There are a lot of books out there on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. But only few of them are really worth your time. Working in the (content) marketing department at a fast-growing fintech like Bitpanda is demanding in terms of understanding what’s going on in this exciting industry. I studied political science and in my previous jobs I worked as a tech journalist and in the advertising industry, and so I am mainly interested in the sociopolitical implications of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies.
- Digital Gold. Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money by Nathaniel Popper (Harper Collins, 2015)
Probably the best book I have read so far on the history of Bitcoin. Digital Gold is not about how Bitcoin works or how to use it (there are better books and websites that cover this topic), but it’s a deep dive into how Bitcoin was created and how it went from a virtually unnoticed experiment within a tiny community of “Cypherpunks” to an evening news phenomenon. The fascinating thing about Digital Gold is its attention to detail. Author Nathaniel Popper is a technology reporter at The New York Times and has been covering Bitcoin-related topics for a long time, which has allowed him to make use of a lot of unpublished quotes and emails that he was able to get directly from the people involved in Bitcoin’s early days.
What’s also interesting about Popper’s book is that he never strays from neutral as neutral coverage when writing about Bitcoin (and cryptocurrency in general)l. It’s a fascinating, exciting and, at times, crazy read, but, instead of offering Bitcoin as the solution to everything, Popper tries to examine the topic from a number of different angles. The only downside is that the book was published in 2015 and doesn’t include post-2014 industry developments.
Nathaniel Popper is really active on Twitter and tweets about technology, finance, and, of course, Bitcoin. You can follow him here.
2. The Age of Cryptocurrency. How Bitcoin and the Blockchain Are Challenging the Global Economic Order by Paul Vigna, Michael J. Casey (Picador, 2016)
The Age of Cryptocurrency is probably the best entry-level book for anyone interested in Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. It was actually the first book I read on the topic and it really helped me better understand the full complexity of the subject. It was a captivating read, which I couldn’t put down, because I was so inspired by it. Vigna and Casey do a good job embedding the technical aspects of Bitcoin in really easy-to-understand real-life examples. They explain, for example, why trust in money matters and why Bitcoin has characteristics of a store of value, a currency, and a payments protocol all at the same time.
It’s not as detailed as Nathaniel Popper’s Digital Gold, but it touches on most of the topics and events that someone interested in cryptocurrencies should know, including how projects like DigiCash preceded Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin Whitepaper; how Bitcoin went on to become the first decentralised cryptocurrency that actually works; and how Mt. Gox, Silk Road, and Mining Pools subsequently shaped the industry in the following years.
Not only do they summarize what’s happened so far in the industry, but they also try to predict the implications of cryptocurrencies and blockchain for industries such as finance and logistics, or even governments. Vigna and Casey also show how cryptocurrencies could bring financial services to people who are still unbanked. In early 2018, Vigna and Casey published a follow-up book entitled The Truth Machine , which explores use-cases of blockchain beyond cryptocurrencies. Although it’s not as good as The Age of Cryptocurrency, it’s still an interesting read for fans of their first book.
3. The Bitcoin Standard: The Decentralized Alternative to Central Bankingby Saifedean Ammous (Wiley, 2018)
Saifedean Ammous’ The Bitcoin Standard is more for intermediate readers who have read (or are familiar with) the three books already mentioned and know quite a bit already about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. An economist, Ammous explains the basics of how Bitcoin works, but the book has a strong focus on the implications of a digital money uncontrolled and unpoliced by a government or company.
Unlike the authors of the first two books, Ammous doesn’t try to be neutral or emotionless about the topic at all. Instead, he makes it very clear that Bitcoin is a good project and everything else is irrelevant — a phenomenon commonly known as “Bitcoin Maximalism”.
The book starts out with a detailed summary of how money evolved and the world worked when governments used gold to back their fiat currencies before transitioning intothe difference between sound and unsound money. In his view, Bitcoin is the hardest money in human history.
You can find Saifedean Ammous Twitter account here.
4. The Internet of Money: A Collection of Talks (Two Volumes) by Andreas M. Antonopoulos (Merkle Bloom, 2016)
Anyone interested in catchy quotes and a quick overview of interesting cryptocurrency ideas should read this book. Andreas M. Antonopoulos is famous for his energetic and enlightening talks on Bitcoin, Ethereum, ICOs, and other developments in the industry, which he has condensed into roughly 100 pages spread across short but interesting books.
The chapters are short with inspiring quotes on literally every single page. Antonopoulos doesn’t explain how Bitcoin actually works (he wrote a good book called Mastering Bitcoin: Programming the Open Blockchain which covers the technical aspects) but he does answer why it exists.
In Volume One Antonopoulos covers basic topics, like how money evolved over time, what Bitcoin means for privacy and surveillance, and blockchain scaling. Volume Two includes 11 more talks, and offers more insight on the topics already mentioned. He gives a short introduction to Bitcoin, tries to get behind the blockchain hype, and explains the difference between Bitcoin and Ethereum (just to name a few of the talks).
5. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson (Penguin, 2009)
The only book in this list which is not specifically about cryptocurrencies. In The Ascent of Money British historian Niall Ferguson examines the evolution of money, credit, and banking. Since it was released in 2008 (before the release of Bitcoin), Ferguson doesn’t have anything to say on the subject.
What’s interesting about The Ascent of Money is that it’s not just a recollection of important milestones in the history of money. Ferguson connects monetary inventions to important historic events, and shows, for example, why the early adoption of double-entry bookkeeping made the Medicis the richest family in Europe.
Niall Ferguson is active on Twitter and regularly publishes new books. His latest, The Square and the Tower, focuses on networks and how old power hierarchies have been challenged throughout history by new analogue and digital social networks, which, in the context of inventions like Bitcoin and blockchain, is pretty interesting in itself.