“Blockchain Technology – I Told You So!” by Thomas Joseph Bernstein is a high-level dive into the under-pinning architecture of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency; the blockchain. The audiobook is rather short at only one hour and forty minutes, yet it provides a decent level of information for its length into what the blockchain is and what some of its future uses might be. Andrew B. Wehrlen does an exceptional job with the book’s audio narration and I highly recommend any of his science fiction books; if you enjoy his voice. As stated by the author, and many others who have studied this technology, the blockchain is as exciting, revolutionary and innovative as the Internet was to most of us back in the early 1990s. This rather small amount of code built into the Bitcoin protocol, needed to solve a long-term issue with digital assets, will be a foundational component of our digital transactional world. The technology is still in its infancy, but even here is has some big potential. If you are interested in some of the other ways blockchain technology may be leveraged, I think you will find this book informative. It does not go into great detail, and I would have liked more, but for someone who wants a quick primer along with potential uses, pick up this book and give it a listen.
If you are looking for a book covering Bitcoin and its use this book does not provide it. Instead, it focuses on Bitcoin’s core system called the blockchain. I want to say that I thought the author did an excellent job with the various analogies he uses throughout the book to describe terms his audience may not be knowledgeable of. He spent time ensuring that not only the newcomer to the technology would be engaged by the book, but even those who may have a deeper understanding would be as well. When you strip away many of the layers, I think the author does a good job of describing the blockchain as a decentralized and distributed network using peer-to-peer to communicate with its users. As the book states, the idea of trust shifts from a “trusted third-party”, such as a bank, to a trusted party where the technology itself sets the boundaries and rules. All of this of course is also verified and protected using strong trusted cryptographic hashing algorithms. Although the blockchain was developed to keep a secure distributed transactional ledger (sending or receiving) of Bitcoins, what the blockchain allows is for nearly any digital asset to be secured in this same way. We saw this earlier on the Ethereum blockchain where people could buy, trade, and pair up digital cryptographic kitties. Yes, you can use the blockchain to track digital kitties, you heard me correctly.
Although the blockchain can be used for gaming, there are so many other real-world examples the author provides in this short audiobook. Anything from physical tracking of collectables such as baseball cards to real estate transactions. Nearly anything that can be written down in a ledger and used to validate one’s ownership has the potential of being done using blockchain technology. Core to its protocol, the blockchain distributes this record to systems that maintain a copy and continue to validate or confirm new or previous transaction in the ledger. Here again, the author gets to the heart of the blockchain by reiterating that this solution is not dependent on a third-party authority to maintain the ledger or record. This is all done by those who are participating in the system itself. Many of the uses or potential of the blockchain are still being worked out by both commercial and non-commercial entities.
I found the book to be well up-to-date compared to other books on the subject. In a rapidly changing technology such as the blockchain, this is often hard to maintain in nearly any medium. The author also spent a fair amount of time discussing “smart contracts” which is one of the main areas people see the technology impacting the most; next to commodities or currencies. With blockchain technology used for contracts, it is no longer required to have a third-party witness or hold the contract on behalf of the contract members. Now, two or more people would be able to enter into a contract and push the hashed details to the blockchain and a public ledger would be stored sealing the contract by the party members. That is a very powerful and through provoking ideas and what make this technology so powerful. What is even more interesting is that the blockchain can be used for both tangible (physical) and intangible (digital) use-cases. There has been recent discussion of this technology being used to track the music one owns or has purchased instead of relying on Apple or Google (for example) to hold a record of this information on your behalf.
Lastly, I thought the author did a good job of having a chapter covering the limitations and challenges of the blockchain. Today the use of this word or technology is being thrown around as if it is a cure for cancer or can tie your shoes for you. Many companies who have said they will adopt the blockchain have seen their stock prices rise thousands of percent simply putting it in a press release; only to have it fall again after the hype. The technology is not a silver-bullet and I think it does it a disservice when people try to leverage it in a place it does not belong. If your idea does not support a ledger-based system, the blockchain may not be a solution for you.
The book’s audio was professionally produced by Andrew B. Wehrlen, who at the time of this review has seventy books narrated on Audible. Although this is a non-fiction book, Mr. Wehrlen give it life and keeps what could be a very academic subject interesting and engaging. I do not recall any issues with the audio, and the volume was consistent. As I stated earlier, if you like his voice here, make sure you have a listen to some of his other titles.
In summary, if you want to know the many different uses for blockchain technology from a high-level this may be the book for you. If you are hoping to get a deeper dive or a very technical overview of the blockchain, I would say this is not the book for you. The author takes a rather complex and nebulas technology and provides some great insight into how it is used today and what the future may hold. It is a quick listen and quite informative. If you want to be able to talk intelligently about the subject, I would recommend you pick up the book.
Disclaimer: I was voluntarily provided this review copy audiobook at no charge by the author, publisher and/or narrator.