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Bitcoin Billionaires: A True Story of Genius, Betrayal, and Redemption

Review

Bitcoin Billionaires: A True Story of Genius, Betrayal, and Redemption

BITCOIN BILLIONAIRES is a fascinating, if flawed, chronicle about the origins of cryptocurrency and the role that its two biggest promoters, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, have played in its rise.

Ben Mezrich’s successful earlier book, THE ACCIDENTAL BILLIONAIRES (later turned into the box-office megahit The Social Network), brought notoriety to the twins --- the Bitcoin billionaire subjects of this book --- and their lawsuit against Mark Zuckerberg, who they accused of stealing their original Facebook prototype while they were all students at Harvard. Though this is not a sequel, it seems as though Mezrich is intent on making amends for his role in besmirching the Winklevii, as they’re now known.

"[T]he story of Bitcoin’s rise, fall and apparent rebirth is a fascinating one, and the twins’ investment and involvement make for an absorbing read."

While they were previously portrayed as entitled whiners, here they are hardworking, serious and honorable. The book is filled with breathless platitudes about their conscientiousness and fortitude. On their company being touted in a New York Times article: “It was that determination and strength that had led to this front-page story.” And on their philosophy of life: “It wasn’t whether things came easily or hard, it was how you faced them. If you went down, you got back up. And if you had a chance to do something great, you took it.” According to Mezrich, while those around them were reckless or partying too hard or, worse, engaged in shady activities, Cameron and Tyler’s respective noses were clean and always to the grindstone.

Still, the story of Bitcoin’s rise, fall and apparent rebirth is a fascinating one, and the twins’ investment and involvement make for an absorbing read. Shunned by Silicon Valley, they embraced the idea of cryptocurrency when they first heard about it in 2012, three years after it had been invented by the mysterious programmer Satoshi Nakamoto. Thanks to their decision to take their Facebook settlement primarily in the form of stock, they had plenty of capital to invest.

Their original contact with the Bitcoin trading world was through a young genius desperate to escape his Syrian Orthodox family. To go deeper, they had to navigate their way around anarchists, shady characters, hackers and an endless array of hangers-on. But in some ways, the hardest fight was within the cybercurrency community itself: “The libertarians and anarchists saw Bitcoin as a weapon in their war against regulated society. The entrepreneurs and VCs…wanted Bitcoin to be part of that society, a new, programmable money for the modern world.”

BITCOIN BILLIONAIRES tells the story of that struggle, and the high price --- literally and figuratively --- its players have had to pay.

Reviewed by Lorraine W. Shanley on May 24, 2019

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

  • Publication Date: May 21, 2019
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250217741
  • ISBN-13: 9781250217745