Book Review: Bitcoin for the befuddled

Bitcoin made simple

I got this one on a Humble Bundle pack I bought a few months ago, and after finishing Ghost in the Wires I had an urge to read this because Bitcoin had been a mystery to me for too long. To put it in a single sentence, this book is the biggest FAQ about Bitcoin I’ve ever seen.

Data and Goliath book cover

Gone are the days in which Bitcoin was a hot topic on the Internet. Back then, the few articles I cared enough to look over were too complex to even understand what crypto-currency was, and more importantly, how it worked. After all, no one is going to trade their hard earned money for something they don’t understand or know how to use. Not me, at least.

So I stayed in the sweet sheets of ignorance, while time moved on and Bitcoin slowly increased in value. Now, just one of those babies costs 600$ and of course, mining is out of the question unless you don’t have to pay for electricity. I regret not learning about it sooner, because being in a not-so-financially-stable economy, I’d like to cover my own ass and maybe have a backup currency just in case; stashing a pimp-roll of US Dollars under my mattress doesn’t really sound that good either, because with all of the world economies tied together, one currency’s demise might topple others with it.

Disclaimer: I don’t have any expertise on economy whatsoever. This is all ramblings and paranoia, the kind you like to read through (apparently).

The content

Although it’s clear I don’t know everything about Bitcoin after reading this book — I’d wager I could answer everything any beginner wants to know about it. Besides, I hear that other subsequent open source digital currencies like LiteCoin and DogeCoin are based on the same concepts as Bitcoin, meaning this book is an introduction to crypto-currencies in general, with large focus around Bitcoin. Its also cool to see that the book was written by actual advocates of the currency, with the authors going as far as setting up a website to give small amounts of bitcoins to newbies.

Being nice enough to explain how to handle bitcoins is one thing, but dedicating chapters to teach people how to do it safely means the authors care about doing a good job about informing people that Bitcoin is supposed to be handled like real money. You need to be careful about where you leave it, or more importantly, who you leave it with. They list some good wallet apps, teach you how to use them, and even go through a plethora of ways you can store bitcoins, sorted by convenience, safety and security.

They also teach you how you should search for reputable companies to buy bitcoins from, without mentioning any corporation names in order to increase the book’s longevity. I’m very OK with that approach, since it reminds me of an ancient wisdom saying:

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” — Grandpa

Then there is the usual and important talk about the implications about Bitcoin. Is it possible for the currency to ever be stable since it’s not backed by gold in any way? What are the main security issues with having decentralized currencies? Is it possible to cripple the currency in the event of a cyber war of any sort?

Writing

This is where the book scores big points for me. I like books that read like someone’s lecture. If it gets too technical or if too many fancy words are thrown around, it’ll be hard for me to keep reading for a long time. The book itself is riddled with small jokes, something I’ve grown to love about more technical titles, and Crowly the crocodile is a good character that they use throughout the book in comics (yes, there are comics inside this book!), and to explain more complex topics on a more down to earth way.

Final thoughts

It just so happens that from now on I am qualified to buy and own bitcoins with significant confidence that things will not take a turn for the worse. Being able to know how to use and manage one of the most privacy assuring currencies is important knowledge these days. Either that or I’m probably paranoid.

Creators of malware like ransomware demand payment in bitcoins for a reason, despite the currency’s volatility. It offers privacy in a way that no other online payment method did before. So you have this example of a terrible use for it, but you could also imagine someone in a repressive regime buying a one way plane ticket in order to escape a cruel fate. But then it becomes an issue of privacy itself — removing it completely would further empower governments, enabling them to catch the bad guys and the good guys. If you invent something that you think will shield the good guys, you’ll have to assume the bad guys will find a way to exploit it.

Food for thought.