- Series: later printing
- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 1 edition (September 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0596007329
- ISBN-13: 978-0596007324
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 26 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #631,204 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Spam Kings: The Real Story behind the High-Rolling Hucksters Pushing Porn, Pills, and %*@)# Enlargements 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
With monikers like Shiksaa, Dr. Fatburn, Mad Pierre and Terri Tickle, the subjects of McWilliams's debut often sound cut straight from pulp or comic-book noir farce— despite being real. A brisk narrative sets immediately on the trail of one of them: Davis Hawke, a chess-geek neo-Nazi turned spam lord. We also meet Shiksaa, a frustrated AOL user turned antispam vigilante who, along with a posse of like-minded netizens, fights running battles with spammers like Hawke, the man behind countless herbal Viagra offers and get-rich-quick schemes. McWilliams, an experienced business and technology reporter, manages, at his best, to make stories of people glued to their computers read like a thriller. His true (if virtual) crime tale's quick pacing and use of online exchanges provide relief from details of how, technically, spam kings operate (not always gripping moments: "Hawke purchased and downloaded a copy of Extractor Pro from the company's Web site"). This helps McWilliams pull a lively tale from the messy web of computer-geek criminality and righteous antispammer reprisal—and one from which spam-beleaguered computer users may take heart.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Brian McWilliams has been reporting on business and technology issues for over twenty years. His articles have appeared in online publications such as Wired.com and Salon.com as well as in magazines including PC World, Computerworld, InformationWeek, CFO, Across the Board, and Inc. McWilliams gained international attention in 2002 when he wrote about the contents of Saddam Hussein's email inbox.
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Top customer reviews
Principal bad actor is Wolfgang Davis Hawke, a Jewish kid from Massachussetts who strangely became involved in an online Nazi party for ideology and profit. Hawke seems like one of these high IQ rich kids with a somewhat sociopathic outlook on life. A wily f---ker with tech savvy and a willingness to take great chances, he comes across not as much as a villian, but a ruthless grey area entreprenuer. Maybe this kid felt he blew his reputation after being outed a stupid radical political phase and chose to throw his energy into the then new and profitable shady venture of spamming. I had the feeling that Hawke felt he was hated and saw no other alternative but to double down.
Hawke and his co-horts are by far the most interesting part of the book. As he and the younger recruit Brad Bourinval hit paydirt with their spams, you can't help but have a little admiration for at least their dilgence and ambition in pursuing such a "dream", regardless of the headaches they caused others. The "spam fighters" who work to expose spammers are also detailed in the book, but the oddly, the good deeds they committ are boring and they come across as internet stalkers, nerds and nags. Even though they are obviously on the correct side of this issue, it is somewhat difficult to become stimulated reading about their chatroom "battles" or petty back and forth correspndence with targeted spammers. God bless them for doing a good job, but the author really had to stretch to make these people interesting.
Brain McWilliams writes well. He thankfully avoids making this a technical expose on how the spammers succeeded, but instead gives a nice mix of the stories of the spammers, the anti-spammers, and the legal aspects of the anti-spam crusade. The story of spam is ongoing and as far as I know unresolved, so there is no really conclusive ending or closure as the book finishes.
Sickie number one would be Davis Wolfgang Hawke (aka "Bo Decker," "Michael Girdley," etc.) one-time founder and leader of his self-styled Neo-Nazi group, the Knights of Freedom. He got started in Web hustling by selling knives and Nazi paraphernalia on Ebay. When it was discovered that his birth name was Andrew Britt Greenbaum and that his father was Jewish, he quite naturally lost a lot of cache with his Neo-Nazi followers, and so he closed down his storm trooper Website and turned to spam. He discovered that he had a natural talent for writing the sort of copy that sells sex pheromones, pyramid schemes, porn, and other spam "products," and before he knew it he was hiding stashes of hundred-dollar bills all over his various digs and the nearby countryside.
Sickie number two would be Brad Bournival, Hawke's geeky chess-playing protege who made a million dollars spamming penis enlargements pills and such. Other sickies include big-timer Scott Richter of OptInRealBig who followed 9/11 and the anthrax attacks with flag and gas mask spamming, a kind of low-life huckster with a genius for turning public events into personal wealth. Also mentionable is the really sad Thomas Cowles who hustled mass mailing software but got thrown in jail for criminal contempt of court after allegedly stealing some computer equipment from South Florida spam king Eddy Marin.
The white hats include Susan "Shiksaa" Gunn, Piers "Mad Pierre" Forrest, Francis Uy, Pete Wellborn, Steve Linford and others, many of whom frequented the antispam Web newsgroup Nanae. Compromised and perhaps characteristic of a third category of spam-world denizens would be Karen Hoffman, one-time spam fighter who crossed over to the dark side to work for spammers.
What is really amazing is just how readable this book is. McWilliams has the narrative talent of a novelist, and the investigative skills of a top drawer journalist. I found this bizarre story of greed and human depravity in cyberspace as "unputdownable" as a best-selling true crime tale--which it is. This also serves as a sort of history of outline spam, chronicling the lives and times of those involved while reporting on the various measures taken by email providers and governments to combat the flood of unsolicited bulk emails.
As for the future of spam and spam-fighters, McWilliams gives this appraisal: "...the pernicious root of the spam crisis does not appear to be legislative or technological. It is human..." He adds, "The ability to move relatively incognito online may have created a perfect medium for surreptitious e-marketers...But the Internet has also engendered a corresponding segment of consumers. Call them furtive shoppers" who have a desire for stuff that needs to be delivered in plain, brown wrappers. He concludes, "...spammers sell whatever people will buy from them." (pp. 296-297)
So, the spam problem (costing the world $25-billion a year--estimate by the UN's International Telecommunications Union, p. 295) is not likely to go away until somebody changes human nature. As soon as the large ISPs such as AOL and Yahoo! find a way to filter out spam, spammers find a new way to get around their filters. Short of draconian measures, it would appear that spam at some level of annoyance will continue to be with us for years to come.
I started reading this book and became hooked. It reads like a novel, and let me tell ya, it is absolutely fascinating! I love the style the author adopts. I am so glad I chose this book from O’Reilly’s, because it is truly worth reading. Not only is it fascinating, but it is also informative. I would recommend this book to anyone who wonders, “Where the hell did all this spam come from? And better yet, how did it get started? As well as who are the people responsible???” Personally, I think they should hang ’em out to dry.
Most recent customer reviews
The world of spam isn't for those who don't want to get their hands dirty... really dirty.Read more