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Digital Cash

The Unknown History of the Anarchists, Utopians, and Technologists Who Created Cryptocurrency
Narrated by: Christopher Ragland
Length: 7 hrs and 9 mins
Categories: Non-fiction, Economics

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Publisher's Summary

The fascinating untold story of digital cash and its creators - from experiments in the 1970s to the mania over Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies

Bitcoin may appear to be a revolutionary form of digital cash without precedent or prehistory. In fact, it is only the best-known recent experiment in a long line of similar efforts going back to the 1970s. But the story behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and its blockchain technology has largely been untold - until now. In Digital Cash, Finn Brunton reveals how technological utopians and political radicals created experimental money to bring about their visions of the future: protecting privacy or bringing down governments, preparing for apocalypse or launching a civilization of innovation and abundance that would make its creators immortal. 

The incredible story of the pioneers of cryptocurrency takes us from autonomous zones on the high seas to the world’s most valuable dump, from bank runs to idea coupons, from time travelers in a San Francisco bar to the pattern securing every 20-dollar bill, and from marketplaces for dangerous secrets to a tank of frozen heads awaiting revival in the far future. Along the way, Digital Cash explores the hard questions and challenges that these innovators faced: How do we learn to trust and use different kinds of money? What makes digital objects valuable? How does currency prove itself as real to us? What would it take to make a digital equivalent to cash, something that could be exchanged but not copied, created but not forged, and which reveals nothing about its users? 

Filled with marvelous characters, stories, and ideas, Digital Cash is an engaging and accessible account of the strange origins and remarkable technologies behind today’s cryptocurrency explosion.

©2019 Finn Brunton (P)2019 Princeton University Press

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  • Philo
  • 09-07-2019

Brimming with ideas, animated and pitch-perfect

This really is a timeless tale. Ancient problems loom at us. Mortality and decay, trade and price and value dance before our eyes and minds. In short, we stagger daily through life, death and economics. We are all-to-human, with psyches and bodies flailing in their own bottlenecks, false positives, and silliness. Youths, however bright-minded, tend to discount what came before, and riding the adrenaline surges of overconfidence, pitch "new" "solutions" accordingly. Some few of these harden into long-term forms widely used. In this book, we meet a gaggle of nerds immersed in all that, feverishly dreaming and scheming. It is today's version of so many before us, no less animated, no less nimble and clever, no less silly in most of the permutations and blinkered in most of the ignorance. This is human creativity in action. Most of it ends up at discarded at the side of the road (to use a decaying but enduring metaphor). Reinventing money is an irresistible white whale to chase over the horizon. Each new fad thrills and ultimately will disappoint or at least be reshaped beyond recognition. This broad view works well as a backdrop this author uses to explain and critique many technologies, dreamers, and subcultures. This gives his voice a constant gravity as he walks us through it all. He is fascinated, effervescent, a great explainer, and yet he tosses a skeptical arched eyebrow at the reader, much needed to get a multi-faceted view. I can't stand technology books by an uncritical booster -- they go straight into my trash bin.

This author has done a terrific job with this material. He is nimble as anyone with words and ideas, and explains for the popular audience the nuts and bolts of crypto currency (and cryonics, and more) with heaps of context and story. The deep and enduring questions dance just outside the very engaging discussion. For example, there are great musings on money and value in the most fundamental senses. Things I have never considered as linked suddenly are. Ahhhh -- insight!

A last point: those not widely literate in history and economics will miss the full effect of parts and may find them obtuse. The book loops through big background ideas that draw in an instant from far and wide. For example, the author gives a reason economist F. Hayek's ideals would favor certain people -- resembling the elites of his youth around a certain intellectual scene -- the Ringstrasse in Vienna. If that doesn't resonate for you, the point would be largely missed. That is the sort of swirling chain of reference not unusual in this book. But when it focuses on tech things -- like the actual working of a blockchain -- it is sharp, to the point, and plainly-spoken.

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  • kameir
  • 04-07-2019

Wandering

The book is neither written as a concise historical account nor an accurate description of cash in general or digital cash in particular. It's a sort of wandering story of currencies and money, albeit mostly confusing and or conflating these two topics.