Book review: How Money Got Free

Book review: How Money Got Free, by Brian Patrick Eha A topical look at the evolution of the digital currency.

How Money Got Free:Bitcoin And The Fight For The Future Of Financeby Brian Patrick EhaOneworld, £20

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The price of one bitcoin recently overtook that of an ounce of gold, making this a topical time for a look at the evolution of the digital currency. Brian Patrick Eha's book looks at the struggles of several of bitcoin's early pioneers, several of whom ended up in jail. There are four main protagonists in this story: Roger Ver, an early bitcoin evangelist; Ross Ulbricht, creator of notorious contraband website Silk Road; Charlie Shrem, founder of BitInstant, a bitcoin exchange; and banker Barry Silbert.

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Eha's sympathies are clearly withthe bitcoin entrepreneurs, whom he sees as idealists looking to fix a broken political and economic system. He argues that it is inconsistent that Ulbricht, for example, received a life sentence for his role in creating Silk Road, but HSBC was let off with a fine for multi-billion-dollar money laundering because it was deemed "too big to jail". He also notes that official attitudes to bitcoin reversed almost overnight once major Wall Street banks began to take an interest.

Still, Eha is balanced enough to note that many of the bitcoin entrepreneurs were given ample warning that they needed to changes their business in order to comply with regulations, but they chose to carry on regardless. He also paints a picture of an emerging sector in which bitter disputes were common: for example, Shrem accuses Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who invested in BitInstant, of undermining the firm through capricious treatment of him (although Shrem comes across as no saint he was jailed for two years on charges related to Silk Road). This outcome is an entertaining look at a period of financial change that may prove to have lasting implications for finance and the global economy.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri