Must read crypto books: The Bitcoin Standard
Summer is here, and though thanks to Covid you may not be venturing as far on vacation as usual, it’s a perfect opportunity to kick back in the sun, and extend your crypto learning journey, by reading one of the best books about crypto. The Bitcoin Standard, by Saifedean Ammous is the most common recommendation for anyone wanting to understand why Bitcoin is such a big deal. Let’s find out why.
A different way to think about money
The title of the Bitcoin Standard is a play on words, referencing the gold standard, when the money in your pocket or bank account was backed by physical gold, rather than simply the authority of your government. If that is news to you, it will be just one of many ways in which this book redefines how you think about money and the role government plays in managing it.
Bitcoin is the newest technology to serve the function of money. - an invention leveraging the technological possibilities of the digital age to solve a problem that has persisted for all of humanity's existence: how to move economic value across time and space - The Bitcoin Standard
What is money, how did it emerge and evolve, what is the system of government money that is now the default, and what are the problems that fiat money poses? If you haven’t yet asked yourselves these questions, you will probably have struggled to understand the use case for Bitcoin.
The first sixty pages of the Bitcoin Standard will help establish that foundation and you’ll learn about the critical concept of time preference and wonder how you’ve lived your life in ignorance of something so important.
The Standard For Understanding Bitcoin
Ammous sets out a case for Bitcoin to replace the role that gold once provided as a store of value and collateral for global money, and has done such a good job, that the title now has dual meaning.
The Bitcoin Standard is literally the standard for understanding the unique properties that Bitcoin possesses and the problems that it solves. Anytime someone on crypto twitter shouts out for crypto book recommendations, you can be guaranteed that the Bitcoin Standard is on the list.
Ammous is an economist, and Bitcoin maximalist, so be warned, this isn’t a Bitcoin for Dummies type of guide book. It doesn’t require a degree in macroeconomics, just a willingness to zoom out and consider his unique perspective on the broader historical/economic context within which Bitcoin sits and his particular interpretation of how its use might evolve, presented from the viewpoint of an Austrian Economist.
Austrian Economics & Sovereignty
Austrian Economics is a branch of economics strongly aligned with Bitcoin because one of its key beliefs is that the government should hold as minimal a role as possible in the economy.
Its belief is that given freedom to function, the market will correctly price everything, that includes money. Bitcoin is rooted in libertarian beliefs, where individual agency is critical and government seen as unnecessary. So the two ideas frequently overlap.
Understanding this perspective is important because Ammous pulls no punches in cataloguing the failures of capitalism - or social capitalism as he describes it - and attributing economic advances to the use of sound money (a concept you’ll become very familiar with), which some critics have challenged.
He is all for individual freedoms, and in fact sees that as intrinsic to sound money. If you believe in socialist ideas or at least the role of government as a safety net, you might be uncomfortable with some of the arguments, but you don’t have to take an all-or-nothing position on Bitcoin, Austrian Economics and Libertarianism.
Ammous holds passionate and controversial beliefs in many areas. Take a look at his twitter feed and you can see his strident views on global warming, wearing masks and diet.
This is probably the only criticism of The Bitcoin Standard. It is written from the heart and in places that spills over to something close to personal grudge - particularly when he shares his opinions on modern art and music. A better editor may have pushed Ammous to rein in the vitriol, but that fault doesn't detract from the overall value of the book.
There is a concerted attempt to take a balance view of Bitcoin as the final - and longest - chapter examines the common criticisms of Bitcoin, which are interesting to read with the benefit of hindsight. The Bitcoin Standard was published in 2018, and given the crypto industry evolves at lightning speed, the book will understandably have aged.
How Bitcoin Divides Opinion
Bitcoin is a controversial subject, and though you don’t have to be a badge holding Austrian Economist to believe in its merits, it does throw up difficult questions about how money and government should function for the better of society.
This tension has been highlighted by a very public feud between Ammous and Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the celebrated author, who provided the original foreword to the book.
Having held a generally positive stance toward Bitcoin, Taleb recently declared that it was a failure as a store of value, given its inherent volatility.
Taleb is as forthright in his opinions as Ammous, so this soon became a full blown feud, with Ammous declaring that he’d made a huge mistake in involving Taleb, who he claimed ‘had never even read the book’. Ammous has since promised to provide a foreword by Bitcoin evangelist, Michael Saylor, in future editions.
This slanging match actually provides a perfect illustration of the way Bitcoin both divides opinion and requires proper consideration, something Taleb is probably regretting not doing before putting his name to this book.
Your challenge is to read the Bitcoin Standard with an open mind and a critical eye. Bitcoin is about agency. It is programmable money guaranteed to produce 21 million bitcoins by 2140 and enable them to be transacted without fraud or government interference. What the world chooses to do with it is not part of the instructions. Saifedean Ammous presents his own credible and entertaining view, read it and it should give you enough insight to develop yours.
New Bitcoin Books to Read [updated September 2022]
While the Bitcoin Standard stands the test of time as an evergreen commentary on the world's most influential cryptocurrency, there is plenty else to find in terms of Bitcoin literature that make for worthy reading. Because Bitcoin itself has evolved in use, reach, and utility over the past decade, here are some other titles to consider.
Mastering Bitcoin (2nd edition)
Regarded as one of the world's most knowledgeable Bitcoin and open blockchain experts, Andreas Antonopoulos continues to put our educational material that finds a way to take apart the technical aspects of technical crypto and reassemble them as relevant allegories for those interested in wider concepts such as the "internet of money".
Mastering Bitcoin: Programming the Open Blockchain is a collection of Bitcoin descriptions that talks to users, investors, and businesses, with helpful sections that also explain a working background for engineers and systems developers.
In the 2nd edition, issued in 2017, from Bitcoin as a decentralized network operating over a peer-to-peer architecture to a dissection of its transaction lifecycle, and security mechanisms, you'll get consumable explanations on keys, addresses, and wallets, complete with real-life examples that describe each technical concept.
Particularly useful are sections on Segregated Witness, Payment Channels, and Lightning Network, which are upgrades that were implemented during or since 2016.
Beyond Bitcoin: Decentralized Finance and the End of Banks
While this isn't a book about Bitcoin, it deserves mention here as authors Sidley and Dingle attempt to take on an academic view of the so-called world of decentralised finance or DEFI, which happens to take place mostly outside of Bitcoin networks.
Published in early 2022, Beyond Bitcoin takes a look at what many believe may be a world post-Bitcoin as a straightforward alternative currency, one where financial transactions of all sorts take place peer to peer without the oversight of any kind of financial institutions.
It follows on from Bitcoin's original concepts of open and decentralised blockchain, where networks of trust enable financial independence to usher in a new industry of financial inclusion where the very nature of money is as fluid as the people using it.
The Book of Crypto: The Complete Guide to Understanding Bitcoin, Cryptocurrencies and Digital Assets
Published in mid-2022, The Book of Crypto is an ambitious project by author Henri Arslanian to cover everything that could ever possibly be related to crypto and Bitcoin -- from legacy blockchain-based cryptocurrencies to pop crypto like memecoins and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that swept through mainstream consciousness in 2021 and 2022.
While it doesn't get into practical detail for the most, the book should at least provide a foundational introduction to many crypto-related assets and financial tools such as stablecoins, CBDCs, utility tokens, security tokens, NFTs, DAOs, and how they related to modern crypto terms such as Web3 and the Metaverse. Written from the viewpoint of traditional finance (the author being a lawyer and banker).
It also contains a list of social media groups to follow on LinkedIn, podcasts, and Udemy -- though it's arguable just how useful those groups really could be for the newcomer, given they aren't really curated for relevant content.