Digital Gold tells the story of Bitcoin from Satoshi Nakamoto’s 9-page 2008 white paper through 2015. It’s fun to read. The characters in this true story are the ideologues, outlaws, millionaires, entrepreneurs, power brokers, geeks and a few oddballs who made Bitcoin the first viable, global and digital currency. Nathaniel Popper, a New York Times columnist, wrote Digital Gold. It was difficult for me to put the book down.
Bitcoin would not have gone anywhere without the diehard libertarians who first dreamed of a virtual currency that would be anonymous, without a centralized authority, and thus protect individuals’ privacy from the prying eyes of the government, and perhaps also the grasping hands of tax collectors. Those folks set out to change the world, and they did, even if things didn’t exactly turn out how they envisioned. The idealists who nursed Bitcoin through the early years, and a few law-breakers who profited from it, don’t have the influence they once did. Now, VCs, institutions and other folks who want to play nice with governments have the power in the Bitcoin community.
Digital Gold discusses the brilliance of Satoshi and the other early Bitcoin developers, as well as the foolish mistakes, spectacular failures, foresight and successes of the folks who made up the Bitcoin community. Here are just a few of the characters whose stories the book tells:
- Mark Karpeles – A socially-inept Frenchman who was the CEO of the Japan-based Mt. Cox Bitcoin exchange. He eventually had to admit that he lost hundreds of millions of dollars worth of his clients’ Bitcoins.
- Roger Ver – An arch-libertarian entrepreneur and investor who had run-ins with the law and renounced his American citizenship. He also made a bundle due to his early enthusiasm about Bitcoin.
- Gavin Andresen – A software engineer who took over as lead Bitcoin developer from the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto. He’s a staunch libertarian; however, he’s also pragmatist with a sunny disposition. He helped make Bitcoin legitimate.
- Ross Ulbricht – He attained fame as “Dread Pirate Roberts,” the owner and operator of Silk Road, a Web site that sold drugs and other contraband for Bitcoin. An anarchist who received an excellent education from government-funded schools, Ulbricht eventually learned how difficult it is to maintain your online anonymity.
- Charlie Shrem – He went from a parents-basement-dwelling social outsider to geek rock star after he co-founded the now defunct startup BitInstant. His parents bailed him out of jail only after he agreed to break up with his girlfriend, who was not a member of their Syrian Jewish community.
- Winklevoss Twins – Blessed with wealthy parents, good DNA and the winning end of a lawsuit against Mark Zuckerberg, the two set out use Bitcoin to prove that their fortune wasn’t all luck.
Digital Gold tells the stories of other worthy characters, any of whom you could probably write a book about. Popper does an excellent job of weaving their stories together in this non-fiction saga. If this book were a movie, I’d describe it as Wall Street meets The Social Network, with a bit of online drug dealing and attempted money laundering thrown in for fun.
If you want to learn how Bitcoin came to be, and especially if you’re considering a career in the field of cryptocurrencies, then this book is a must. You won’t get a lot of technical insights from Digital Gold. But you’ll learn the story of Bitcoin.