My Review of “American Kingpin” by Nick Bilton

Posted: May 23, 2017 in Dark Web, Darknet, Silk Road
Tags: , , , , ,

After reading the sensational extracts in a number of publications (“The Silk Road was a one-stop internet emporium for anyone looking for a kidney, an Uzi or a half kilo of cocaine”), and witnessing the heartache it was causing Lyn Ulbricht, I readily admit I came to American Kingpin with a prejudiced and critical eye.

I was pleasantly surprised. Nick Bilton has done a great job pulling together the timeframe and major players and created a page-turner of narrative non-fiction. For an idea of just how many materials that is, check out LaMoustache’s Silk Road timeline – printed out, it is 44 pages of single-spaced 8pt type. I know, because it sits on the desk beside me, always.

So insofar as cataloguing events and making a book with wide true-crime readership appeal, American Kingpin delivers. Lyn’s criticism that it is too one-sided towards the cops is not unfounded: there is no doubt that this is their narrative. But I believe Bilton did try to speak to Ross and other major players, who refused. In the end he could only work with those who would speak to him. That said, the “Julia” parts read like schlocky bad-boy romance fantasies.

Stylistically, I hate the “little did he know” tropes that end nearly every chapter. As somebody who knows the story intimately, it is just annoying, but I would think that for any fresh readers, they would be major spoilers for no apparent reason.

Where the book goes into territory that I have no knowledge of, I have no choice but to believe the author. But there are so many things in the book that could only be creative licence – what is inside the heads of people Bilton never spoke to being the main ones. But American Kingpin gets wrong some things that I do know about, which make me wonder about the accuracy of the things that I’ve taken on good faith.

Where it comes to people I know personally (i.e. in real life) there are small but annoying inaccuracies. Pete and I laughed at the two mentions of his alter-ego Samesamebutdifferent – I guess the notion that he’s somebody “not to be fucked with” could be the subjective opinion of someone who had never met him (he’s the nicest guy), but calling Brisbane – a city of over two million people – “the outback”? Come on!

Mongoose/Variety Jones was walking and talking just fine as of a month ago; the image of a wasted, broken, crooked little man in Bilton’s book does not accord with the Roger Clark I met.

The book also pushes the $1.2bn figure that was well and truly debunked and officially revised by the FBI to around a tenth of that figure. Bilton would have known this, so the inclusion of the “billion” word several times throughout the book can only be dishonest and done for dramatic effect.

Similarly, I can see why Lyn Ulbricht was so mad about the “murder for hire” stuff – anyone reading the book would think that murders had in fact taken place. There is a sentence that the hits on Tony76 and his associates may have been a scam, but there is also the unnecessary and completely unsupported suggestion that the Hell’s Angels had hidden the bodies really well. All in all, the fact that no murders ever took place, nor was Ross ever charged with them is completely glossed over.

If you doubt that many people still believe murders happened, hitmen were available on the Silk Road website and Ross was convicted of murder-for-hire, just look at this thread on Reddit today.

I think the corruption of law enforcement was similarly not given enough airtime.

So all in all, it is a good read, totally accessible to the lay true-crime reader and Bilton has definitely done a good job in untangling the incredibly complex timeline, twists and stories that came from Silk Road. I just worry that these little things – inferences and inaccuracies – eventually become Alternative History.


Don’t forget, when browsing the dark web or you just don’t want to be tracked, it’s always smart to hide your IP from prying eyes. I use IPVanish

  1. Sounds like an interesting read, although the inaccuracies would bug the crap out of me too. Did you notice that the same thing has been happening with regard to AlphaBay? More articles coming out claiming that the “deep web is 99% of the internet” and all that. 🙂

  2. Flakes says:

    Off topic, but I wouldn’t mind your take on this

    I thought this sort of thing didn’t happen on the dark web, didn’t you write an article a while back about gladitorial fights and snuff films. or is this just one moron who took being a hacker/ outlaw a bit too seriously. Kidnapped a girl. Then when he couldn’t find a, decided to ditch her?

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