Spam Kings

Spam Kings

The full title here is Spam Kings: The Real Story behind the High-Rolling Hucksters Pushing Porn, Pills, and %*@)# Enlargements. I co-worker of mine used to get flabbergasted every time the topic of unsolicitted commercial e-mail, or Spam, was brought up. Not because it annoyed him, but because he just didn’t understand how these people got away with it and how they did their work. Why didn’t police just knock on their doors and arrest them? I was kind of interested in the same question, so I picked up this book looking for an answer. I was also curious as to why these people do what they do. Do people really buy stuff from them? Enough to make a living? Enough even to get rich?

Spam Kings did answer these questions, in a way. It actually tells the stories of both spammers and anti-spammers, dedicated Internet users who try to unmask, report, and otherwise thwart those deliverers of junk e-mail. In particular, the book follows the stories of one person from each side, highlighting how he/she got involved in the spamming/anti-spamming scene, the methods used, and the hijinks that ensued. It sounds like it should make for an interesting story –the main spammer character in the book is a Neo Nazi for crying out loud– and it does in parts. But McWilliams somehow manages to take an inherantly fascinating (if distasteful) topic and drain it of most of its drama and life. I don’t expect him to make everything more melodramatic than it is, but this book was pretty hard to get through in most places. It could have really used some humor, commentary, and more examination of the big picture that spamming played in Internet culture. The author gives the anti-spamming subculture a good treatment, but largely ignores the rest of the world would make it that much more approachable to the typical reader. Instead, it reads more like a 9th grade world history book than the story of new-age cyber criminals and the grass roots campaigns organized to defend against them.

Its other problem is that there are way too many characters and not enough to differentiate them. The two main protagonists are fairly well drawn out, but far too often the book would flop into discussions about othe players and their activities that were honestly of no interest. Okay, is he talking about the herbal viagra guy, the diet pill guy, the hacker secrets guy, or some new guy I don’t even know who the heck he is? Do I care? Is there even a difference between them? Can’t I just skip to the next section?

So I really don’t recommend this one. You may, in fact, get more entertainment out of reading the actual spam in your e-mail inbox.

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