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The Silk Road’s version of a gang was a nerdy book club

Lead by Silk Road head honcho Dread Pirate Roberts, the book club read everything from anarcho-capitalist classics to The Color Purple.


Tim Sampson

Internet Culture

Posted on Jan 31, 2014   Updated on May 31, 2021, 7:43 pm CDT

Book clubs. They’re a lot of fun, but they can come with their fair share of hassles. Sometimes members don’t get the book read on time. Other times people just want to drink wine and gossip. But then there are the times when your organizers keep getting arrested for running international drug distribution networks on the Deep Web.

It turns out that many of the outlaw denizens of the former Silk Road were also avid bibliophiles who had their own book club on the site. And though the site was shuttered several months ago by American law enforcement officials, the book club continues to exist.

It didn’t take long for the Silk Road marketplace to reach international notoriety. Fueled by the relatively new and untraceable Bitcoin currency, the Silk Road was a place for people to buy drugs and other contraband as if they were shopping for a desk lamp on Amazon.

The site was only available through online encryption software Tor. It wasn’t a place you could get to just by typing “Silk Road” into Google. So naturally, it attracted a certain type of recreational drug user and dealer: Those witha  hacker/anarchist bent. And it turns out these folks are voracious readers.

“Knowledge is power, and reading is one of the best ways to expand your knowledge,” wrote Silk Road founder Dread Pirate Roberts when he began the book club.

“Each week, we will select a reading designed to expand our understanding of the issues that face the Silk Road community and have a group discussion on the material. My hope is that a high level of discourse will be fostered, and as a community, we can become strong in our beliefs, with a coherent message and voice as the world begins to take notice of us.”

So what kind of reading materials are on Silk Road reading list? According to the Huffington Post, they aren’t books likely to be on the agenda for your mom’s next book club meeting.

Before the Silk Road was shut down in October following the arrest of Ross William Ulbricht, the 29-year-old San Franciscan authorities allege was behind Dread Pirate Roberts, members of the Silk Road book club held lively conversations on such titles as Anatomy of the State by Murray Rothbard. Rothbard is the father of the kind of anarcho-capitalist, libertarian worldview championed by many merchants of the Silk Road.

There are some mainstream titles on the book club’s landing page however, which champions banned books like Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple, Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man, and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Nearly all the books are pirated however.

There is also considerably less mainstream content available through the book club, like 9/11 truther materials, the Anarchist Cookbook and documents with nefarious titles like Defeating Electromagnetic Door Locks, according to Huffington Post.

The book club was originally shuttered along with the rest of Silk Road when authorities made their first arrests in October. It was revived with the ill-fated Silk Road II, created by some of Dread Pirate Roberts loyal lieutenants. But that project was put on ice at the end of last year after more arrests were made.

Despite this unfortunate turn of events for the Silk Road’s primary drug-peddling operation, the anarchic salon that is the book club lives on in a private chat room, perhaps fomenting the Internet’s next major challenge to government authority.

“Education is liberation,” book club member AdamSmith wrote.

Photo by Hash Milhan/Flickr

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*First Published: Jan 31, 2014, 12:35 pm CST