Rustie Lin UC Berkeley CS, Distributed Systems, Blockchain

Mastering Bitcoin

In this post, I talk about a famous book titled Mastering Bitcoin: Unlocking Digital Cryptocurrencies, by Andreas M. Antonopoulos. The book is currently open-sourced here. It is a very good book and I highly recommend you check it out!

I think that the ability to explain something technical in an easy to understand non-technical way is the clearest indication of understanding. In writing my own book on Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies, and blockchain technologies, I have found the most difficult task to be explaining a highly technical subject to my intended non-technical audience in a short yet concise manner.

I’ve looked to Andreas M. Antonopoulos’ famous book Mastering Bitcoin: Unlocking Digital Cryptocurrencies for inspiration. This book is known in the Bitcoin community as one of the most comprehensive guides to Bitcoin. Although his intended audience is programmers, whereas mine is for non-technical beginners in crypto (specifically for UC Berkeley’s Introduction to Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain student-run class), there are many writing and stylistic elements in Antonopoulos’ book that I can learn from.

The front cover of Antonopoulos’ book depict two leafcutter ants on opposite sides of the book’s title. In the preface, Antonopoulos demonstrates that decentralized systems in nature such as leafcutter ant colonies can be resilient and “produce emergent complexity and incredible sophistication without the need for a central authority, hierarchy, or parts.”(xii) This analogy immediately clicked for me. Antonopoulos uses the leafcutter ant analogy to effectively introduce to the reader the concepts of decentralization, consensus, cryptographic primitives, and mining.

  • Leafcutter ants operate in a decentralized colony 'superorganism'. They have a queen to produce offspring, but do not have a central authority to pass instructions to other ants. In a similar way, the Bitcoin network was engineered to be decentralized.
  • In a multi-million colony, each individual ant uses a simple social rules and pheromones to play its part in the entire 'superorganism'. Each node in the Bitcoin network relies on simple set of cryptographic properties in the Bitcoin protocol.

Writing my book, I hope to communicate ideas in cryptocurrencies and blockchain in a similar way: clearly and concisely without confusing technical jargon.