The clearest-ever explanation of Bitcoin, blockchain and encryption
Bitcoin has risen from its introduction in an obscure paper in 2008 by the elusive Satoshi Nakamoto (no-one is quite sure whether it’s a person or a group) to being the subject of high-level discussion at Davos in 2016. Cryptocurrencies in general and Bitcoin in particular have become one of the hot topics in tech and finance, with a lot of interest in disruptive applications of blockchain technology from startups and, increasingly, regular financial institutions.
If you're looking for an accessible way into this subject I really recommend John Lanchester's recent essay about Bitcoin in the London Review of Books. He's a writer originally known for comic novels, but since his novel Capital, which was set in London just before and during the last financial crisis, he's focused on non-fiction explaining the world of finance.
The essay takes a step back and looks at the history of money and banking, before sketching out the encryption and "mining" technology behind Bitcoin and the blockchain. It covers some of the early experiments in using Bitcoin such as the online drug market Silk Road, and how some online exchanges mysteriously lost thousands of Bitcoin without trace. There has been a string of headlines recently declaring the death of Bitcoin, but John Lanchester's essay helps make clear the difference between Bitcoin the currency and the blockchain, "the biggest potential change to the money system since [the Renaissance]".
Another good read related to the disruptive power of internet technologies, but this time for national security, is Andrew O'Hagan's account of his attempts to work with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to ghostwrite his autobiography.
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