The book Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money by Nathaniel Popper is a microhistory book on the story of the virtual cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Published earlier this year, the Digital Gold narrative covers the story of Bitcoin from January 2009 to March 2014. It covers the history of the alternative currency across various topics including:
- its inception and the identity of its mysterious creator
- finding roots with Libertarians
- Ross Ulbricht, the Silk Road, and anonymous currency
- the financial crisis, Federal regulators’ and the finance industry’s interactions with Bitcoin
- Taking root internationally in Argentina, China, the USA, and elsewhere
- Developers, speculators, and investors including the Winklevoss twins of Facebook fame
- Silicon Valley gets interested
The book is far more detailed than I could have imagined. As someone that checked out Bitcoin fairly early in its development (I mined a little but sold my coins before they gained too much value.), I still learned a bit more about the community that incubated Bitcoin as it grew. With over 350 pages in the book, there is a lot of detail in the telling. The book also includes a technical appendix to explain more about Bitcoin, acknowledgements, sources, and an index that add to the book.
From being aware of Bitcoin early on and falling in the circle of keeping up to date on its developments, I have actually grown a bit bored by the same stories but mostly the speculation of both millionaires and those that should be more careful with their money. Despite my low expectations, the book was intriguing enough for me to continue reading through it. It was, at times, too detailed and seemed a bit of enthusiasm took the story further. The timeline-based approach was probably the only way to connect the narrative but I almost wish a topical organization would allow you to read topics from start-to-finish. As it is, there are some elements to the story that do not feel like they receive the full conclusion while others were nuanced with irrelevant details. A topical approach may have read like a textbook but might have given better conclusions to topics, though it would also lose some of the context of the timeline.
As a book on recent history, Bitcoin is still evolving. Some items mentioned are still working towards their full potential, for example, the Xapo Bitcoin debit card just came out. I was also interested to see if CryptoLocker would get a mention in the book and found it in the last few pages.
If you would like to learn about the history of Bitcoin, Digital Gold is a perfect book for that purpose. It won’t provide you a better understanding of its technical functioning but it should provide context in how the currency has grown in popularity enough that a variety of vendors are accepting it in exchange for real goods like Dell computers, server hosting, and many more. Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money by Nathaniel Popper is recommended for anybody curious about the cryptocurrency that would like to appreciate how far Bitcoin has come. Others might be satisfied with the less time consuming read of the Bitcoin page on Wikipedia.