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The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal.

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  3,044 ratings  ·  349 reviews
The incredible true story of the decade-long quest to bring down Paul Le Roux—the creator of a frighteningly powerful Internet-enabled cartel who merged the ruthlessness of a drug lord with the technological savvy of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur

It all started as an online prescription drug network, supplying hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of painkillers to America
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published January 29th 2019 by Random House
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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 ·  3,044 ratings  ·  349 reviews

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Jul 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal by Evan Ratliff is a 2019 Random House publication.


Catherine Lee was found dead in a dumpster in the Philippines. Charles Shultz, owner of an independent pharmacy and well past retirement age, is arrested by DEA agents. An Israeli- Australian citizen with ties to a major cocaine cartel, leases a warehouse in Hong Kong, which is raided by an organized crime unit.

How were these three incidents related?

Evan Ratliff connects the dots and uncovers a
Jan 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Very strange and dark story about a man, Paul Leroux, who used his coding knowledge to eventually set himself up as some kind of barbarian drug kingpin. I am impressed at the massive amount of reporting that went into this story over several years. Despite that, it was not really my favorite. There is lots of blow-by-blow of this complicated and disturbing criminal plot but not much reflection on what it all means for our society and the human condition.

My own takeaway is that Leroux was a distu
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
This man, Paul Le Roux, ran an empire. And he did it internationally. Selling "legal" drugs through the internet, after developing an encrypted software. And when you think of Empire, with the big E- this is one. As much as any former multi-continental colonial or otherwise "Empire" within orders / laws/ merchant pathways for productions and distributions- with all authority coming from the "top-down". And within its own shared to the underlings "culture" as well. Countries and substances both, ...more
Bonnie Brody
Dec 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
What does the murder of a female realtor in the Philippines, shot by a 22 under each eye, have to do with small pharmacies all over the United States that are filling prescriptions over the internet? In addition, what does the foregoing have to do with hitmen, international arms dealers, the smuggling and selling of cocaine and meth, and other international crimes? If you want to know, read this book which is an investigative reporter's dream (or maybe nightmare). The author spent several years ...more
Dec 30, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Informative, but not very entertaining.
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: true-crime
I’m a podcast listener. I listen to a dozen or more each week, and I’m someone who cannot differentiate between (or among) multiple hosts most of the time. One podcast that I listen to fairly regularly is Reply All, hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. Their February 14th episode (#136) was entitled The Founder, and either PJ or Alex talked about Paul LeRoux, former programmer, former criminal cartel boss, and informant to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). It was incredibly interestin ...more
Randal White
An amazing story! Reads like a Vince Flynn or James Bond type thriller. Who would ever have believed that there was actually a "super-villain", who manipulated events world-wide, all the while staying hidden behind the scenes? I couldn't put it down!
Scott  Hitchcock
Interesting if a bit dry in spots. The amount of people carrying out billion dollar schemes in the international markets is both amazing and horrifying.
Alex Givant
Sep 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Reads like a fiction, cannot put it down. This guy is coward, killing his workers on assumption they betrayed him, when caught by DEA - betrayed all of them without second thought.
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very fascinating piece of non fiction. This is a story about Paul Le Roux's criminal activities which could be a base of a good movie. The computer coder turn criminal. Author researched topic well, had numerous sources and did his homework by reading all available legal documents. The story is so compelling that the reader can forget about the shortcomings of this book.

I found the narration a bit chaotic at times, maybe due to multiple characters involved and occasional inconsistencies in timel
Nick Black
for fifteen years or so, since selling my first startup, i've dreamed of moving into the criminal cartel space, building one up around me and some trusted rogue engineer associates, with the eventual goal of turning warlord in some ungoverned territory and building out a libertarian paradise. turns out someone already did most of that, and did a pretty decent job, too.
Jim Crocker
Mar 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal.
by Evan Ratliff

This amazing book chronicles a modern-day mega-criminal – his tools a combination of subterfuge, fraud, intimidation, intelligence, intuition, craftiness, daring, murder, mayhem, greed and computer programming expertise. Evan Ratliff spans the entire globe for over a decade in time in the pursuit of THE MASTERMIND, his global empire and the billions he accumulated.

In one outstanding respect, this has become an example of BUSINESS AS
Nov 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing

I have been on a bit of a nonfiction kick, recently. I ran across this book online, and immediately ordered it from the library. The reason? Apparently criminals interest me, and criminals who rule over empires, virtual or not, are just fascinating. I saw this, and figured it was just the right amount of weird, technical, and unique to really float my boat.

I read this book in two days. To put that into perspective, I’m editing two books for clients right n
Angela H.
Feb 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, audible
The book is about LaRoux, a mastermind behind multiple illegal smuggling! He's a genius in maintaining an empire of crimes through manipulation of the laws within the countries he operated. He manages stay hidden yet present in his empire and instill fear as a quiet, merciless leader.

Read the book to find out more about his illegal empire.
Niklas Laninge
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A top notch story which Ratliff has taken really good care of. True crime doesn’t get any better than this.
Feb 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: crime, true-crime
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 16, 2020 rated it it was ok
Wasn’t thrilled with this book. I think it was a typical true crime book and I thought it would be more. Basically about an international criminal organization that stretched across poor countries such as the Philippines, Mozambique, Liberia and others so Americans can get Methamphetamines and opioids and he DEA and other international drug enforcement agencies can do a huge arrest after multiple people died.
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a wild ride uncovering a global drug and arms ring that also hits the online pharmaceutical industry. The amount of reporting, on a subject straight up filled with unreliable narrators, is astounding. Really fascinating what goes on in our world.
Amar Pai
Mar 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Crazy story! Who knew that the guy who wrote TrueCrypt would be a shadowy criminal mastermind. Well, sort of a mastermind. Real masterminds don't get caught
Feb 25, 2019 rated it liked it
This was decent brain candy non-fiction. A rollicking adventure tale but, as thoroughly reported as it is, it seems to me to be that there is still more to the tale and it doesn't quite live up to its billing.
May 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, journalism
The last time I read a work of longform journalism that better expressed the soulcrushing evil at the heart of global capitalism today it was John Seabrook's "The Song Machine." His tale of how the music industry has algorithmitized our tastes mostly involved an alliance between Swedish songwriters and record executives in L.A. and New York. Ratliff's story nearly avoids all of western and northern Europe but snatches parts of every other continent in its omnivorous tour of the alliance between ...more
Mar 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Evan Ratliff has delivered an almost unbelievable account of a sociopathic software engineer who gradually slips through the veil into a shadow world of drugs, mercenaries, and contract killings, eventually becoming a global kingpin able to sponsor coups, buy off politicians and law enforcement, and ship arms, drugs, gold, and diamonds around the world, unfettered. If Mastermind were not such an impressive display of in-depth journalistic talent, it would make an incredible spy-thriller novel. T ...more
Melody (OhTheBooksSheWillRead) Hawkins
The Mastermind by Evan Ratliff is a non-fiction true crime book that focuses on the rise of Paul Calder Le Roux. Le Roux was a drug lord of international consequence. He was unique in that he was a techie, his specialty being encrypting software to enable the purchase of legal pharmaceuticals over the internet.

This story concerns a criminal organization that conducted business on six continents and involved thousands of people. Amongst the various international crimes involved, are acts of hitme
Jan 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
Thanks to Random House and Netgalley for the advanced copy of this upcoming true crime work. I requested it because I knew I had read something about the main character (the Mastermind) but I couldn’t remember where or when. After finishing the book, I determined from the author’s notes that it was long form articles by the same author that I had read in The Atavist. This book expands on those articles about an international criminal and possibly genius and was a great read. I applaud Mr. Ratlif ...more
3.5 stars. Ratliff does some impressive reporting here about Paul Le Roux, a criminal mastermind raking in millions of dollars first by online drug sales, then by expanding into more traditional lines of criminality. This is a pretty wild story, I just wanted more out of the telling, more finesse to how the story was presented. As is, it's pretty blow by blow, dry in parts and compelling in others. I wish I had read this in print, the narration was a little uninspiring. The government's failure ...more
Simonne Lambert
Nov 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Thanks to Random House via NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
It’s hard to believe this is not fiction. The story of Paul LeRoux is just so incredible. One can only wonder what may have happened had he put his considerable talents and smarts to something legitimate. Evan Ratliff spent four years researching this book and it certainly shows in the details he gives us. And I wasn’t bogged down by these details - I found them fascinating. The book is as good as any mystery thr
Aug 16, 2019 rated it liked it
The real life Paul Le Roux was every bit as cruel, calculating, greedy, murderous, and despicable as any international criminal syndicate head you’ve ever imagined or seen in movies or read about in fiction. This book takes you into his world, into his very conversations, which gives you a chance to see the type of criminals US federal law enforcement and its international partners are up against on a daily basis. You could read this book and assume, ok, but that’s as bad as it gets. Paul Le Rou ...more
Marcia Meakim
Apr 03, 2019 rated it liked it
A deeply disturbing picture of the evil one man can perpetrate and the power he held over those who were lured into his sordid plans. While I found it difficult to read and keep the myriad of players straight, my utmost respect to the two DEA agents who persevered, and investigated him endlessly, only to have him snatched from their grasp at the end with nary a thank you for their persistence and diligence.
It read like a James Bond book, each incident more bizarre than the preceding one. The ma
Apr 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobooks, 2019-read
What a ride. There's a lot of craziness here, but this is mostly a beat-by-beat account of the tracking and evolution of a criminal empire. I wish there had been connections between the piracy and the pill mill to our current opioid crisis, and I think the book suffers for being unable to get close to Paul La Roux (through no fault of the authors).

I think this suffered to me because of how much I liked Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, and if you need a what-the-fuck true
Mar 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing

A fascinating and shocking read, documenting in great detail a criminal empire and its leader, Paul Le Roux. The book follows his journey from software programmer and creator of an online prescription drug store to buying and selling weapons and illegal drugs across the globe and ordering murders.

Besides the story itself, I was impressed by the effort the author put into gathering all the data he could about a massive criminal business which employed thousands of people, many of whom were a
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Evan Ratliff is the editor of The Atavist magazine. His writing has appeared in Wired, where he is a contributing editor; The New Yorker; National Geographic; and other publications. He is also the story editor of Pop-Up Magazine, a live event.

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