Book Review: Mastering Bitcoin: Unlocking Digital Cryptocurrencies

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I’m excited to cover a book that’s not really about development or UI/UX design, although it is somewhat tangentially related. This book is valuable to tech-enthusiasts who want to understand the origins and goals of cryptocurrencies, specifically Bitcoin.

Mastering Bitcoin by Andreas Antonopoulos should be required reading for anyone that’s tech-savvy and interested in Bitcoin technology.

It starts with the basics of Bitcoin explaining the history & components like wallets and mining. Later chapters cover the blockchain, alternative cryptocurrencies, and some tips for Bitcoin security.

The author does get into more technical topics like protocols and Bitcoin development later in the book. However I still believe this book is approachable from a beginner’s perspective and it’s one of the most comprehensive books on Bitcoin to have on your bookshelf.

Book Contents

Over 300 pages you learn all the fundamentals of Bitcoin including the history, how it works, and getting started with using the technology yourself.

In total the book contains 10 chapters each with their own sub-chapters. Here’s a breakdown of the contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. How Bitcoin Works
  3. The Bitcoin Client
  4. Keys, Addresses, Wallets
  5. Transactions
  6. The Bitcoin Network
  7. The Blockchain
  8. Mining and Consensus
  9. Alternative Chains, Currencies, and Applications
  10. Bitcoin Security

There are so many cryptocurrencies on the market that it’s tough knowing where to start. Bitcoin is the original and most widely-known digital currency so it’s usually regarded as the best one to start with.

In the first two chapters you’ll really be challenged to understand the purpose of Bitcoin and how to use it in the real world. The example of buying a cup of coffee seems mundane. But to learn this currency you need to get to the root of a generic transaction to see how Bitcoin exchanges work.

bitcoin homepage

You might have some prior knowledge of the basics of Bitcoin before reading this book. But you can get through this as a complete beginner.

The authors hold your hand explaining how transactions work, how to manage a Bitcoin wallet, and how you can transfer coins between exchanges or down locally to your computer. They also talk about advanced subjects like proof of work and hashing.

Diagrams and charts litter these pages to help explain things visually. It helps a lot when you can see a diagram of an exchange or transaction to see how each step is represented visually.

Many people hear about Bitcoin and they jump on the web looking for answers. This can lead to forum threads, Q&As, blog posts, and Wiki pages that all seem fractured. This leaves people attempting to piece together information from various sources and struggling to understand the point of it all.

Andreas clarifies everything in this book which is both well organized and properly written for readers with a semi-technical background who just don’t know jack about cryptocurrencies.

Pros & Cons

Anyone looking to learn the absolute basics of Bitcoin will find everything in this book(plus a whole lot more).

You learn about the history, foundational talking points, and practical real-world situations when Bitcoin can be applied. You also learn how to manipulate the blockchain and use the Bitcoin client for fun little projects.

Later chapters get into Bitcoin security and custom transactions with scripting. Awesome for developers and techies, not so great for the average Joe & Jane who just want to use Bitcoin for online shopping.

On the cons side I do think this book can get too technical for average readers. Since it’s an O’Reilly book I was expecting a pool of technical knowledge to pour out of each page. But if you’re not tech savvy this book may be tough to finish.

Also the author seems to think the diagrams are printed in color but they’re all in grayscale. This may be an oversight of the publisher or the author, but either way it makes reading some passages quite confusing.

Also as a slight nitpick I would’ve liked to see the chapters in a better order. For example, I think Bitcoin Security should’ve been placed much higher than the “alternate currencies” section.

Ultimately the explanations are great and the information is solid. But you will go a lot farther in this book if you have a background in coding. I wish this was made more apparent in the book’s title. But again this could be for anyone, it’s just that tech-savvy folks will get through this book a lot easier.

Who Is This For?

Anyone with curiosity and a genuine interest in learning Bitcoin will flourish with this book. It covers so many topics from absolute basics to security and mining that you shouldn’t even bother looking elsewhere.

And if you already have a basic understanding of Bitcoin you may find the early chapters a little dry. But the topics quickly pick up steam to get you thinking on a higher level with wallet management, encryption, and other security measures.

This book is not for anyone that just wants a cursory understanding of Bitcoin. You can probably find that information online, although you’ll struggle to get a real detailed understanding of the protocol.

If you have no tech background but want to learn the details of Bitcoin this book may also help you. It’ll be a tough read, especially once you get past chapters 2-3 where the technical stuff ramps up.

But I think Bitcoin could be understood by anyone given enough time and the right materials. If you need something simpler check out Bitcoin: A Complete Beginner’s Guide which is a much newer title and quite a bit shorter at 116 pages.

Final Summary

I think Andreas did a stupendous job with this book. It really does help you master Bitcoin from all angles including history, basic setup, wallet management, dev concepts, and detailed security measures.

If you’re willing to get your hands dirty with scripting this book even teaches you about the blockchain and branches into other cryptocurrencies that play nicely with Bitcoin.

I would recommend Mastering Bitcoin to the right audience of technically savvy individuals. This book goes into such great detail that you couldn’t possibly walk away without gleaning something from it.

I do have to knock off points because of the minorly excessive/obtuse technical explanations and the somewhat unfocused chapter organization. But overall this book is the perfect introduction for techies and coders who really want to, as the title suggests, master Bitcoin.

Review Rating: 4/5


Alex is a fullstack developer with years of experience working in digital agencies and as a freelancer. He writes about educational resources and tools for programmers building the future of the web.