Mastering Bitcoin
Mastering Bitcoin

Author: Andreas M. Antonopoulos
Publisher: O'Reilly
Pages: 298
ISBN: 9781449374044
Print: 1449374042
Audience: Developers with a deep, technical interest in Bitcoin
Rating: 5
Reviewer: Mike James  

Bitcoin - it's interesting, exciting and potentially profitable in so many ways. A book that promises you mastery has to be a good investment.
It is,

But be warned this is a very detailed technical look at Bitcoin and its technology. For many it will be the book that tells them far too much about Bitcoin - they simply wanted to know how to get some and how to spend some. If you want to know the fine details, however, then this is the book you have been looking for. 

There are parts of the book that are much more introductory. In some places you almost feel that the book might be about to swerve off its course and become a complete beginner's book. Chapter 1 is an introduction to the basic idea of Bitcoin and its history. It introduces some typical Bitcoin users and it is at this point you might fear that you have picked up a book that is too simple - don't give up on it yet.

Chapter 2 does continue at the same sort of introductory level, but it also supplies a lot of information. It uses the task of buying a cup of coffee to introduce the way Bitcoin is actually used. This might seem too simple if you are a programmer trying to get to grips with the technology, but it is quite possible for the reader to be interested in the technology without ever actually having owned or spent a Bitcoin. As a result it is a useful introduction to the "other side of the fence". 




Chapter 3 examines the Bitcoin client and wallets in general. It covers some simple things like setting up a wallet and how the encryption works at the operational level - what are keys, where do you store them and so on. A nice feature is that way that the security-critical information is clearly distinguished from things like your Bitcoin address which can be freely handed out. 

The exploration of the security mechanisms continues in the next chapter. This is also a crash course in public key cryptography including elliptic curve cryptography. The level of presentation is just right if you want to understand the general principles without having to go into the deep mathematics. 

At this point the book starts to focus on the way that the Bitcoin network works and how a transaction is processed. Chapter 5 focuses on transactions - how they are created, details that can be included in the transaction, the transaction script language and an outline of standard transactions. 

Next we discover how the Bitcoin network fits together - types of nodes, network and the way a Bloom filter works. This all explains how Bitcoin functions as a P2P network. The next logical thing to look at is the data structure at the core of the P2P network, i.e. the blockchain. If you only know the general details of the blockchain - what it is for and how it is constructed - then this chapter will fill in the fine detail. it explains the structure of a block and how they are linked together in a way that makes it very difficult to change it without this being very visible to the rest of the world. 

Chapter 8 deals with mining and this is the part of the entire system that has attracted most attention simply because it is a very direct way to make money from your understanding of algorithms. Put simply, you buy a big or specialized computer and put it to work validating new blocks for the block chain and if you solve the problem first you get some newly minted Bitcoin. If this is as much as you know then this chapter fills in the missing detail. How a block is created and validated and then how the proof of work part of the algorithm leads to the block being added to the chain - or not. What happens if the proof of work algorithm results in two or more miners solving the problem at the same time and adding two different blocks? What happens to the forked block chain? Another interesting problem is that for some blocks you might construct there is no solution to the proof-of-work problem so how can you make minor changes to the data to convert it into a block that does have a solution? This is all covered in enough detail for you to understand the current state of mining. 




After this the book slightly runs out of steam with respect to Bitcoin because you know know just about everything you need to know. So Chapter 9 look at alternative technologies - Litecoin, Dogecoin, Freicoin, Primecoin and so on. All interesting and there is a short look at alternative uses for block chain like structures. 

The final chapter looks at the problem of Bitcoin security mainly from the end user's perspective. This is mostly about how you can secure the physical storage of your Bitcoin wallet. As the book points out, with Bitcoin possession is ten points of the law so you need to make sure that you have your private key well under control. In this sense Bitcoin is much more like having to look after a valuable commodity like gold than an abstract currency that cannot be stolen. 

The book finished with a few appendices on transaction script, future changes to Bitcoin and so on. 

Don't read this book if you simply want to use Bitcoin. It does contain enough information for you to get started, but it also contains so much more. If you don't want to know the technology you won't appreciate the book to the full. It has a got programming examples, but its really strong point is in explaining the details of the entire Bitcoin system so that you end up not just knowing about the idea that gets the headlines i.e. mining, but all of the implementation from wallet to the P2P network that makes it work. Strangely enough. the one area it doesn't cover in detail is mining. It doesn't tell you about the different mining rigs that you can buy or the economics of getting into mining, but these are things that are likely to go out of date very quickly.

Like the title suggests, if you want to master Bitcoin then get a copy of this book. 

After reading it I have only one important outstanding question - why are there ants on the cover?

(For the answer see page xii.)



The Theoretical Minimum

Author: Leonard Susskind & George Hrabovsky
Publisher: Basic Books/Allen Lane
Pages: 256
ISBN: 978-0465028115 
Print: 0465075681
Kindle: B00B05XGSW    

Audience: Readers with solid background in Physics and Math
Rating: 5
Reviewer: Mike James

Want to really understand the [ ... ]

Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum

Author: Leonard Susskind, Art Friedman
Publisher: Basic Books 
Pages: 384
ISBN: 978-0465062904
Print: 0465062903
Kindle: B00IFTT8GA
Audience: Students of Quantum Mechanics and the curious.
Rating: 5
Reviewer: Mike James

There are lots of people who want to know about  [ ... ]

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