What to Read Next (No. 254): Cybercrimes
Happy Friday, readers!
In the last couple weeks I’ve read a few new books with cybercrimes front and center. It’s like true crime for a new era.
One of them, The Ransomware Hunting Team, didn’t keep my attention very well and I DNFed it. Some of it was definitely interesting, but it also felt like a longform article or podcast would’ve done the trick just fine.
Two of the books, though, are well worth deeper explorations. Let’s jump in!
As always, I’d love to hear what you’re reading and enjoying this week.
Tracers in the Dark: The Global Hunt for the Crime Lords of Cryptocurrency by Andy Greenberg
It’s pretty common for non-fiction titles these days to be marketed along the lines of “reads like a thriller!” — but it’s a description that rarely matches reality. So when I picked up Tracers in the Dark, I was delighted to find that every page was as propulsive and surprising as any crime novel I’ve read.
Since it began to gain widespread adoption about a decade ago, cryptocurrency — particularly Bitcoin — has become the de facto payment choice for illicit buying and selling across the world. The appeal was simple: since it wasn’t being run through regulated institutions, it wasn’t trackable.
Or so the thinking went.
As the crimes got bigger and more widespread, so did the will of the data scientists and government agents trying to find the nefarious people behind the scenes.
With a couple of ambitious IRS special agents leading the narrative (don’t be fooled — that group of investigators is intense), Greenberg tells the incredible story of how crypto came to be cracked. You’ll find headline-grabbing stories like the fall of dark markets Silk Road and AlphaBay as well as lesser-known misdeeds like the Border Patrol and DEA agents who got sucked into the tantalizing underbelly of Bitcoin riches.
The most heart-pounding true crime books aren’t just about blood and guts and murder — the new Wild West of crypto crime is as jaw-dropping as anything I’ve read in the genre. I haven’t finalized my list yet, but there’s a good chance Tracers in the Dark ends up as one of my Best of the Year.
README.txt by Chelsea Manning
“A README doc is a text file that contains information for the user about the software, project, code, or software. It might contain instructions, help, or other details.”
Manning is famous for two things: 1) leaking buckets of information about the war in Iraq and 2) becoming the first trans woman in the military to be recognized as such and to receive hormone therapy — while sitting in prison, no less.
The media attention surrounding her data leak and her transition was as extreme as it comes — she was alternatively called a hero by some and a gallows-deserving traitor by others.
Given all that drama, I was rather curious to read her story, in her own words.
README.txt starts with Chelsea’s rocky childhood and teenage years — her alcoholic mother, abusive father, and uncertain, unpredictable home life. She ends up in aunt’s care and then on the streets, homeless and hopeless. In the background of all this is Chelsea’s struggle with her sexuality and gender identity.
As with so many people who feel like outsiders, she found a community online, became proficient at hacking, and joined the US Marines’ data team. With a classic hacker mentality, though, Chelsea saw all that data as belonging to the people rather than the government and famously leaked hundreds of thousands of documents.
She landed in prison, came out as trans, and fought the government for her rights, including small things like growing her hair out and bigger things like hormone therapy. Barack Obama eventually commuted her sentence and Manning is now an advocate for both open government and LGBT+ rights.
The writing is quite good, for the most part, and the story clipped along at a good pace. There’s a lot packed into its ~250 pages.
Though I didn’t always agree with her decisions (nor did I always buy her explanations), I’m certainly glad I read README.txt. The best books open you up to new perspectives you wouldn’t have otherwise considered — Manning’s memoir certainly did that. It cuts through the extreme media narratives we were all subject to when her story first broke.
For me, the woven-together threads of LGBT+ coming-of-age, military memoir, and cybercrime felony was a blend I couldn’t resist. If you think you know Manning’s story and have judged her accordingly (whether for good or ill), I definitely recommend README.txt.
That’s all for me this week! Thanks so much for the time and inbox space. I deeply appreciate it.