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ATPM 10.09
September 2004




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Review: The Spam Letters (book)

by Ellyn Ritterskamp,

Author: Jonathan Land
Publisher: No Starch Press (O’Reilly)

Price: $15

Trial: None

We all get some spam, even those of us with great filters. We have varying reactions to it. We roll our eyes at the attempts to lure us in, highlight it all and delete it, or actually get suckered in and open a piece now and then. And then we roll our eyes, or we get mad.

Jonathan Land didn’t just get mad. He got even.

All right, fine; he didn’t get even. The spammers didn’t quit. But his response to spam is the fist in the air that makes you feel great about resisting something stupid. He has compiled a book of some of his best e-mail responses to spam, and it is hilarious.


Land decided to take whatever offer came in the mail and actually reply to it. He dreamed up characters and scenarios to answer all this spam, and the results are very entertaining. Many of these offers deserve to be cussed out, and there is a good bit of profanity in his letters. I found every bit of it appropriate to the subject and the tone, but you may not want to buy this for your preacher for a thank-you present.

Some examples:

When faced with an offer for a remote control you will never lose, Land counters with a request for a remote control that can be swallowed and excreted by prison inmates playing a twisted game.

His replies to offers of sexual enhancement products are the stuff of teenage frustration made worse.

He nearly hires a student who claims to have read about his job opening. Land claims the job was not to have been advertised for a few more days (of course, there is no job, as there is no company). The exchange continues and only gets more absurd.

I very much enjoyed the sequence of e-mails concerning a textile plant overseas. The plant wanted to sell textiles, but Land asked if it could manufacture T-shirts. He sent photographs. One said, “21 cents an hour…and all I made was this lousy T-shirt!”

There are porno site spams, horse racing scams, and my second favorite: an entire chapter on Nigerian money-laundering plans. Land poses as an entrepreneur unwilling to go along and as his own business manager, who is very willing to get involved. In one sequence he plays on that schizophrenia. It is all thigh-slappingly funny.

My favorite entry: in the message subject, Land is asked, “Have you planned for your family’s future?” The message says he can save money on life insurance, but Land decides to answer the question. Painstakingly. In excruciating detail. Yes, he has planned for his family’s future, and it is not a pretty one. I can’t begin to explain the whole scenario, but I was crying when I got done. It is genius.

I love the idea of this book. I love that Land has decided not to take any more abuse from the spammers and to fight back. At the end of the book he provides actual spam-fighting Web sites, because he admits his technique will not stop them. He also says he used to get five to ten pieces of spam a day, and now that he is replying to some of it, he gets upwards of 400. He reminds us not to reply to Unsubscribe notices from unsolicited spam, because all it does is let someone know they’ve hit a real address.

If you’ve ever thought about returning fire to a spam e-mail, you’re probably better off not doing it. But you can read this book and know that someone has already done it for you.

P.S. Not that you would want to, but you can rest assured that unsubscribing from ATPM will not result in any extra spam. The notification e-mail we send each month is request-only, and you can get out of it if you like.

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