Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain

Ulbricht had been doing all his Silk Road work from his main daily laptop. One afternoon in September 2013, he was sitting in a library, using their wifi to administer the site, and talking to a friend in the site’s online chat. Two apparently-homeless people started arguing loudly behind him; he turned to look, and the slight young woman using the desk opposite snatched his laptop. She was a government agent. So were the homeless people. So was the friend he was chatting to.

What the pseudonymous “Satoshi Nakamoto” describes in the Bitcoin white paper is simple, clever, technically interesting and genuinely innovative. What emerged from it is amazing, hilarious and horrifying: a jawdropping maelstrom of get-rich-quick dreams, right-wing anarchists, libertarian pseudoeconomics, magical thinking, blatant con-men and the madness of crowds.

Remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

A forthcoming short book (30,000 words or so) on Bitcoin, blockchains and smart contracts, what these ideas are, why they don’t work out at all well in practice, and the sort of people attracted to them.

Current status: Final polishing, working on the front cover. Release soon!

To keep updated on progress, email me to go on the alerts mailing list at

I also blog about the book from time to time on my Tumblr: reverse order or chronological order.

David Gerard is a Unix system administrator by day. His job includes keeping track of exciting new technologies and advising against the bad ones. He was previously an award-winning music journalist, and has blogged about music at Rocknerd since 2001. He is a volunteer spokesman for Wikipedia, and is on the board of the RationalMedia Foundation, host of skeptical wiki RationalWiki. His website is He lives in east London with his spouse Arkady and their daughter. Until he reinstalled the laptop they were on, he was the proud owner of six Dogecoins.

Answers to Frequently-Asked Questions:

A. Sadly, Amazon Kindle only accepts conventional currencies.