The best books to read about blockchain — LBL’s Top 10
Like water inevitably floods from surrounding rivers into a newly-dug reservoir, so the blockchain space is being rapidly populated by literature from technological, economical, business, philosophical and many other, often unrelated, streams. As representatives of LBL — the UK’s largest blockchain student community, it is our role to make sure that the water that gets to the taps of our members is as clear and pollution-free as possible.
The LBL Team has collectively produced a reading list, accommodating for the 100+ degree disciplines represented in our member base, to provide an objective multi-sided introduction to and understanding of blockchain technology. These 10 books, grouped by category, can take you from a blockchain beginner to a technically adept investor, business leader or give you a grounding to start a journey into blockchain development.
1. Mastering Bitcoin: Unlocking Digital Cryptocurrencies (A. M. Antonopoulos)
Despite being the oldest book on this list, first published in 2014 (which some say in modern tech development terms is bordering on ancient literature), Antonopoulos’s work is also unequivocally the best.
An essential read for understanding the underlying fundamentals of how blockchain works, Mastering Bitcoin starts with a broad non-technical introduction to Bitcoin, before proceeding to a uniquely clear explanation of the technical concepts behind blockchain and cryptographic currencies. As a Bitcoin core developer, but also a teacher and successful public speaker Antonopoulos is simply the leader in the field at breaking down and explaining everything from bitcoin addresses, wallets, scripting language and security to new inventions and the key features of successful DApps.
This book gets more technical the further you progress, providing insightful analogies, user stories and code snippets to explain technical concepts, so some understanding of Mathematics and Computer Science is beneficial to fully comprehending certain parts. However, selective reading of this book is equally highly recommended, so whether you’re a complete blockchain beginner, an avid crypto-investor, or a seasoned developer looking to get into the blockchain space, make sure you get your hands on this classic.
2. Blockchain Basics: A Non-Technical Introduction in 25 Steps (Daniel Drescher)
This introduction to blockchain avoids technical jargon with 25-foot pole, in a sometimes excruciating, but generally (surprisingly) clear array of analogies, metaphors and visualisations. Reading Drescher’s work won’t give you the level of technical understanding and thus platform for creative thinking of your own that is provided by Mastering Bitcoin. However, it will give you an overall understanding of what blockchain is, what are the key concepts that make it tick, and why it will have profound impacts on the financial system and the world as a whole.
Blockchain Basics is replete with user-friendly summaries, as well as a honed ability to approach concepts like consensus and hashing from several easily understandable perspectives, making it an ideal introduction if you are coming from a completely non-technical background, and are keen to understand and appreciate what the blockchain hype is all about. In this way it can also act as a platform for then reading more technical works.
A History of Bitcoin
3. Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money (Nathaniel Popper)
New York Times technology and business reporter Nathaniel Popper will take your breath away with this swash-buckling, boundary-breaking history of the ideological lone rangers who made Bitcoin possible and have brought about the rise of the revolutionary blockchain technology.
Even though it was first published in 2015 and thus misses out on the latest drama associated with the bitcoin hard forks and protocol disputes, this book is every bit as relevant now as it was on the day of publishing. Reading like a thriller, from cypherpunks to Satoshi’s disciples and from the Winkelvoss twins to Mt. Gox, Popper takes the reader through Bitcoin’s rises and falls, and all the personal baggage that came with them.
Probably the most captivating read on this list, Digital Gold is essential for understanding the key individual drivers of the Bitcoin and subsequently blockchain ecosystems, and the motivations that made the rise of the first crypto-currency arguably inevitable.
4. Crypto-assets: The Innovative Investor’s Guide to Bitcoin and Beyond (Chris Burniske, Jack Tatar)
It has been no secret that many enterprising investors have made enormous fortunes in the crypto-market. The field of crypto-assets remains as unruly and unregulated as it is rich in opportunity for huge gains and huge losses. Burniske and Tatar’s Innovative Investor’s Guide is the LBL team’s favourite introduction to trading in this highly volatile space (which, disclaimer, you do at your own risk and we do not actively encourage).
This book stands head and shoulders above a swathe of similar literature due to its structure and its clarity about which audience it targets. While many books are unclear in their purpose — whether to explain how blockchain works or how to trade crypto-assets, or both — Crypto-assets: The Innovative Investor’s Guide to Bitcoin and Beyond is aimed directly at financially savvy investors, who aim to understand and profit from this new asset class.
Operating with a clearly defined taxonomy, readers are instructed on how to purchase crypto-assets, how to analyse their value, based on historical and technological factors, how to compile risk-limiting portfolios, and how to analyse and predict the disruptive effects of blockchain on market dynamics within the crypto-asset market and beyond.
5. The Science of the Blockchain (Roger Wattenhofer)
A controversial pick, The Science of the Blockchain, is certainly an acquired taste for the mainstream technologist. The format of this book resembles lecture notes taken on Wattenhofer’s course on Distributed Computing, available for free here. The focus is also not predominantly on blockchain, but rather on the theory of the mathematical and computer science principles that underlie distributed ledger technologies (DLTs).
The target audience for this book are those with a good grasp of mathematical notation and background understanding of algorithms and computer science basics. Coupled with the free lecture notes and exercises, The Science of the Blockchain will guide you through topics including Byzantine Fault Tolerance, Two-phase commit protocols, Quorum systems and Hypercubic networks, equipping you with the fundamental knowledge required to contemplate research in the blockchain space.
The lecture notes format of the 124-page book makes it a dry read, but don’t be misled by some resultant dismissive reviews on Goodreads or elsewhere, for the technical reader, fascinated with theory and intrigued by the prospect of blockchain research, The Science of the Blockchain is a hidden gem.
6. The Business Blockchain: Promise, Practice, and Application of the Next Internet Technology (W. Mougayar and Vitalik Buterin)
“The definitive pioneering blueprint covering the what, why and how of the blockchain,” is Mougayar’s call to attention for his work. Whilst the book falls slightly short in the “what” section, due to a lack of technical depth and precision, if supplemented with an earlier read of Mastering Bitcoin or another sound introductory work, The Business Blockchain can be a great tool for understanding the impact of the technology on startups, SMEs and large corporations alike. Mougayar’s style is predominantly non-technical, with heavy use of analogies and well-placed historical references, making this work an easier read than some of the other books in this list.
An engaging foreword by the maverick of the blockchain space, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin, is followed by a sequential breakdown of blockchain importance, barriers, opportunities and long-term implications for businesses, with a particular focus on the financial industry. Like many books in the space, The Business Blockchain is not short of sometimes unjustified hype. Nonetheless, Mougayar’s genuine insight and understanding of business architecture make this a much more grounded work than for example the Tapscotts’ Blockchain Revolution.
7. Mastering Ethereum (A. M. Antonopoulos, G. Wood)
The master explainer returns, alongside Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood, with an insight into the Ethereum blockchain and its wide-reaching implications for business. Antonopolous is thus far undoubtedly the definitive blockchain author, due to his unparalleled ability to balance the technical with the inspirational and turn the complex into the enlightening.
Like Mastering Bitcoin, although at times highly technical, this book is strongly recommended no matter your background or level of technical expertise. It covers the basics of the Ethereum protocol, the building blocks of smart contracts and the operational logistics of Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAOs), before exploring the convoluted but exceptionally promising world of existing and soon-to-exist Distributed Applications (DApps). With almost 2000 DApps built on the “world computer” (as the Ethereum network has been titled), it is impossible to understand the blockchain space, assess the viability and credibility of startups and implement business strategies for blockchain, without understanding Ethereum.
In the spirit of decentralisation, Mastering Ethereum is currently available to read online for free on GitHub, with the print edition due out in December 2018. If you don’t have experience with GitHub, Antonopoulos has you covered with a very clear instructional video on how to read and even contribute to the book (scroll to the bottom when you click the link)!
A Sceptic’s View
8. Attack of the 50 foot blockchain: Bitcoin, Blockchain, Ethereum & Smart Contracts (David Gerard)
Gerard’s exuberantly compelling and laugh-out-loud funny writing style is almost in itself a satire on the excessive exaggerated hype that has been symptomatic of the blockchain sphere’s recent history. A biting analysis of the persisting chasm between the promise and delivery of value by blockchain companies and applications, Attack of the 50 foot blockchain is an essential drawback and cool-down from the “blockchain will solve all the world’s problems” approach taken by many authors, speakers and entrepreneurs in the space.
At LBL we are fully convinced that blockchain is a technology that will have fundamental cross-industry implications, and is highly likely to impact the world in a way that only the Internet has done. Nevertheless, as any objective observers of the space, we remain vigilant to the numerous projects in the space, which over-promise, draw up hype storms without technological basis and ultimately fail to deliver. It is beyond reasonable doubt that the crypto-asset market has experienced severe economic bubbles, and Gerard focuses strongly on the causes and effects of these fluctuations, while highlighting the particularly comical short-comings of many blockchain projects.
The author is highly sceptical of both crypto-assets and the blockchain technology underlying them, with readers often warned off the space having gone through the Attack of the 50 foot blockchain. Yet, we recommend this book as an irreplaceable part of blockchain history and as an absolutely essential read to be able to analyse the space without the effects of rose-tinted glasses.
Law & Regulation
9. Blockchain and the Law: The Rule of Code (P. De Filippi and A. Wright)
It can be argued that blockchain has its ideological roots in the Cypherpunk movement of the 1990s, which sought disintermediation from government control. The fact of removing the intermediary from transactions and operations, whether it be government body, bank, corporation or other 3rd party, inevitably puts blockchain technology at odds with the concept of regulation.
CNRS researcher and Harvard scholar Primavera de Filippi partners with Cardozo School of Law Professor Aaron Wright to provide an in-depth analysis on the infrastructural and mindset changes that are urgently necessary in the world of law to keep up with the development of blockchain technology and bring about the legitimising regulation and legislation so desperately required by the space.
The books begins with an introductory overview of blockchain and crypto-assets in a legal context, before deep-diving into the feasibility, robustness, legal acceptability and philosophical implications of smart contracts and DAOs, ultimately contemplating the future of code as law.
The space for blockchain regulation currently has the biggest gaps and thus the biggest opportunities of any, and Blockchain and the Law is an informative, thought-provoking introduction to this area.
10. Tokenomics — A Business Guide to Token Usage, Utility and Value
Whilst not strictly a book, this bite-size Medium article by William Mougayar, author of The Business Blockchain, sheds some much needed light on the thus far little-explored topic of Tokenomics — the economics of token design, release and operation. The article puts clear definitions on Tokens, Cryptoeconomics and Tokenomics, before laying out a framework to robustly design and assess specific tokens.
With a pervasive lack of literature in this area, the involvement of traditional economic theorists, famously dismissive of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, is actually required, and must be reconciled with the input of technologists and entrepreneurs in the blockchain space.
With this list the LBL Team has done its best to provide an objective and well-rounded overview of the blockchain space for interested readers — from a non-technical introduction to cryptographic proofs and from crypto-asset investing to regulation and tokenomics. These books form a good progression, and it is important to read at least several of them to be able to critically view and analyse the space.
To make this easier (and cheaper) for our members, we are trialling the retro idea of an LBL book club! If you’re keen on that make sure to fill out this form.