Michael Gracie writes "Spamroll is a recently launched blog and information resource on spam, phishing, and other internet security issues, the purpose of which is to bridge the gap between information and discussion among technical professionals, and that targeted for end users. As part of the research for Spamroll, I picked up Spam Kings - The Real Story Behind the High-Rolling Hucksters Pushing Porn, Pills, and @*#?% Enlargements, written by Brian McWilliams and recently released by O'Reilly. , With Spam Kings, Mr. McWilliams has put together a book suitable for shelving next to The DaVinci Code and the Bat Book (Sendmail 2nd edition, by Brian Costales and Eric Allman). It is a compellingly detailed account of the burgeoning of spam, spammers, their foes, and the intricate community that intertwines them." Read on for Gracie's review.
Spam Kings is a pseudo-chronology of the exploits of the biggest spammers of the late nineties and new millennium, following their trail right down to the lunch menu, with the underworld's anti-spam fighters of the day taking the order. The book details the comings and goings of the likes of Sanford Wallace, an early spam king who claimed constitutional authority to send UCE, up to the present-day powerhouses such as Ron Scelson and Scott Richter, whose wealth and influence keeps the heat off of them. [Though Richter's finally gotten some heat where it counts -Ed.] In between, it runs across characters such as Jason Vale, Thomas Cowles, and Rodona Garst, who have all seen some serious time in court and/or jail for their actions, and some, like Brad Bournival, who tangled with the monster called AOL and is still awaiting his fate, and Karen Hoffman, a one time spam hunter who has turned to "the dark side."
But the real (and underlying) story is about two individuals, Susan Gunn, of NANAE fame, and David Hawke, a former neo-Nazi and notorious spammer who continues to elude the massive AOL lawsuit judgments against him.
The antagonists' and protagonists' paths cross often, but they never seem to directly butt heads. What makes the saga so interesting is that their actions affect each other's lives in profound ways, exemplifying the intensely close-knit nature of the spammer and anti-spam communities that surround them, and sometimes, their disloyalties. Furthermore, the lines between spammer and "anti" sometimes blur beyond natural reason, reflecting the deep knowledge of systems and processes each side attains during their trials and tribulations, and the monetary value of that knowledge in the open (if sometimes seedy) market.
What I found most appealing during the read was the relevancy of events that take place throughout, and the meticulous references to the news of the day. I found myself wondering where I was, how much spam I was getting, and whether I could remember receiving any scurrilous product pitches from the characters within. I am now checking old email archives, just for posterity.
The book ends with an epilogue that outlines what is happening in the spam world, right this very moment. CAN-SPAM doesn't seem to be working, other countries have instituted new laws that are, and people of all shapes and sizes may be complicit in the ongoing problem. The epilogue winds up with a "where are they now" for most of the major characters. Many are retired and/or have moved on to new (but not necessarily unrelated) professions, some are still drowning in legal judgments, while some are...educating your children! But you can be sure others have stepped in to take their places; just check your junk mail folder.
The book also contains an excellent glossary of technical and business terms used throughout. If you are a sys admin who saw the term chickenboner or mainsleaze on a help forum, and are embarrassed to ask what that means, then your bases are covered in this book. If you are a regular everyday email user, and are curious what these "blacklists" and "whitelists" are and what they mean to you, the glossary will again prove very useful during and after your read. The work also contains a deep notes section, which I found extremely helpful -- McWilliams conducted in-depth interviews with many of the characters (and they are characters). And let's not forget the center illustration section, complete with numerous photos of the biggest spammers of all time, at work and at play, as well as some gratuitous mug shots (which I am sure is all you really want to see if you despise spam as much as I do).
I knocked this puppy off in two quiet evenings. While the type is appropriately sized and spaced, and the material not overly technical, what drove me was the fact that the work was a bit of a "page turner" -- I had a hard time putting in down.
In my opinion, Spam Kings is a publication for both the technology/history buff, as well as the everyday email user still wondering where the heck all those Viagra ads in their inboxes really comes from.
Spamroll is the latest creation of Michael Gracie, who thinks spam and phishing represent some of the greatest threats to ecommerce and online world in general. You can purchase Spam Kings - The Real Story Behind the High-Rolling Hucksters Pushing Porn, Pills, and @*#?% Enlargements from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.