Journalist Brian Patrick Eha’s book, How Money Got Free: Bitcoin and the Fight for the Future of Finance, is a history not of Bitcoin itself, but of the emergence and growth of the Bitcoin economy.
From Ver to Silbert: Following Bitcoin’s Transition from Political Weapon to VC Dream
Following the stories of the technology’s foundational entrepreneurs — Roger “Bitcoin Jesus” Ver, former BitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem, former Blockchain CEO Nic Cary, and Digital Currency Group CEO Barry Silbert — Eha traces the evolution of Bitcoin’s users, its businesses, and the worldviews carried by them.
Each of these men represent a stage in Bitcoin’s life — from its anarchistic birth to the most recent state of its financial maturity.
Where Roger Ver represents the dream of a Bitcoin-based political revolution, Nic Cary represents the dream of a humanitarian revolution. At the other end of the spectrum, Barry Silbert marks Bitcoin’s emergence into the mainstream, tapping into venture capital and Wall Street expertise to build a multi-million dollar Bitcoin empire.
And in the middle stands Shrem, representing a sort of halfway mark in Bitcoin’s history. Bridging the gap between the radical visions of Ver and Cary and the financial ambition of Silbert, Shrem encapsulates the young idealist who accidentally stumbled upon a gold mine, throwing himself into an unfamiliar world of business.
Then, Shrem’s conviction and prison sentence signaled a transition in itself, a passing of the proverbial torch from the idealistic, amateurish entrepreneurs to the big league professionals.
Bitcoin History in High-Definition
Starting with Ver’s discovery of bitcoin in 2011, Eha follows the technology’s story from its esoteric political roots and ends with Shrem’s release from prison, where he emerged into a brave new world of Bitcoin startup culture, funded by mainstream venture capital.
To the seasoned Bitcoiner, the initial presentation of this timeline may seem unappealing. Essentially rehashing what all Bitcoin fanatics already know, Eha hits on the major points in Bitcoin’s short life: Ver’s evangelism, Mt. Gox’s collapse, Shrem’s arrest, and Silbert’s rise to Bitcoin royalty.
However, Eha presents this well-known timeline in explicit detail, retelling anecdotes from the book’s main subjects and capturing their personal reminiscence. If you knew a lot about these guys and their adventures before, reading How Money Got Free will make you feel like Ver, Shrem, Cary and Silbert are old friends.
This intimate knowledge of Bitcoin’s biggest milestones, shaded and textured by personal insight from the industry’s earliest leaders, sets this book up as a perfect starting point for someone wanting to immerse themselves in Bitcoin culture.
Even more beginner-friendly is the lack of technical details and jargon that is so often overused by Bitcoiners trying to get their non-savvy friends hyped up about the technology. Instead, the book puts Bitcoin’s technical aspects in the simplest terms, and focuses on its business applications and the people who propelled them into the mainstream.
By showing the uninitiated what Bitcoin has already been used for, and pointing out its remaining potential, Eha gives the new Bitcoiner a starting point that inherently makes more sense. Instead of droning out notes on computer science and bitcoin mining, Eha makes Bitcoin feel more “real.”
History or Rhetoric?
A sticking point for the newbies, though, may come in the form of Eha’s rhetoric early on in the book. In chapters 1 and 2 specifically, when examining the anarcho-libertarian ideologies of Ver and his cypherpunk predecessors, the author blurs the line between academic presentation and rhetorical cheerleading.
In a few places, when explaining Ver’s anarchist beliefs, Eha seems to throw in his support for those ideas as well, as if he wants to convince the reader to essentially become a libertarian, and read the rest of the book from that perspective.
While Eha quickly reestablishes that barrier between observation and cheerleading in the proceeding chapters, the seeming fanfare for anarchy early on may shock readers unfamiliar with the story of Bitcoin. Depending on the reader’s stomach for culture shock, that little bit of enthusiastic anarchism may put them off from the rest of the book.
And so, How Money Got Free runs the risk of putting itself in a limbo. The historical subject matter might be unappealing to the seasoned Bitcoiner who doesn’t appreciate the details. On the other hand, the “in-your-face” presentation of the radical political philosophies — and the possibility of the author’s support for them — might deter Bitcoin newbies, even though the other 98% of the book would be perfect reading material for them.
Though he teeters on the perilous cliff of alienating himself from both groups, Eha somehow managed to find the ideological and informational sweet spot with this book.
The ideology, though abundant and shocking at first, soon gives way to stories of personal and entrepreneurial perseverance relatable to everyone. And while this story is already known to the veterans, it’s written in the way that makes it feel more like a hybrid between a business and techno thriller than a history book. Even though I’ve read about this stuff a thousand times, Eha made me connect with the stories on a different level. You aren’t just reading dry historical facts, the history is playing out in your mind through Eha’s captivating storytelling.
Thus, despite the different perspectives you can take when reading this book, the answer to the question of “to buy or not to buy” is the same across the board. By reading this book, veterans will learn more than they expected, and the fresh blood will be introduced to the crypto-revolution in a very digestible way. How Money Got Free: Bitcoin and the Fight for the Future of Finance is a must read for both Bitcoin old heads and the uninitiated alike.
In closing, a quote from the book that captures its essence, and distills the story told in 450 pages to a couple sentences:
“Like the oil boom, the rise of Bitcoin a century later made overnight millionaires of average men. But then serious operators moved in: major angel investors, financial firms interested in the digital currency as a new type of asset, top venture capitalists who recognized Bitcoin as a revolutionary technology, and finally trillion-dollar banks, which saw an innovation they could learn and take ideas from.”
Brian Patrick Eha’s ‘How Money Got Free: Bitcoin and the Fight for the Future of Finance’ goes on sale May 9, 2017.
Images via Pixabay, OneWorld Publications