Prior to eight years ago I did not intend to read and/or review blockchain-related books. See the full list here.
The first one I published covered The Age of Cryptocurrency, a book I thought was so bad that it immediately needed a second edition.1 And no one would believe me if I simply tweeted that.
So I manually typed up all of the passages I thought were inaccurate and boy what a chore. To save time I should have just gotten the Kindle version, will try to do so going forward.
The second book reviewed, Digital Gold, is a solid book even though its review is longer than both Blockchain Revolution and The Business Blockchain, neither of which were good.
It will sound strange but I think the critique of Cryptoassets itself mostly aged well (spoiler alert: it was not a good book) but that the lead author – Chris Burniske – is someone who I think has turned the lemon into lemonade. Can’t say that I agree with everything he opines on today, but of all the “bad books,” he seems to have had the most positive growth as a commentator/investor. I probably just jinxed everyone by saying that.
The Truth Machine is about as bad as its predecessor: The Age of Cryptocurrency.
The Cryptopians was a pleasant surprise and contained virtually no errors which is accomplishment due to its length and a testament to Shin’s effort to independently fact-check the manuscript.
The Billionaire’s Folly was a fun breeze written by one of the few people that I met at pre-Covid events who didn’t immediately come across as a scammer.
This summer, after I published the review for Popping the Crypto Bubble, I spoke with one of the co-organizers (“Bob”) of The Financial Times sponsored anti-blockchain event. Even though Diehl – one of the co-authors of the book – was a speaker at the event, Bob said he still hadn’t read Diehl’s book but stated that my review was outrageously long. I responded: if you had read the book you would have seen it was filled with errors every other page.2
And last but certainly not least is Number Go Up, another pleasant surprise. It was an informative page turner, or as I call it, a palate cleanser after having read a pretty bad take from some anti-coiners – Easy Money – just a couple weeks earlier.
Obviously these are my opinions, however I try to back up each counterclaim/argument with a link or reference. So readers can fact-check my fact-checking.
What are the numbers thus far?
Below is each title listed in chronological order of review with the paperback/hardback page length in parenthesis followed by how long my review was.
- Age of Cryptocurrency (368 pgs) – 23100 words in the review
- Digital Gold (435 pgs) – 7500
- Blockchain Revolution (368 pgs) – 7100
- The Business Blockchain (393 pgs) – 5800
- Cryptoassets (368 pgs) – 39900
- The Truth Machine (320 pgs) – 27700
- The Cryptopians (496 pgs) – 9000
- The Billionaire’s Folly (264 pgs) – 500
- Popping the Crypto Bubble (308 pgs) – 46900
- Easy Money (304 pgs) – 42100
- Number Go Up (444 pgs) – 21000
What does this look like?
In general, the longer the book, the better it is. But the longer the book review, the worse the book was. In fact, 5-out-5 worst books I have reviewed all exceeded 23,000 words. Coincidence, I think not. That was not intentional on my part, rather, it illustrates just how many mistakes those authors made. In fact, if anything, the most recent reviews have been atypically longer due to wanting to include longer passages from the book so the reader can have more context and not just rely on a pithy snippet.
Not too dissimilar from the Anna Karenina principle, the worst books (above) flopped in different ways.3 For instance, (9) and (10) were more ideologically driven then empirical driven; making claims without sources went downhill fast. (5) Used poor analogies (such as the adoption of Twitter) to compare Bitcoin’s adoption rate. (1) and (6) were written by the same authors but Casey’s jump from topic-to-topic without firm conclusions – in both – comes across like Ian Bremmer.
With apologies to Tolstoy above, one common overlap: most of these lemons were written by people with a vested interested in pushing the narratives across the finished line. For instance both (5) and (10) were written by guys who later disclosed their bags; one of them had his phone hacked and lost money and told the NYT, the other took out a $250,000 short on coins and lost money and told The Guardian.
In contrast, the top four books I have done a review, as of this writing, all had a few things in common: a single author, which reduced the need for reconciling differing tones and voices. It probably helped that three out of four were already journalists.
These were largely non-ideological explorations of a cast of characters – and subject matter experts – central to a given coin ecosystem. Digital Gold focused on the early years of Bitcoin; The Cryptopians and The Billionaire’s Folly described the Ethereum world; and Number Go Up primarily looked into Tether and all of the things it touched. All four were written for a mainstream audience yet didn’t treat the audience like unsophisticated rubes.
Be sure to grab these for the holiday season:
Are you an aspiring writer looking to fill a void left in the book marketplace?4
I think there are at least a few topics that still haven’t gotten much attention:
- Non-hagiographic, non-shilling exploration of the world of proof-of-work mining. The market needs an author willing to visit these facilities and not play footsy with NDAs like the Easy Money authors did. Currently we’re left with an emboldened industry lobby and a seemingly out-to-lunch WWF.
- A dressing down of the top 20 ICOs from the 2016-2018 boom and bust cycle. Where are they now, what have they delivered, what funds do they still have, did they spread the wealth and/or enrich themselves, how often do their (co)founders engage on social media now versus then? How decentralized is the base layer infrastructure? What law firms did they use to get deferred prosecution agreements from law enforcement? How many former prosecutors joined defense counsel in obtaining them? Which of the ICO boom/bust influencers received a proffer (“queen for a day”) from prosecutors? What PR firms did they hire back then and currently work with today? If it worked for them, why not tell the world how to do it?
- An exploration into the partisan world of the Horseshoe Theory. Recall that some Bitcoin maximalists and anti-coiners often use the same a priori cudgel to brow beat their audience. Who is funding each of their narratives? For instance, in the U.S., how much money (from “institutes”) has been spent on lobbying state and federal government agencies on behalf of miners? How many independently wealthy anti-coiners fund opposing efforts? What PR firms do either group(s) currently work with today?
- Coin lobbyists. There are probably more coin lobbying organizations than actual users on most layer 1 blockchains. Yet there is little insight into the level of coin donations they receive and where it goes. Are those who received BTC and ETH years ago sitting on large treasuries? Apart from playing with their Tungsten cubes in their large homes, what else do the lobbyists spend their gains on? How many expats are funding them?
- Romance-scams. One of the strengths of Number Go Up was the author flew out to Cambodia to see first hand what “pig butchering” scams looked like (trigger alert: they are compounds guarded by guys with guns and filled with slaves who sext message you). What other romance scams rely on cryptocurrency-specific infrastructure?
- Great success(es)! If any.5
Or maybe those are just the topics I think are interesting, that the marketplace lacks, but there is little demand for it. Maybe I’m, as that anonymous coward on Twitter recently said, an imbecile.
I dunno though. An investigative journalist flying out to Tbilisi to follow-up on this mining story could win a prize that rhymes with mulitzer. Give it a thought.
- One of my former colleagues at R3 regularly sent me the XKCD comic, Duty Calls, whenever I started fact-checking. [↩]
- As an aside, it is a little odd that few people have reviewed the book since Diehl’s views go largely uncontested by any side of the aisle. For example, a portion of the ending was cribbed by the anti-Web3 letter (he also co-authored) word-for-word, two weeks after the book was published. That is astroturfing. [↩]
- Obviously “flopped” means it did not win my thumbs up. I’m sure several of these became New York Times Best Sellers. [↩]
- And if you’re counting at home, that leaves two books that reside in purgatory. Let’s let them simmer as they are closer to bad than good. [↩]
- Even writers who have formed their priors should spend time in the trenches to look at existing product-market fit and infrastructure-market fit. It can be boring and often relies on speaking to people working at FMIs. [↩]