Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Book Review: Bitcoin Billionaires: A True Story of Genius, Betrayal, and Redemption by Ben Mezrich

You know who the Winklevoss twins are. From the Facebook movie, they were played by Armie Hammer. They came up with the idea for Facebook, brought it to a fellow Harvard undergrad for help with programming, he stole it, and the rest is history.

That movie and the way they've been covered in the media made them look like privileged pricks. But not only is that only one side of the story, it maybe shouldn't be a side at all because it's so inaccurate. They really did come up with the idea for Facebook. (What? You think a friendless nerdy introvert came up with a social network, not a couple of popular guys? Really?) They didn't come from much privilege--their grandfather was a car mechanic. While their father did make it big (in tech start-ups, back in the '80s! They came by it honestly!), he taught them the value of hard work, as evidenced by their stint on the US Olympic rowing team. And they've also been through some tough times, like the death of their older sister.

So this book gives you their backstory, the backstory to the whole Facebook debacle, and enticingly, is about what came next. Bitcoin. After being shut out of Silicon Valley as venture capitalists, no matter how much money they had, they found a strange subculture tech opportunity on the East Coast--a small company that facilitated Bitcoin transactions called BitInstant. This was many years before anyone in the mainstream had heard of Bitcoin. If you haven't don't worry--the book explains it well. They invest in both BitInstant and Bitcoin itself, and you see them being the only grownups in the room as BitInstant's young, volatile, hyper CEO Charlie, digs himself a large hole. If you're paying attention, the red flags are all there. You pretty much know how things are going to end for young Charlie and his hubris. Yet it's a fun ride getting to that point. I just ate up the second half of the book in only two sittings, as it raced along to what was inevitably a bumping ending. It very much reminded me of the other Mezrich book I've read: Bringing Down the House. It has the same audacity, smarts, and high stakes. If you like true financial insider accounts that read like a thriller, this book is for you!

This book is published by Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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