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Bitcoin Billionaires by Ben Mezrich

Bitcoin Billionaires by Ben Mezrich
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“If you have seen The Social Network, you will remember the Winklevoss twins,” said Steven Poole in The Guardian: preppy, “faintly ridiculous” Harvard students (and, in 2008, Olympic oarsmen) who sued Mark Zuckerberg for “allegedly stealing their idea to make Facebook”. Ben Mezrich wrote The Accidental Billionaires (the book on which David Fincher’s 2010 movie was based) and he is back to tell the story of what the “Winklevii” (pictured) did next. After accepting a $65m settlement, the twins tried to invest in Silicon Valley start-ups, said David Enrich in The New York Times. But people were unwilling to take their cash for fear of offending Zuckerberg. So instead, the twins turned their attention to cryptocurrencies, buying “about 1% of the world’s outstanding bitcoins” in 2013. Then “dirt cheap”, the currency soon rocketed in value, turning the twins into billionaires. Mezrich is a “talented storyteller”, and when he is detailing the elaborate precautions the twins took in order to preserve their bitcoin hoard (they locked individual scraps of printed computer code in safe deposit boxes all over the country), his account is fascinating. But the book is hampered by its reverence: Mezrich treats the twins as “visionaries”, not lucky gamblers.

The real point of a book like this is to serve as a “painless primer” on bitcoin, said Rob Doyle in The Irish Times. As a digitised form of money requiring no banks, governments or middlemen, the cryptocurrency “appeals to both the libertarian Right and the anarchist Left”. New deposits of gold and other commodities are always being discovered, with a consequent decrease in value. But bitcoins are limited: there will never be more than 21 million in existence. This book demystifies this shadowy world, while telling a “racy human narrative”.