VIRTUAL BILLIONS by Eric Geissinger


The Genius, the Drug Lord, and the Ivy League Twins Behind the Rise of Bitcoin
Email this review


Enthusiastic overview of the “virtual currency” known as Bitcoin, focused on its complex technology and the outsized personalities who have advanced it.

Geissinger is a technical writer and contributor of fiction to literary journals, and both specialties inform his debut. His account of bitcoin’s rise is thoughtful and generally precise yet sometimes convoluted, with frequent digressions on topics such as the histories of fiat currency and libertarian philosophy. He first explains the operational parameters of bitcoin by offering several levels of detail, explaining, “a lot of what makes Bitcoin new and interesting is rooted in the details [yet] knowledge of the nitty-gritty isn’t required to use or transmit bitcoins.” The author establishes solid ground in explaining for neophytes the radical aspects of bitcoin, which derive from cryptographic principles and utilize both individual “e-wallets” and a “public ledger” of all transactions. “Without something tangible to steal, he writes, “it can’t be stolen.” However, Geissinger’s main focus is on individuals who have propelled the stealthy narrative of bitcoin’s development, starting with its secretive, enigmatic founder, Satoshi Nakamoto, who may be a real person, a pseudonym, or even a group of people. More notoriously, Ross Ulbricht founded an online hub for illicit drug sales, Silk Road, and became ensnared in a self-made fantasy of libertarian independence, fueled by bitcoins, resulting in conviction on many charges: “Silk Road [became] not just a marketplace for voluntary transactions but a philosophical rebuke to heavy-handed and ever-increasing statism.” Contrastingly, the comparably fortunate Winklevoss brothers (of Facebook infamy) may yet bring the virtual currency out of the shadows: “their relatively early investment in the currency has already paid off in millions...[they] are mainstreaming Bitcoin.” Unsurprisingly (given the recent collapse of some bitcoin “exchanges”), the youthful hypercapitalists are now advocating increased regulation of bitcoin, which the author concludes will accelerate the cybercurrency’s eventual economic impact.

Sprawling and sometimes unruly, Geissinger’s narrative still offers a perceptive early look at the volatile present and seemingly inevitable future of “crypto-currency.”

Pub Date: April 5th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1633881440
Page count: 300pp
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2016


NonfictionCYBERPHOBIA by Edward Lucas
by Edward Lucas
NonfictionTHE SECRET LIFE by Andrew O'Hagan
by Andrew O'Hagan
NonfictionCRACK99 by David Locke Hall
by David Locke Hall