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Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain: Bitcoin, Blockchain, Ethereum & Smart Contracts

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“A sober riposte to all the upbeat forecasts about cryptocurrency” — New York Review of Books
“A very convincing takedown of the whole phenomenon” — BBC News

An experimental new Internet-based form of money is created that anyone can generate at home; people build frightening firetrap computers full of video cards, putting out so much heat that one operator is hospitalised with heatstroke and brain damage.

A young physics student starts a revolutionary new marketplace immune to State coercion; he ends up ordering hits on people because they might threaten his great experiment, and is jailed for life without parole.

Fully automated contractual systems are proposed to make business and the law work better; the contracts people actually write are unregulated penny stock offerings whose fine print literally states that you are buying nothing of any value.

The biggest crowdfunding in history attracts $150 million on the promise that it will embody “the steadfast iron will of unstoppable code”; upon release it is immediately hacked, and $50 million is stolen.

How did we get here?

David Gerard covers the origins and history of Bitcoin to the present day, the other cryptocurrencies it spawned including Ethereum, the ICO craze and the 2017 crypto bubble, and the attempts to apply blockchains and smart contracts to business. Plus a case study on blockchains in the music industry.

Bitcoin and blockchains are not a technology story, but a psychology story.

if it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

234 pages, Kindle Edition

First published July 1, 2017

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About the author

David Gerard

3 books42 followers

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5 stars
357 (32%)
4 stars
455 (41%)
3 stars
204 (18%)
2 stars
40 (3%)
1 star
32 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 159 reviews
Profile Image for Zak.
407 reviews28 followers
January 15, 2018
Read this before you decide to ‘invest’ in bitcoins or alt-coins (all other cryptocurrencies). It is very informative, history-wise... I didn’t know bitcoin had such a long history of bubbles, crashes and shady characters. The author obviously hates cryptos and thinks they’re a scam, so don’t expect a balanced view.

I came to this book after going through several ‘white papers’ and wondering how people could ‘invest’ billions based on such fluff. White papers are basically investment proposals describing what the company launching an initial coin offering plans to do. While the typical prospectus for any stock or bond offering typically contains hundreds of pages, the longest white paper I saw was 26 pages, of which a few pages were disclaimers basically saying thanks for your money, in return you will get some coins, these coins do not give you any ownership interest in our company, you can use it later to buy stuff on our blockchain, this Is what we plan to do with the money, although we may not actually do it, but you undertake not to come after us for that, etc. It was unbelievable.

It is, however, important to distinguish between the intrinsic values of the actual cryptocurrencies vs the underlying blockchain technologies, though the author thinks they are redundant as well. All in all, an interesting and caustically funny read.
Profile Image for Joseph.
129 reviews51 followers
January 26, 2020
Delightfully snarky and not remotely interested in stroking the egos of folks with (occasionally) decent math and (all but exclusively) hilariously naïve politics. This doesn't go nearly as in-depth as Popper's Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money, though it brings a wonderful focus on the vast number of ways that bitcoin fails to live up to its promises, and a better interrogation of what those promises might actually mean. The fundamental flaw across most of the community, and one that shows no signs of abating, is the sheer faith people place in the idea of The Blockchain™, to the point where implementations that claim to use it or proposed applications for it are approached with a credulity that perfectly predicts the ridiculous asset bubbles, flashy yet opaque securitization, and Ponzi schemes that form the bulk of the speculative monster Bitcoin will always be.

I also really enjoyed the sections on Ethereum and smart contracts, a beta product from a guy who thought that simulating quantum computers on classical architecture was a serious idea worth having and not a plainly mathematically impossible venture.

In short, pick this up if you want a laugh and a bit more background on a fun little asset bubble that as of... yesterday might be in its last days? And the next time we want to LARP a Neal Stephenson novel, I really hope it's the one with the math monks.
Profile Image for Liam Proven.
161 reviews10 followers
October 30, 2017
Never has a book about software and finance been so amusing.

Gerard dissects the hype behind digital currencies with an expert eye.

This is a relatively short book -- half the pagecount is references, which is probably necessary, as a lot of people will take grave exception to what he says, so it is essential that everything has a citation. But saying that, I finished it far sooner than I expected.

I laughed, I was absorbed by some of the details, dismayed by the rank incompetence of almost everyone involved, and emerged more certain than ever never to put any of my own money anywhere near this farrago. Essential reading for anyone considering dabbling, who won't take "DON'T!" for an answer. After this book, they'll know why.
48 reviews5 followers
July 25, 2017
Bitcoin: Interesting technological experiment, with a bizarre cavalcade of really weird people who develop and use it. Well, attempt to develop and attempt to use it, anyway.

This book is a good look at some of the weirdest things about Bitcoin, Ethereum and the nebulous "blockchain technologies", and offers a decent enough look on what exactly is wrong with Bitcoin and why it really shouldn't be used for anything substantial and why some people insist on doing so.

One small fault of the book is that I've been following the Bitcoin-critical commentary on Reddit (where the author also participated), and it's painfully obvious to everyone that only the absolute craziest shenanigans made it to the book. There are simply too many hilarious incidents to tell about. But in that light, the extensive source list in this book is probably going to be valuable if you've never heard of the funny stuff and want to go digging further. You could make a massive doorstopper out of this stuff if you had time and patience. Another small fault of the book is that it clearly grew out of Internet discussions and as such isn't entirely consistent with the tone you'd expect from non-fiction books, but that's kind of minor. And yes, another small fault is that since the book was first drafted more crazy things have happened and are no doubt going to happen very soon, but it's hardly the author's fault for not covering that.

All in all, the book gets the point across, and manages to be enjoyable and even moderately funny. It will do until someone gets that doorstopper out. I hope the book manages to make people to think.
Profile Image for Karel Baloun.
400 reviews34 followers
October 6, 2017
Excellent short book on the investment value and political Implications of current digital currency.

Proves two assertions, technically and financially:
Current blockchain implementations are all unreliable, and even fatally flawed.
Bitcoin specifically is a scam, full of cons and fraud, eventually trending to zero.

The last quarter of the book starts to explain the 2017 bubble, as low liquidity pump and dump. Some people will make money; many more will be left holding an empty bag. Crypto “investment” is gambling without understanding the rules of either the game or the house.

Yet the book is a fun read, packed with memorable history and anecdotes, told with biting sarcasm and wit.

Each “fact” is solidly documented, and further research abounds. Often the paid cheerleading of bitcoin stakeholders drowns out reality.

Look, like anyone, I wish I had bought bitcoin in 2011 or ether in 2016. Some of those people have become rich, without really having created any social value, and even more people have become even more rich through countless thefts and scams. The primary holders of bitcoin fundamentally do not deserve vast piles of real wealth, and it will not flow to them. Other real, value-creating investment opportunities above.

Note that the author is no way against “financial innovation”.. and has himself profited from bitcoin. This appears as objective and technical as understandable information can be on this topic.
Profile Image for Robert C.
8 reviews1 follower
December 24, 2017
As a Computer Scientist currently working in IT Consulting, I found this book to strike the perfect balance between technical details and specific industry knowledge, very insightful and very well argued. On top of this, the book was structured very well and straight to the point. There were also a lot of jokes and ironies which I very much enjoyed.

As a disclaimer, it is obvious that the author is very pessimistic about the blockchain hype and its future use. This is mostly because, as he correctly points out, there is very little evidence of real, proven, use cases. As this is the first book I read on the topic I am unable to judge whether there was a biased selection of mostly failed projects or not but his arguments against the big ones out there at the moment are perfectly sound: bitcoin, ethereum and smart contracts all have limitations that are unlikely to help them become anything more than big ponzi schemes.

The writer does a fantastic job at backing up everything that he says with evidence from articles and investigations. I have on many occasions investigated the sources and they were trustworthy.

This book made me want to investigate further and equipped me with the right set of questions and framework to carry on.

I highly recommend reading this. 5 out 5.
Profile Image for Missdemeanor.
14 reviews1 follower
July 27, 2017
A fantastic warning to stay the hell away from Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but also just a good, well-researched, funny book. I laughed a lot and Gerard made the dry world of Bitcoin and Ethereum interesting and easy to understand.
Profile Image for Gourav Katyal.
1 review1 follower
February 7, 2018
A rant against Bitcoin.. Avoid if you are looking for an objective look at the crypto
Profile Image for G. Branden.
131 reviews52 followers
December 12, 2017
I cackled and guffawed practically the whole way through, except for the parts where Gerard gives earnest advice to the wide-eyed naïfs who still want to put a little "blockchain" into their "solution" even after reading his dire warnings and the sordid history of cryptocurrency.

Technologically literate; this is not a rant by some tech journalist who grinned and nodded his way through an intro programming class in college before he switched majors. (Those guys seem to _love_ blockchain.)

Meticulously documented: only 182 pages and over 300 endnotes. And it's a fast 182 pages; I inhaled it in an evening.

Right-libertarians and ancaps will hate it, either because it punctures their fantasies or risks scaring off the marks they're hoping to fleece.

Gerard's tales of vapidity, cupidity, and stupidity will have you facepalming your whole way through.

Recommended for buzzword deflaters, fans of heist novels and scam reports, and for your manager if you're a software engineer.
36 reviews
February 4, 2022
Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain is a fast-paced, breezy history of cryptocurrency circa 2017 (since which the field has changed a great deal, but gotten no less scammy or more technologically coherent). Gerard's style is that of an acerbic blogger (which he is- I heard of this book through his blog), and it sometimes hurts the writing- he's a bit hampered by the style and the low pagecount when trying to explain, say, the technical details of proof of work, or the massive variety of bitcoin exchange scams.

The real strength of the book is the asides and case studies. Its discussions of business blockchain failures (especially in the music business), The DAO clusterfuck, Craig S Wright, and Vitalik Buterin's past as a quantum computing scammer managed to be both informative deep dives and quite funny.
Profile Image for Iris.
1 review
December 14, 2017
Even though the book gave me new insights and informed me about some of the history of Bitcoin, it is drained in sarcasm (did make me lol at times). It is clear the author just hates Bitcoin and the blockchain. It makes it harder to take him seriously. What also made me take him less seriously is when he states, in the beginning of the book, that regulated and centralized financial markets keep the scams, frauds, criminals, etc away and it is fundamental to trust and safety. I literally said out loud: "Oh, common!!" and shook my head. Also, dismissing something new entirely due to failures when in it's infant stages is not a mindset I share.
Profile Image for Luke Kanies.
114 reviews40 followers
November 12, 2017
This is my favorite non-fiction book I’ve read in years.

It is not about the block chain or bitcoin, but is instead about the people behind and around it, and what it can actually be used for. It’s also written in a voice that I truly enjoyed.

The book does a great job of describing how bitcoins are incapable of doing the work they’re supposed to do (e.g., only 7 transactions per second worldwide?), and how the people working in and around them are mostly scammers, drug markets, and incompetent. I was shocked to learn how bad the exchanges actually are, in terms of product quality and discipline.
Profile Image for Brad Mills.
76 reviews6 followers
December 14, 2019
This book is poorly researched, poorly formatted, boring and largely irrelevant.

I could slog through half of it before giving up, and that was a chore.

The author has a clear bias against bitcoin. While I somewhat agree with him on the copycat cryptocurrency projects that were mostly created by companies to make someone rich - I just don't understand why he has the wool pulled over his own eyes like this on Bitcoin.

The bias is so thick - it's best to skip this book and read a book about Bitcoin. Perhaps "Little Bitcoin Book" or "The Bitcoin Standard"

Don't waste your time/money on this one.
Profile Image for David Pelayo.
7 reviews
November 28, 2017
Interesting book. Sometimes gets technical but it's ok. It reviews a great amount of events since Bitcoin was born, all of them with references to check.
A bit of humour complements the criticism the author makes regarding cryptocurrencies.
Therefore, fun and quick read, but biased.
You'll need to read more regarding the topic. The book is good but the topic is complex and not as straightforward as the author tells.
Profile Image for Zardoz.
422 reviews9 followers
February 9, 2018
Some people at work have recently been investing in bitcoin. I mentioned this to one of my tech friends and she recommended this book.
Basically it’s a history of all of the scams and problems associated with bitcoin, and the dreaded “Blockchain” buzzword that businesses are so in love with now.
Profile Image for Gaurav Sharma.
3 reviews
November 7, 2017
A very well researched and data backed analysis of Blockchain technology. (Also replete with good humour)
Profile Image for Samidhya Sarker Torsho.
36 reviews11 followers
April 8, 2020
Dissecting the hype of block chain from a purely technological point of view. Actually this book applies to any kind of buzzword driven development in years to come.
Profile Image for Nathan Shuherk.
255 reviews2,023 followers
May 12, 2022
Not something I’d recommend broadly, but if you’re interested, you’ll like it. Very funny and sardonic, but the outline could’ve been adjusted
412 reviews5 followers
November 18, 2022
A short, semi-clear and often amusing summary and history of the Bitcoin, Blockchain, Crypto, etc. universe up until about 2017. In the wake of the FTX-SBR debacle it seemed as good a time as any to lift this small primer from the pile in my closet to get some better insight into this entire phenomenon. He delves into the 'anarcho-capitalist' roots of cyrpto, the mystery of 'Satoshi Nakamoto' and many of the founding theories and myths. Call it the 'greater-fool' or 'madness of crowds' theory, but the entire thing has always garnered my deepest skepticism although somehow I did buy $50 of Ethereum years back. No idea what it is worth today, guess I should check. The insanity of bitcoin mining was more than enough to convince me of its immoral and irrational basis. Yet somehow it all continues to 'thrive'. Reading David Gerard's book in 2017 might have convinced one that it was all on its deathbed. He talks about the early price bubbles and busts and scandals including the Mt. Gox exchange collapse. Yet these turned out to be mere ripples in the price fluctuations to come: the price of one BTC in early 2017 was ~$800 per and by the peak of the 2021 bubble it reached ~$65k! And has since receded back to around $16k today. So depending on timing some have still made (or lost) a LOT of money off Crypto (assuming other prices essentially mirrored BTC). I think the author must be stunned. Even the latest scandal has caused only a moderate drop in price. What to think at this point? Either way this little book will provide you with some highly amusing anecdotes and some interesting background but a more up-to-date account might be more useful and the reason I reduced the rating from 4 to 3 stars.
Profile Image for Grant.
367 reviews5 followers
August 15, 2022
“Everything to do with cryptocurrencies and blockchains is the domain of fast-talking conmen. If anyone tries to sell you on either, kick them in the nuts and run.”

While 5 years feels like a long time ago to some degree, both technologically and socially, it's remarkable how relevant David Gerard's seminal summary of bitcoin and crypto is. I paid the most attention to crypto in the early days of Bitcoin (as a weird curiosity) and then much more closely over the past few years (as 'oh man I hate this and this is incredibly environmentally and socially corrosive'), and the book filled in a lot of the historical gaps for me. Even though a lot has happened in the 5 years since the book was written, this is still a very solid primer. Gerard writes accessibly even to those of us who don't really code, and his acerbic manner of speaking translates very well into writing.

I'm not sure how Gerard has maintained his sanity, because the hype bubbles he chronicled in the book only grew exponentially worse after it was written. Single, spectacular failures he chronicles, like the original The DAO, became structures that multiplied. It's remarkable that we're where we're at when so many of these things have been blindingly, obviously bogus the entire time.

I think perhaps the most incisive critique of the book is of smart contracts, which sound like a clever and useful idea at first blush. I was aware of several of the drawbacks, but Gerard really cuts the whole thing to ribbons in a few pages.
Profile Image for Sriram K R.
24 reviews1 follower
January 9, 2022
I suppose there is some inherent confirmation bias in liking this book because it puts into words what I have more or less suspected about crypto. Which is that while it draws upon fundamentally good ideas (decentralised, peer-to-peer microtransactions without the oversight of Big Brother), it is, in its current form, nothing but a giant grift/ponzi scheme that uses the guise of code supremacy.

Gerard's dissection of the crypto world and more importantly his ability to break down tech jargon wonderfully (and often times atrociously funnily) into plain English make this book surprisingly entertaining considering the topics it addresses ("Crypto day traders make foreign exchange day traders look sober, considered and balanced" is pure comedy gold).

The flow of the book is very well structured too, taking logical steps from the origins of crypto ideology to breaking down its current proposed use cases (and why none of them work in their current form), and the hilarious but alarmingly well publicised rebranding attempt to "Blockchain".

In conclusion: Don't touch crypto with a ten foot pole. it is nothing but a giant international grift, a zero sum game that rewards those able to manage and fund mindless wastage of electricity at the expense of laypeople lured into it to make a quick buck.
Profile Image for Stamatios Mantzouranis.
186 reviews28 followers
July 1, 2018
I am an early Bitcoin investor and a technologist with great interest in Blockchain. But after having read this book, I realised (a) how freaking lucky I've been for not having been scammed or hacked out of my money, (b) that Blockchain is an over-engineered solution to a fringe problem and (c) Ethereum & Smart Contracts will never take off.

David Gerrard doesn't pull any punches in this book. He writes with sarcasm to the point of scorn and is unafraid to call out names, dates and figures. His direct, almost blogging, writing style is very refreshing for a technical book. On the other hand though, I can't help wondering whether his personal opinion, brazenly plastered all over the book, hasn't affected his objectivity.

Nevertheless, this wasn't a big deal for me, because of the extensive references. Gerrard's research is very transparent in this book and he uses a Wikipedia-style method of marking his sources throughout the text (there's a full list of them at the appendix). This gives the book an overall journalistic feel and quality.

Despite my prior research in these topics, I'm sorry to say that this book has singlehandedly turned me away from Bitcoin, Blockchain, Ethereum and Smart Contracts. And that's meant as the highest praise.
Profile Image for Lionel Taylor.
137 reviews1 follower
June 13, 2022
There are an estimated 18,000 cryptocurrencies in existence and while there were not nearly as many when this book was published. However, the rise of such a plethora of digital coins and the fact that most of them are worth next to nothing would probably come as no surprise to someone who has read this book. What the author sets out to do is give the history of blockchain technology in a way that a layman can understand in and then show that many of the promises made by the promoters of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies are mostly empty. Using a variety of examples from all types of industries the case is made that while blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies may have some use in the future, the uses that it is currently being promoted for are far from achieving what is promised and probably never will. If nothing else, the events of the past few months in the crypto world are bearing out the author's central argument about the current shortcomings of this technology. While dated, this book is still a good introduction to how blockchain/cryptocurrencies work and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the topic.
Profile Image for Marco Neves.
66 reviews7 followers
April 12, 2021
Taking into account the current "gold fever", this is a book everyone should read, not necessarily because it is the whole true about cryptocurrencies, but because it go through a vet thorough version of the negative side of them, which is still relevant as most of the problems of the past are still around and prone to happen again (and again).

I'm not sure some of the unrelated details of the past of some of the participants are as relevant as the book makes them, but the amount of issues exposed around the crypto ecosystem makes the read with it anyway.

It a book I would recommend, above all, to anyone involved in cryptocurrency development, because very little progress was made, i think, on the issues raised.
January 26, 2022
A spectacular asskicking of everything related to crypto. I probably highlighted half the book.

It's short, but there is so much stupidity packed into each page. It would be among the funniest books I ever read if its contents weren't a harbinger of an even worse techbro dystopia that's right around the corner.

This is a must-read for anyone. If you're interested in crypto, this is a way to disabuse you of that notion real quick. If you hate crypto (and you should after reading it!), this will give you more ammunition than you could possibly use on why every bit of it is flimflam nonsense. It's just assholes all the way down.
Profile Image for Dimitrios Mistriotis.
Author 1 book41 followers
June 16, 2018
Want to thank my friend Stamatios for gifting me this book.

One note about it: It is un-put-down-able. The way Gerard writes is addictive. I stopped all my other reading until I could finish this one. Even in points I do not necessarily agree he made my laugh out.
79 reviews3 followers
July 22, 2018
A great read for two reasons: pointing and laughing at blockchain enthusiasts is fun, and having a handy reference for why all of this is dumb is convenient when I’m not in the mood to argue with people.
37 reviews
January 1, 2022
Book #2 in my undertaking to learn about Blockchain. Not a introductory read for someone who knows nothing about Blockchain, but I felt that this book provides so many refreshing counterarguments to all the Blockchain hawks that seem to be encroaching in every aspect of my life.
22 reviews
March 20, 2022
A humorous review of the history of Bitcoin and Blockchain up to 2017. I'd like to see a second edition incorporating developments since then, including the ecological fiasco cum next loser scam that are NFTs.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 159 reviews

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