Behind a Coup of Cybercrime

For sheer entertainment purposes, one of the best subgenres of business books has been the computer-hacker narrative, the kind of technological detective story found in books like “Takedown,” by Tsutomu Shimomura with John Markoff (1996), and my personal favorite, “The Cuckoo’s Egg,” by Clifford Stoll (1989). When done well, these books do what the best business stories do: take readers into strange new worlds to learn strange new things, and not have it taste like cough syrup.It’s been a while since I’ve picked up a memorable hacker book. A new one crossed my desk recently, “Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground,” by Kevin Poulsen, a senior editor at Wired magazine (Crown Publishers, $25). It tells the story of a gangly 6-foot-5 San Francisco hacker named Max Butler, known online as Max Vision, among his many noms de chat room, and, on its face, it’s a pretty good yarn. No, Mr. Butler didn’t actually take over the “cybercrime underground.” That’s standard publishing hyperbole, something that irritates me to no end. What he did do, though, is almost as amazing.

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