“Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money” is the work of New York Times technology and business reporter Nathaniel Popper. If you are looking for a solid historical account of the creation and rise of Bitcoin, this is the book for you. The audiobook narration is expertly performed by Robert Fass. Although the book attempts to walk a fine line between being overly technical and overly simplistic for the non-technical person, it does a good job of keeping both type of people engrossed. I personally would have liked to have had a much deeper dive into the technical aspects of Bitcoin and the foundational blockchain specifically, but the book exceeded my expectations in many ways. Instead, the listener is treated to a chronological view of digital currencies along with the people who made them possible. If you like well researched documentaries that do not get lost in all the minutia, this is the right book for you. However, if you are looking for a deep and technical dive into the underpinnings of Bitcoin, you may go away disappointed. Being someone who is in the technology industry, I found the book fascinating, entertaining, enlightening, and extremely well laid out as long as you have the correct understanding of what to expect from the book’s content.
Even though Bitcoin has now been around for over ten years, the encryption, ideas, and tools have all existed in one way or another for decades or longer. The concept of decentralized and non-government run currencies have been around for some time, yet the Internet age was necessary to see these ideas come to fruition. I found it fascinating that may different people were attempting to create, and at times came very close, a digital currency that closely mirrored physical currencies but could improve upon all the places where physical currencies failed. Many were able to achieve bits and pieces but often ran into roadblocks around the next bend involving security, encryption, etc. What you will see in this book is how one person, or group of persons, took the bits and pieces from others and put them together to create what we now know as Bitcoin. Bitcoin’s beginnings remind me of how impactful it was for Diffie Hellman to solve the issue of secure key exchanging on a public network; and Bitcoin uses this same technology to secure itself.
What I found fascinating was not only the rise of the technology itself, but the people and community behind it who wanted to see it succeed no matter the cost. They saw this project as a tenant of their foundational beliefs and knew if it took off, it would change the world as much as the Internet has already. Seeing the early selfless acts of others to nurture and promote the technology until it could be proven and adopted into the mainstream was amazing. As with an innovative product, Bitcoin faced many early challenges and still has many hurdles to get over prior to it being widely used. What the author does well it tell the story of a unique newborn technology as it entered its toddler stage (terrible twos), and is beginning to blossom into a mature young adult that still has a few rough edges and is trying to find its identity in the world. Over the next few years, I believe we will see even more innovations built upon the groundwork of Bitcoin; and the blockchain more specifically. We are already seeing this with other cryptocurrency networks and even commercial implementations involving document signing, etc. I think a great follow-up book to this one would be for the author to tell the story of how what appears to be a simple concept (the blockchain) is today changing the way we live and what the future holds.
Robert Fass did a wonderful job narrating the audiobook edition of this book. He took what could be at times dry information or “data dumps” and made it interesting and fun. Even though the book is more a documentary covering the rise of Bitcoin, the narrator did not simply read the material in a monotone fashion. He kept me engaged all the time while listening and for a non-fiction book, that can at times be a difficult thing to accomplish. The audio quality was top-notch and I do not recall any issues with the recording while listening. With over one hundred and fifty narrated books on Audible, at the time of this review, I will make sure to include this narrator on my ones to watch.
In summary, the book is polished, well laid out, and detailed. If you are looking for a non-fiction tale that at times feels like fiction having intrigue, etc., I think you may well enjoy the journey the author takes you on. It is a fascinating piece of journalism for both the technical person and technically challenged alike.