The true story of the man who built a billion-dollar online drug empire from his bedroom (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)—and almost got away with it.
...the most comprehensive narrative thus far. The cast of characters has been established over the years since Ulbricht’s arrest, but Bilton’s impressive reporting gives more space to a story that could use some sprawl ... Bilton’s focus is on the hunt, and the book seems determined to sustain the suspense, even when it’s baked into the plot. Many chapters end with a cliffhanger, which adds a cinematic quality but veers into pulpy true crime when it feels like there’s more pathos at stake ... Ulbricht’s rise and fall is like the start-up hero’s journey reflected in a black mirror.
Bilton opens American Kingpin collecting string, introducing the characters. This doesn’t come without some slack while the reader waits for the action to spool up...But halfway through, with everyone in place and the tick-tock under way toward its denouement, the narrative, retailed in brisk Vonnegut-length chapters, becomes tight and riveting.
Drawing on an impressive stockpile of research, Mr. Bilton documents Ulbricht’s mental state in great detail, producing a portrait of a young man experiencing the heady mix of exhilaration and terror that accompanies becoming an immensely successful criminal ... Yet all of Ulbricht’s crimes—and much of Mr. Bilton’s story—took place online. This presents problems for a book that bills itself as a thriller and that probably aspires to be made into a film ... Without [discussing the] technology, however, the book feels incomplete. It’s hard to understand how Ulbricht succeeded and what lessons his story holds for the future.