It’s difficult to understand blockchain technologies. Foremost, it’s hard to develop a solid technological understanding of how protocols like Bitcoin and Ethereum function. Secondly, the technology itself is still in its infancy and is constantly evolving along with the rapidly growing industry. Thirdly, it is hard to appreciate why this technology is seen by many as a game changer or why it has the potential to introduce a paradigm shift.
Transformative technologies like double-entry bookkeeping, the printing press, and The Internet have introduced major societal changes. These shifts didn’t happen overnight but underwent volatile and lengthy journeys. Eventually, they achieved mainstream adoption and have become ubiquitous. The World Wide Web is only 25 years old, yet the majority of our everyday activities are dependent on it, whether we realize it or not.
To start appreciating what impact blockchain technologies could have one must study the past. Below we have compiled ten non-Blockchain books that we think can help put this disruptive technology within a greater context. The following books look back at the nature of transformative technologies, finance, money, and the evolution of social organizations.
10 Non-Blockchain Books To Sink your Teeth In.
1) Money: The Unauthorised Biography by Felix Martin
If we are to understand blockchain technologies we need to start with money. What is it, how does it work, and where did it come from? So few people stop to ask these questions and the ones we think should have the answers, like economists, don’t focus on the subject in any meaningful way. Martin does a fantastic job of defining and analyzing money as a social technology. He walks us through its history and points to a number of fascinating historical case studies that help reveal the nature of money. This book looks at money as a social phenomenon and demonstrates how it has and will continue to evolve over time.
2) The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen
This is a classic read for anyone in the tech-space, particularly if you are enterprise focused. It studies the nature of established corporations and aims to understand why well-managed firms fail to innovate and are continually subject to disruption. Most relevant to the blockchain space, it focuses on the progression of emerging disruptive technologies from their infancy to mainstream adoption and looks at the roles that early adopters and incumbents have historically played. This is a great book to start understanding the challenges that incumbents are facing when developing their blockchain strategies.
3) The End of Alchemy: Banking, the Global Economy and the Future of Money by Mervyn King
Mervyn King was the Governor of the Bank of England from 2003–2013. He illustrates how modern finance and central banking are navigating unchartered waters. King argues that we are still grappling to understand and properly regulate the financial sector. He believes that many of our policies fail to address issues of radical uncertainty. In order to appreciate blockchain technologies as an alternative system to traditional finance, one should start to understand what the current problems are with our financial sector and how (or if) blockchain technologies can address them.
4) The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age Paperback by James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg
These authors suggest that social organizations are undergoing fundamental changes and that ultimately nation-states will be subverted and or destroyed. This is being driven or made possible by advances in computer and information technologies. The authors’ methodological approach used to make a number of bold predictions is rooted in their evaluation of macro-historical events that they term ‘the study of megapolitics’ and their theories on the role of violence. They see the old social order of the Industrial Age marked by large-scale, top-down command and control governance, dominate nation-states and corporate conglomerates coming to an end and predict a new era of the sovereign individual. It’s a bitcoiner’s dream.
5) The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea by Adrian Wooldridge and John Micklethwait
The Company is a wonderful book that chronicles the history of the limited liability corporation, an innovation in its own right that has changed the course of human history. This book is especially appropriate because it chronicles the rise of a new form of social relations that has had dramatic and unexpected knock-on effects. These ideas are particularly interesting from the perspective of how new crypto-projects are funded and how the various stakeholders are incentivized in an era of blockchain and tokenization. The new ICO’s (Initial Coin Offerings) that are fueling projects like Ethereum may be the latest iteration of corporate organizations.
6) The Nature of Technology: What it Is and How it Evolves by W. Brian Arthur
This book attempts to formulate a foundational understand of technology and evaluates the fractal nature of how new technologies are built upon previous innovations The author develops a compelling definition through his evaluation of various technologies and their evolution. This book makes evident that technology is a varied and adaptive social phenomena but which has some foundational and consistent features we can rely on when studying it. This should help remind readers that blockchain technologies are not a rigid or singular entity, but a varied technology that is shaped by its developers, its users, and its target market.
7) Debt – The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
This book, written by anthropologist David Graeber, endeavors to chronicle the origin and history of debt in all of its forms. The author argues that debt existed before the creation of money, and that there are certain underlying ideological and moral undertones that still permeate the management of debts to this very day. If you want to understand the current financial system, it is critical to have a thorough grasp of debt — since it is integral to the process of creating modern-day money. Additionally, this book reveals how important the role of debt is within many social institutions including marriage, governments, and religions. Blockchain technologies are positioned to potentially improve access to modern financial instruments that circumvent traditional financial institutions. The implications of this could be more widespread than initially believed.
8) Antifragile – Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Taleb
Nassim Taleb is a former options trader turned philosopher and has a very unique and valuable perspective to offer. Antifragile analyzes the manner in which complex financial, social and biological systems react to unexpected or profound shocks. He introduces his concept of antifragile, which is a property of something which benefits from shocks and becomes stronger as a result, such as certain financial derivatives like options contracts. Certain systems are robust in the face of random shocks while other systems are fragile and suffer greatly. Systems that are antifragile on the other hand, benefit from shocks. Blockchain protocols, much like the internet protocol, are technically designed to be resilient and they have strengthened through various shocks and innovative iterations. In the case of public blockchain protocols like Bitcoin and Ethereum, they offer an alternative store of value that lives outside of our traditional financial system. Events such as financial crises or the uncertainty around China’s looming currency crisis could (or has) created a demand for such alternative investment vehicles that live outside our existing financial system.
9) The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick
James Gleick’s masterpiece chronicles the story of how information has defined our modern era. The book analyzes the various stages through which humans have continuously improved our ability to record and disseminate information, whether it is cultural, military or financial. This book is critical to understanding blockchain technologies because money (especially modern money) is merely information — credits and debits on some ledger. The brilliant insight that sparked the blockchain movement involves a re-imagination of the technical, political and social frameworks that we use to think about value and the transmission of information that hold this value.
10) Other People’s Money: The Real Business of Finance by John Kay
This book was the Financial Times book of the year in 2015 for a reason. The author, John Kay, analyzes the purpose of the financial sector — why do we need it and what does it do? In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Kay provides an overview of the complex financial system that led to the crash and helps readers understand that things have barely changed in the 9 years since the “great recession”. This is an important book that is thorough, yet approachable.