Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and blockchains can be very complex topics and hard to learn. Part of the reason is that this space is still quite new (not even a decade old) and the other part is that the area is one of genuine complexity. It combines elements of everything from computer science and programming to economics. Even within these areas, there are many different elements – for example, the computer science knowledge required in Bitcoin ranges from programming (say in C++, which is what Bitcoin Core is written in) to networks and distributed systems. I’ll try to separate out the books and learning resources by technical/non-technical resources.
If you’re interested in a simple book list, check out my Amazon Store for Bitcoin/finance books.
Technical Bitcoin Resources
From a technical point of view, Bitcoin can be highly specialized. In general, everyone working on anything technical related to Bitcoin should at least know the basics of Bitcoin. For example, even if you’re a web developer working for a Bitcoin company, in addition to knowing your own programming stack, you should have a cursory understanding, at the very least, of how Bitcoin works.
Mastering Bitcoin: Unlocking Digital Cryptocurrencies by Andreas M. Antonopoulos
If there is one technical resource that you need, this is it. The book is a great read, and covers everything you’ll need to know about Bitcoin and the technologies surrounding it. If you’re working with Bitcoin in any way, this is a highly recommended book, which also serves as a great and handy reference.
Who should read this: Anyone working in a Bitcoin/cryptocurrency/Blockchain/Ethereum startup, any hobbyist programmer, anyone with a technical background interested in learning how Bitcoin works.
Who shouldn’t read this: If you have no programming background whatsoever, if you’re primarily interested in economics/libertarianism aspects of Bitcoin, if you’re already an expert in how Bitcoin works or if you’re a Bitcoin Core developer.
Princeton University’s MOOC Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies
Princeton University, in 2015, created a great course on Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies that gives an excellent overview of the technical aspects of Bitcoin. You’ll need to do more work to really understand the inner workings of Bitcoin, but this academic course is a really good introduction to get you started. The course is freely available online, complete with book chapters and lecture slides. If you’re only interested in the video lectures, check out the Youtube channel for the course. You can also take this course on Coursera.
Who should take this course: Anyone with a technical background who is looking to learn more about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, especially just for the sake of learning. The course isn’t as thorough as the book Mastering Bitcoin in the nitty-gritty details of how Bitcoin works, but if you’re curious, this is a great resource. Also, if you’re working in a startup in the Bitcoin or cryptocurrency space but not directly involved in the technology (say you’re building the frontend, for instance), this course would be a good introduction to your work.
Who shouldn’t take this course: Anyone looking for that one resource that will make you a Bitcoin expert.
The Book of Satoshi: The Collected Writings of Bitcoin Creator Satoshi Nakamoto by Phil Champagne
This book contains some great topics taken directly from the writings of Satoshi Nakamoto who created Bitcoin. The book’s topics gives an excellent background information on what the founder was thinking as he was developing the protocol and increased adoption by others. The book is best used as a supplement to any other technical books that you read, so that you really get the essence of what the creator of Bitcoin had in mind with his invention.
Who should read this: Anyone looking to understand the origins of Bitcoin and the thought-process of the creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto and his ideas and ideologies.
Who shouldn’t read this: Anyone expecting a thorough technical dealing of Bitcoin or a data dump of all of Satoshi’s writings for data analysis.
21 Co Tutorials by Balaji Srinivasan and Others
Balaji Srinivasan, the founder of 21 co, raised an impressive $116 million, one of the highest in the Bitcoin industry, to create a ‘Bitcoin computer‘ to decentralize mining, create a micro-payment channel in every home and empower developers to quickly build Bitcoin applications. These 21 tutorials allow you to build applications that use Bitcoin, such as simple human-translation services, or other tasks requiring micro-payments, for example. The tutorials are geared towards builders and programmers – the community that will leverage Bitcoin to build applications not normally possible without Bitcoin. These aren’t too theoretical, so spend time on these only if you’re building something in the Bitcoin space.
Who should read this: Any programmer who is interested in building Bitcoin applications, whether using 21’s Bitcoin computer or not, should give these tutorials a try. They are broken down nicely by topics, so you can pick and choose the ones most relevant to what you’re building.
Who shouldn’t read this: If you’re looking for an in-depth introduction to how Bitcoin works – these tutorials are best suited for developers looking to build on top of Bitcoin. Also, the tutorials are definitely technical in nature.
World Bitcoin Network Tutorials by James D’Angelo
James D’Angelo produces a really good technical video series on topics related to Bitcoin, and he takes you, step by step, through the various features that he discusses. They are a great watch, and provide some great insights into the world of Bitcoin. Specifically, his Bitcoin 101 series linked above discusses everything from Brain Wallets to how to create your own digital currency to a great series on how multi-signature wallets work in Bitcoin.
Who should watch this: Anyone who learns well from 10-20 minute videos that are fairly thorough and let you tinker around with the inner workings of Bitcoin. Also, you’ll need a technical background to understand most of the videos, at least at a cursory level. Some of the videos may be accessible to someone with just an interest in Bitcoin without a technical background.
Who shouldn’t watch this: Bitcoin experts who know a lot about the technical underpinnings of Bitcoin might find these videos basic. But even then, I would recommend watching some topics that interest you.
Khan Academy Bitcoin course by Sal Khan
This is a fairly accessible and short Bitcoin course by Sal Khan of the Khan academy fame. This was one of the first real ‘courses’ that explained Bitcoin in a technical manner. However, the above resources are more comprehensive. On the other hand, this course is short and sweet and gives a quick overview of Bitcoin’s technicals.
Who should take this course: Anyone looking for a short, technical introduction to Bitcoin, or anyone with technical background but not very technical.
Who shouldn’t take this course: Anyone looking for a thorough dealing of the technical aspects behind Bitcoin.
Princeton’s Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies Technology by Arvind Narayanan, Joseph Bonneau, Edward Felten, Andrew Miller, Steven Goldfeder
This is the textbook for the MOOC on Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies Technology described above. The book is fairly large and comprehensive, and provides a very good overall outline of Bitcoin and its technical underpinnings. If you’re looking to contribute to the Bitcoin software/protocol, this book, along with Andreas’ book would be the best resources for you. Best of all, the book is free, and the authors are looking to publish it into a ‘real’ book. It currently has a raw feel to it, but that shouldn’t matter now, should it?
Who should read this: Programmers looking to contribute to the Bitcoin protocol who need a technical introduction to the principles underlying Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. Goes well with the MOOC.
Who shouldn’t read this: If you’re looking for practical application building using Bitcoin, say, by using APIs to create a game or checkout process, this book won’t help you that much.
Blockchain Programming in C# by Nicolas Dorier and Bill Strait
This is a very hands-on book that teaches developers how to get started with Bitcoin programming. It covers the essentials, like creating Bitcoin transactions programmatically. There are code samples throughout the book that tell you what needs to be done in order to accomplish your desired goal. Even if a lot of this is being abstracted away by using a Bitcoin API service provider, it is very helpful to learn the basics yourself when you’re building Bitcoin applications. There is a planned version on segregated witnesses as well. Also, don’t let the C# fool you – the book is worth a read even if you’ve never programmed in C#.
Who should read this: Anyone who is building out a Bitcoin application and looking for real code examples on how to do things should read and follow along.
Who shouldn’t read this: Anyone looking for just a read without wanting to write actual code.
These are some miscellaneous resources that will help you in your journey in understanding Bitcoin better, in addition to the ones described above.
- Developer Documentation Guide at bitcoin.org: A very useful reference and guide on all the technical aspects of Bitcoin for developers. Especially useful for those who are working with the core protocol as opposed to web apps utilizing Bitcoin.
- The Bitcoin Wiki: The Bitcoin Wiki is a fairly comprehensive coverage of all things around Bitcoin, from technical aspects and documentation to the latest clients and software to other ideas in the cryptocurrency space. It’s a great reference guide for a number of topics, including the technical ones.
- Bitcoin Reading List by Nate Murry (and others): A very good collection of external links and articles that provides an introduction to several online resources for developers. It also contains sections for whitepapers and code.
- Satoshi Nakamoto’s Posts on Bitcointalk: This is a full list of all the posts by the creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, from November 22, 2009 to December 12, 2010. Also see the list of all writings of Satoshi Nakamoto.
- Technical Discussion Board on Bitcointalk: There is still some quality technical discussion on Bitcointalk. In any case, some of the older discussion is really good, and several technical announcements that have resulted in improvements to the Bitcoin protocol over the years have been discussed here. You can also post your own questions here, for others to answer.
- Rich Morgan’s Phactor: This is a PHP implementation of the elliptic curve functions used in the Bitcoin protocol, and other cryptography functions.
The original Bitcoin whitepaper is titled ‘Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System‘ and it is quite clear that the origins of Bitcoin are as much driven by economic and financial concerns as technological ones. No real discussion of Bitcoin is complete without understanding the world into which Bitcoin was born – November of 2008 in the middle of the deepest recession since the great depression (the first block was mined in January 2009, with the world still reeling from the effects of 2008 financial collapse).
The root problem with conventional currency is all the trust that’s required to make it work. The central bank must be trusted not to debase the currency, but the history of fiat currencies is full of breaches of that trust. – Satoshi Nakamoto, inventor of Bitcoin
Even if you’re ‘just’ a programmer, or any enthusiast in the Bitcoin/cryptocurrency/blockchain space, you should educate yourself better on the prevailing economic and financial conditions around Bitcoin’s birth, while also learning enough about the financial industry. Here are some resources to help you on this journey.
The Creature from Jekyll Island by G. Edward Griffin
This book is a one-shot introduction to how the Federal Reserve in the United States was formed by a powerful group of bankers and lays out their motivations, financial and political, without resorting to any conspiracy theory nonsense. Seriously, it is very hard to find well-researched material on this topic without coming across how the Fed and Illuminati want to eat your babies. This book is a long and very well researched book. It does tilt toward the shady details of the Federal Reserve, but this is the one book you should read if you want to learn about what ‘the other side’ keeps talking about (other side being the Libertarians and Austrian school of economics).
Who should read this: Firstly, all libertarians/defacto-libertarians/curious-libertarians/libertarian sympathizers and all libertarian haters should read this. Then, anyone curious to know the origins of one of the most powerful institutions in the world could gather a lot of information that you wouldn’t normally get to know.
Who shouldn’t read this: If you really don’t care about central banking and monetary history.
This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly by Carmen M. Reinhart
Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy by Raghuram G. Rajan
End the Fed by Ron Paul
This book, written by the former Congressman and two-time presidential candidate Ron Paul provides everything you need to know about Paul’s economics and philosophy distilled down for everyone to understand. He traces the origins of the federal reserve, the role it plays in the American economy today and what the economic system would be without it. Ron Paul advocates going back to the gold standard and preserving the purchasing power of the dollar. He supports his argument through a bunch of historical facts about the economic system in the past in the absence of the federal reserve. The book is a very good introduction to the political ideas of libertarianism in terms of economic thought and also of the Austrian school of economics.
Who should read this: Anyone looking to learn more about the federal reserve and the history of its monetary policy, and wants to get an introduction to libertarianism. Remember Satoshi’s comment about central bank promises and printing money? It’s the same line of thought.
Who shouldn’t read this book: The book is fairly basic. If you’ve read more in-depth Austrian school of economics books and live and breathe libertarian, then this book may be too basic for you.
After the Trade is Made by David M. Weiss
This book is a very dense read, but it lays out everything there is to know about the securities settlement industry, also called the back-office in the financial industry. For example, stocks in the United States today mostly settle on a schedule of T+2, i.e., 2 business days after the trade is made. This book tells you everything there is to know about what happens after your trade is fulfilled to when the securities actually appear in your account and your cash balance drops accordingly. The reason I place it here is because of the increasing interest from banks, financial institutions and venture capitalists in how Bitcoin and blockchain can revolutionize the back-office.
Who should read this: If you’re interested in understanding how Bitcoin/blockchain can help solve the problem of securities and transactions settlement in the financial industry, this is the back-office Bible. Without knowing how the industry works today, you’re unlikely to understand how Bitcoin or blockchain technology broadly can be revolutionary in this industry that settles trillions of dollars in trades every single day.
Who shouldn’t read this: Most people! Seriously, it’s a very thick and dense read and unless you want to master the gory details of back-office securities settlement industry, don’t bother. However, if you’re a banker looking into blockchain technology for securities settlement, this is the book you need.
General Bitcoin Reading Resources
Over the years, as Bitcoin has matured and cryptocurrencies and blockchains are established as being ‘here to stay’, several mainstream authors have written some very interesting books in this area. These include journalists at established media institutions like New York Times and Wall Street Journal, who have done their homework and presented their work in interesting books. I would add these to your ‘reading list’ to read at leisure.
Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money by Nathaniel Popper
This is a great book by the New York Times journalist Nathaniel Popper, who has been covering several stories coming out of the Bitcoin space for NY Times. He has a firm grasp of not just what Bitcoin is and what it means for our economic and financial futures, but also of the community that makes Bitcoin what it is. It’s an easy and entertaining read for the mainstream audience who are looking for insights into what makes Bitcoin.
Who should read: Anyone who is even cursorily associated with Bitcoin should read this book. Also, with the increasing emphasis on ‘blockchain technology’ at many banks and financial institutions, I would recommend this book to people working on these initiatives, so they know the origins of their now beloved ‘blockchain technology’ and its roots to Bitcoin.
Who shouldn’t read: If you’re looking for technical or financial resources, or ‘fanboy-ism’, this book isn’t for you.
The Age of Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money Are Challenging the Global Economic Order by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey
Paul Vigna and Michael Casey covered Bitcoin quite extensively for Wall Street Journal, and their work is widely followed in the financial industry. They got together to write this great book, taking a more economic/financial approach and describing the importance of stateless money in the 21st century and how Bitcoin is already changing some long-held assumptions about the economy and the financial system in general.
Who should read this: Anyone who is intrigued by the idea of Bitcoin and what it all means in the grand scheme of things, especially the economic and financial systems.
Who shouldn’t read this: Those who hate economics.
The Bitcoin Big Bang: How Alternative Currencies Are About to Change the World by Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly a currency investor/speculator who regularly appears on CNBC, discusses why Bitcoin is of interest to the trading community. He gives some background into why Bitcoin and the blockchain technology are of such interest to the financial community at large. It is slightly on the speculative side, and shouldn’t be seen as a definitive guide on trading or investing or understanding other complex financial implications of Bitcoin.
Who should read this: Anyone looking for a light, fun read into how Bitcoin might change the world of finance.
Who shouldn’t read this: Anyone looking for a serious and in-depth discussion of the implications of the rise of alternate currencies like Bitcoin.
Virtual Billions: The Genius, the Drug Lord, and the Ivy League Twins behind the Rise of Bitcoin by Eric Geissinger
A book for the masses who are still intrigued by the mysterious figures behind the world of Bitcoin and the important roles they have played, intentionally or inadvertently, in the rise of Bitcoin. This is a good and easy read on the history of cryptocurrency and tells the stories behind the faceless people who propelled this to the mainstream.
Who should read this: If you’re interested in learning more about the people/characters behind Bitcoin. If you’ve been part of Bitcoin since its early days, a lot of this will sound familiar.
Who shouldn’t read this: It’s a fun read that doesn’t delve a lot into any technical details of Bitcoin or future potential of this technology. It doesn’t go into details on what the rise of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies might imply for the world we live in.