Looking at Kevin Poulsen, you'd never think he was once one of America's most notorious hackers. Hell, you probably wouldn't even believe what he is now -- a fearless and brilliant investigative reporter at Wired.com. He lives on soups from Costco and Mexican Cokes; his desktop background was a photo of his baby daughter. It took me months of working with Poulsen at Wired to place his name, check out his Wikipedia page and recall that he'd been sentenced to 51 months in jail back in the '90s for hacking.
Poulsen brings all of his background to his new book Kingpin, the story of how a hacker named Max Butler briefly became the very epicenter of the lucrative black market in stolen credit card numbers. While Butler's exploits and the disjointed efforts to catch him make for a cracking (if straightforward) crime story, that's not what makes Kingpin a milestone in the anthropology of hacking, up there with Steven Levy's Hackers. Rather, what will make this book endure is Poulsen's elegant elucidation of how the hacking world evolved from its pimply, ideological beginnings into a global criminal enterprise. He doesn't belabor the point or even indulge in the sort of nostalgia for the old days you might expect. Rather, it's a statement of fact: If your information is valuable and easy to get to, it will be stolen. And not by some cyberlibertarian with a love for Burning Man.