In clear, non-technical language, Laura Shin takes you in her book The Cryptopians through the history of the legendary Ethereum blockchain. She describes the emergence of Ethereum chronologically, goes into the main players, the social dynamics and the milestones.
A new world with new ways of doing business. No longer centrally managed and misled, that was the promise of Ethereum. Not only can you place a coin or token on it, but also a (financial) contract in the form of non-modifiable code (dApp). It has the power of a utopian vision, and the stories around the Mother Ship in Switzerland indeed reminded me of other utopias and communities such as Monte Verità in Ascona and Esalen in California. How they arose from idealism and fell apart due to greed and lies. Good title and subtitle for the book about the organization around Ethereum.
Vitalek Buterin, creator of Ethereum
Much also becomes clear about the great man behind Ethereum, its creator and director Vitalek Buterin. A driven and intelligent idealist, who was naive too much of the haggling around him. What it is like to sit in the eye of a hurricane and read how young he really is. Occasionally, he struggles to decide or to attach consequences of certain behaviour of others. It also became clear to me how important a central figure is around an idea that is still new and fragile. That the survival of an idea is largely due to the personal care of the inventor.
VITALIK BUTERIN WAS like a seed that had been blown far out of its habitat and struggled to take root in its new environment but was about to find the right soil in which to grow tall and flourish. Commonly described as “alien” by all manner of people—both strangers online and close collaborators, by those who meant it affectionately as well as those who didn’t—Vitalik exuded an awkwardness that practically manifested physically.
A large part of the book is about the battle surrounding The DAO. This is a somewhat more complicated story if you are not familiar with The DAO. That way of organizing, as if it were a venture capital firm, was already innovative, but it also raised $150 million USD in a kind of crowdfunding. The Ethereum teams placed a contract on Ethereum that also partly regulated its governance. This DAO was actually a symbol for the deeper, idealistic, utopian idea of decentralizing property and power. And it was precisely with this symbol that things went terribly wrong.
Through a hole in the Smart Contract, the value of this DAO got hacked and Ether (ETH) worth 60 million USD was stolen. So, there was an expensive error in the code, and eventually the team made a central intervention to fix the error with a "fork". A branch of the blockchain code to a moment before the error occurred. For some people, this was a kind of mortal sin against the basic idea, the philosophy. For others, it was a moment of maturity, a necessary intervention. Shin describes this struggle as a factual account, but with great attention to the moral aspects of the protagonists. It transcends the facts and becomes a struggle between good and evil. A delightful read.
Similarly, Griff felt the DAO attacker’s life would have been “way better” if he had informed the community. “He’s early Solidity 2016. He would be a hero,” said Griff. “He really screwed the pooch… Reputation is way more valuable than money.”
What makes Ethereum such a legendary blockchain? In short, writing and executing code on the blockchain. So in addition to currency and token, on Ethereum you can execute code in the form of a Smart Contract. The book helped me to understand that Ethereum requires a network of computers (clients). Clients on which actions can be carried out and which can be made in different computer languages, such as Go or C++.
A story for understanding
I had been working for months to better understand the crypto world and especially Ethereum. I looked at it factually and went on Wikipedia, forums, Twitter and did a course in Solidity (programming language for Ethereum contracts). But it only really came to life when I read this book. It unfailingly showed me the power of a story and that knowledge, without real experience, is difficult to acquire. Because you are taken by the hand, the images of the development process, the places, the people, their emotions, this abstract world really comes alive for you and Ethereum suddenly becomes clearer and more tangible.
I have read this book breathlessly, and it has thoroughly changed my image of the crypto world and its technology. Laura Shin makes you relive (recent) history with her book, and it makes you feel like you were there. As if you experienced yourself how Ethereum came into being, overcame difficulties.
What I also found great is that the author takes you along in her story to the power within a company or organization. I worked in a corporate environment for years and never really understood the parallel world of power that often seems to be at odds with reason, productivity, or empathy. Reading this book, it became clearer to me why people in startups work long hours for little money. And how important it is then to have certain claims on later.
Do I recommend this book? As a reader I experienced the rise of crypto and Ethereum, you read an exciting book with a powerful story, and you gain insight into social relations and human nature. If you are interested in the world of computers and crypto, yes, I recommend The Cryptonians without any doubt.
Talking about recommending
I actually recommended the book to my 26-year-old daughter, and she was just as enthusiastic as I was. We read it together and that was even more fun because it is more her world than mine.