Cover image for American Kingpin: A Software Crime Thriller

American Kingpin: A Software Crime Thriller

ben profile image Ben Halpern ・1 min read

I just got done reading American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road and I can't recommend it enough as a purely entertaining book that is very much on-topic for a dev site.

It's a book about the rise and fall of the Silk Road and its founder Ross Ulbricht.

From the PHP technical debt that first forced Ulbricht seek outside help, to the computer forensics, to the Stack Overflow question that traced back to Ulbricht as evidence—the book was a code thriller.

This was the Stack Overflow question mentioned in the book, if you're curious:

I'm trying to connect to a Tor hidden service using the following PHP code:

$url = 'http://jhiwjjlqpyawmpjx.onion/'
$ch = curl_init();
curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_URL, $url);
curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER, true);
curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_PROXY, "");
$output = curl_exec($ch);
$curl_error = curl_error($ch);


When I run it, I get the following error:

It was surprisingly pivotal in the investigation.

American Kingpin read as a narrative arc worthy of the true crime drama it was, and it was a page turner the whole time.

Between this book and Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, I've very much enjoyed reading about these tech startup criminals.

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Ben Halpern


A Canadian software developer who thinks he’s funny. He/Him.


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Not a book, but if you like this, you might like the podcast "Darknet Diaries"


Their tagline is "True stories from the dark side of the Internet"

It's a podcast all about hacking, exploits, and all kinds of nefarious stories. It's all put together by one guy and it's put together with great quality.

I've pared down my podcasts to just a handful and this is one I've kept around.


You might enjoy The Mastermind.

The incredible true story of the decade-long quest to bring down Paul Le Roux—the creator of a frighteningly powerful Internet-enabled cartel who merged the ruthlessness of a drug lord with the technological savvy of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

It's the story of an internet entrepreneur who started off by operating the largest network of online pharmacies and then branched way off from there.


Yeah I actually did read that too. I enjoyed it a lot, but it was kind of so over the top so quickly that it never felt as grounded.

Silk Road, where the story takes place in Austin and San Fransisco and the culprit never really stops being a pretty normal fellow (as far as anyone really could tell from the outside) was particularly fascinating.

The author in this tale also had access to practically every discussion ever conducted in the Silk Road chatrooms, so it is a very complete story with very little guess work.

I'd recommend both books for sure.


I have this and The Mastermind on my shortlist, really need to get around to reading them. Just wrapped up the cDc book recently, I recommend it, it was very entertaining.


Just finished this over the weekend. Really enjoyable, quick read. The scale and complexity of the operation was pretty incredible — from the pure technology, to the personnel management, initially "seeding the supply side," to money laundering, on and on down the line.

There are a number of great additional suggestions in the original post and in the comments, but I'll boost another book originally recommended to me by @benGhost in the Wires. It's from a much earlier generation of technology-enabled malfeasance and mischief, but super entertaining.


Great way to show off that new SO embed feature ;) definitely putting this on my reading list!


Reading it.

I can also recommend: Also Nick's book "Hatching Twitter" and "We are Nerds". Both great books.


Oh cool, I did read Hatching Twitter, didn’t put the authors together until you said it, but now I do recall.

Haven’t read We are Nerds, but will now.


Just finished reading this book today. I've never finished a book so fast! The next book on my list is "We Are the Nerds"📕


Thank you Ben!
That is an awesome book! Just finished it, started because of this article :-)