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

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

by Nick Bilton


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From New York Times-bestselling author Nick Bilton comes a true-life thriller about the rise and fall of Ross Ulbricht, aka the Dread Pirate Roberts, the founder of the online black market Silk Road.
     In Hatching Twitter, Nick Bilton gave readers an astonishingly reported, riveting, and impeccably crafted story of the politics and power struggles behind the founding of Twitter. Now Bilton turns his investigative journalism to the story of Ross Ulbricht, the notorious and enigmatic founder of a drug empire called Silk Road.
     In 2011, Ulbricht, a 26-year-old libertarian idealist and former Boy Scout, launched "a website where people could buy anything anonymously, with no trail whatsoever that could lead back to them." He called it Silk Road, opened for business on the Dark Web, and christened himself the Dread Pirate Roberts (after the Princess Bride character). The site grew at a tremendous pace, quickly becoming a $1.2 billion enterprise where you could buy or sell drugs, hacking software, forged passports, counterfeit cash, guns, grenades, and poisons.
     The Silk Road soon caught the attention of the Feds, who embarked on an epic two-year manhunt for the site's proprietor. Ulbricht, in the meantime, struggled to maintain control of his double life and his marketplace, which he originally started to prove that legalizing drugs could make society safer. He gradually abandoned his libertarian ideals to rule Silk Road with increasingly authoritarian force. At one point, he engaged the services of hired hit men to take out employees he felt had wronged him. Soon, some of the Federal agents who were supposed to be hunting for Ulbricht were lured into the dark world and switched sides to join him.
     This is a true-life thriller about ambition gone awry, spurred on by the defining clash of our time: the new world of libertarian-leaning, anonymous, decentralized web advocates and the old world of government control, order, and the rule of law. Bilton's dazzling rendering and gift for narrative make for an endlessly fascinating drama.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781591848141
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/02/2017
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 493,902
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Nick Bilton is a Special Correspondent for Vanity Fair, where he writes about technology, business, and culture, and a contributor at CNBC. He was a columnist for The New York Times for almost a decade. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, son, and dog, Pixel.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Excerpted from "American Kingpin"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Nick Bilton.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Author's Note xiii

Cast of Characters xv

Part I

1 The Pink Pill 3

2 Ross Ulbricht 13

3 Julia Vie 17

4 The Debate 21

5 Jared's Khat 24

6 The Bonfire 28

7 The Silk Road 33

8 Ross the Farmer 37

9 Opening Day of the Silk Road 42

10 What Goes Up Must Come Down 47

11 The Gawker Article 50

12 A Bull's-eye on My Back 54

13 Julia Tells Erica 58

14 What Have You Done?! 62

15 Jared and the Fifty-Ton Flamingo 65

16 From Austin to Australia 69

Part II

17 Carl Force's Tomorrow 75

18 Variety Jones and the Serpent 78

19 Jared Goes Shopping 83

20 The Dread Pirate Roberts 86

21 Carl Force Is Born Again 90

22 "O Captain, My Captain" 92

23 Ross, Hanged or Home 95

24 Carl, Eladio, and Nob 100

25 Jared's Chicago Versus Carl's Baltimore 103

26 The Mutiny 107

27 A Billion Dollars?! 112

28 The Aspiring Billionaire in Costa Rica 115

29 Variety Jones Goes to Scotland 119

30 The Armory Opens 123

31 Ross Silences Julia 127

Part III

32 Chris Tarhell, FBI 133

33 Ross Arrives in San Francisco 137

34 Chris in the Pit 142

35 Batten Down the Hatches! 145

36 Jared's Dead Ends 150

37 A Pirate in Dominica 153

38 Carl Likes DPR 159

39 Kidney for Sale! 165

40 The White House in Utah 171

41 Curtis Is Tortured 176

42 The First Murder 180

43 The FBI Joins the Hunt 184

44 Camping and the Ball 187

Part IV

45 Gary Alford, IRS 195

46 Life and Death on the Road 199

47 Gary's Big Change 203

48 Ross Goes Underground 207

49 Carl Switches Teams 213

50 A Parking Ticket on the Internet 217

51 Tarbell Finds a Mistake 221

52 The Fake IDs, Part One 225

53 The Deconfliction Meeting 231

54 Jared Becomes Cirrus 237

55 Julia Is Saved! Hallelujah! 242

56 The Fake IDs, Part Two 245

57 Onward to Federal Plaza 249

58 Julia Comes to San Francisco 254

59 I Am God 258

60 The Phone Call 262

61 The Good-bye Party 269

Part V

62 The Pink Sunset 275

63 Carla Sophia 279

64 FeLiNa 282

65 Arrested 290

66 The Laptop 293

67 Ross Locked Up 296

68 United States of America v. Ross William Ulbricht 300

69 To Catch a Pirate 304

70 Sentencing 307

71 The Plural of Mongoose 310

72 The Museum 313

73 The Others 316

Notes on Reporting 323

Acknowledgments 327

Bibliography 329

Customer Reviews

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American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Most of us, thank goodness, have no clue what the "Darknet" really is or the myriad of ways it has impacted society. For me the fact that "The Silk Road" ever existed or that millions of people made purchases there is mind-boggling. I found the whole story completely riveting.
Anonymous 6 months ago
I loved this book. Once I started reading I couldnt put it down.
Anonymous 6 months ago
American kingpin, is a fantastic book. I watched Casey Neistat talk about the book in one of his vlogs and thought I’d give it a try. I am not an avid reader, however I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It goes into the details of the story, without dragging it on. It is about a young man, low 20’s (I forget the exact age). Who wants to spread his liberal ideas. He does this by opening a drug selling website on the dark web, called The Silk Road. This book is based of of a true story. So everything that the author says in the book, actually happened. The main character’s (Ross Ulbricht) story is told from the start of him thinking of how to keep everything off paper, and untraceable. Somehow the author does an excellent job, of making you want him to win, even though he is a criminal. It’s a different type of crim, so you almost feel bad for him. This book also goes into his past, and why he thinks, and acts the way he does. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to hear a really good story that actually happened. If you want another opinion, go watch casey neistat's video titled Selling drugs On The Internet, this is obviously in reference to Ross.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Friend told me to read it and I was skeptical because these kinds of books aren’t my thing but I was hooked. Had never even heard of this before!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A good reminder that every time you go on the internet you are leaving fingerprints behind. Kudos to those who worked so hard to capture Ulbricht.
uspostagepaid More than 1 year ago
We listened to this one on a road trip and were enthralled and rapt from start to finish. You'll find yourself torn between right and wrong, examining what motivates people on both sides of the thin blue line, and awaiting each chapter! Well organized, researched, and written-- a must read.