An honest review of:
The Cryptopians –
Idealism, Greed, Lies, and the Making of the First Big Cryptocurrency Craze
by Laura Shin
First of all – let’s get something out of the way – this book should really be called ‘The Etherians’ instead of ‘The Cryptopians’. Laura Shins history and expose’ of the development and rollout of Ethereum and the Ethereum Foundation from start to 2018 is not really about any cryptocurrency other than Ethereum.
This is the story of Vitalik Buterin and his crytpocurrency project. Other cryptocurrencies, tokens, people, foundations, or exchanges are merely supporting characters or antagonists in this story. Vitalik is a protagonist who is obviously loved by his chronicler and anyone looking for dirt or gossip about him in this history will be disappointed – spoiler alert and this is the worst of it regarding him – he likes Asian women and he’s fairly naive and probably on the spectrum.
For the rest of the Ethereum co-founders and characters – it’s a regular smear-fest. Charles Hoskinson (Cardano $ADA) comes out the worst – described as a liar, a swindler, and a likely sex offender. Gavin Wood (PolkaDot) comes across as the guy most likely to stab you in the back while pretending to be a father figure. The rest of the ETH co-founders are generally portrayed (and may actually be) a bunch of rotten schemers and swindlers with the morals of hyenas or baboons. Sympathetic characters – (Anarchist Amir and the dev Grif both come to mind) exist but aren’t particularly noteworthy.
Let’s set the record straight – Laura Shin is a respected journalist and she double and triple checks her sources, she documents them well, and she was along for much of the ride she writes about – so I don’t doubt her portrayals. In fact, if anything she probably takes too cautious an approach in her narrative. So, I’m not disputing anything she wrote.
The entire book is really a coming of age story for both Vitalik and Ethereum. In the beginning, they are both idealistic and fragile – both in danger of being broken, exploited or both. In the end, they are both forces of nature circling the globe and unstoppable. It’s the middle parts that are messy.
The main action of this book centers around the building of the Ethereum Foundation, the hard fork that created $ETC (Ethereum Classic), the formation of The DAO, and the ICO craziness that followed – this is where just about every character is revealed to be a villain of some sort, swindling their friends, maneuvering for position, concocting Machiavellian schemes, and trying to manipulate Vitalik (often successfully it seems).
For me personally, it was a really interesting read but I think for most people – the intense detail Shin provides would really bog down the story itself – which is really the formation of Ethereum and how it survived the early challenges to become what it is today – the foundation of Web3. You can buy the book here.
One thing you may be wondering is how I feel about cryptocurrency in general and Ethereum in particular after reading this. The truth is, Laura Shin’s book confirmed a lot of what I already suspected. Crypto is filled with con artists and swindlers – most of them bankers or ‘businessmen’. One action this book brought about for me was almost immediately selling the majority of my Cardano and Polkadot bags. I haven’t sold my tiny ETH or BTC bags – but there is certainly a part of me that is saying ‘wash your hands of all of this’ – mainly because the decentralization and distributed control I so long believed would make a sort of future Utopia possible – have only become more tools in the banker’s box of tricks.
I had hoped that it would delve a bit deeper into the madness of XRP/Ripple, the many ICOs, tokens, communities, and scams that followed in the 2017-2018 period – sadly I was disappointed. For a look into that, you can check out my own Crypto Confidential: Adventures in the Seedy Underbelly of the Cryptocurrency World which picks up almost exactly where Shin leaves off. A word of warning, my book isn’t nearly as well written, documented, or worth reading – but it does have some interesting and funny shit from that period in it.