he presents the events of the book with very little commentary as to what is going on. It isn’t surprising to me that two readers can come away with two very different interpretations of the facts from reading this. This is particularly true in how the author does not shy away from bringing up the corrupt cops that found themselves in the mix of this story. The events are somewhat complicated and murky, and there certainly can be various interpretations of the facts.

Which brings me back to the ideas of the opening paragraph. Ross is a certainly a fascinating individual. Much of what he does through the narrative demonstrate how intelligent and principled he is as a person. But he does come off as entitled, and it his very principles that lead him not only to some pretty horrific decisions (allowing human organs to be trafficked on his sight, believing that there could be a circumstance outside of duress in which anyone would ever sell their own liver) and ultimately his own downfall (being talked into (by Variety Jones) commissioning the assassination of an employee of the Silk Road(Greene)). Ross may be extremely smart, but he also struck me as painfully naive in that same manner that most libertarians are.

Libertarianism: Not even once.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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