Finally! A book about Bitcoin that doesn’t treat its readers with soft gloves. The Bitcoin Tutorial: Develop an Intuitive Understanding of the Currency and Blockchain Technology by Bruce Kleinman is an excellent text-book for the technical user who wants to know what Bitcoin is, all gory details included.
If you really, really want to know everything about this technology and are not afraid of some maths & computer science talks, read this book. You will be rewarded greatly.
So far, I have read more than 20 books on Bitcoin and the blockchain, and most of them are guilty of one and the same cardinal sin: they tend to dumb down and oversimplify the subject, relying on real-world analogies in place of actual explanations and examples. Such books may work for somebody with passing interest on the subject of cryptocurrency, but will not do for the curious soul who wants to understand exactly how things work.
‘The Bitcoin Tutorial’ does not share this common flaw. Author Bruce Kleinman is not afraid to be meticulously technical when necessary to explain the fundamental matters that make Bitcoin safe and reliable. Sadly, my understanding of Bitcoin operation principles is still far from intuitive — I have read the book twice so far — but nevertheless when I finished the book I finally felt like all my questions were answered.
What makes ‘The Bitcoin Tutorial’ so good
There are several things that make this book truly stand out from the crowd.
You get all you need in one book
The book resembles a high school chemistry set: it reviews in ample detail absolutely all components that make Bitcoin possible. You don’t need to go elsewhere to learn about modern cryptography or hash functions. All information you will need is right there in the book.
The structure is logical
‘The Bitcoin Tutorial’ is structured in such a way that the important details about all components are explained first and only then the author shows how they work together.
This runs opposite to all other books on the subject I’ve read so far. All other books I’ve got begin with a sweeping, often overly-enthusiastic description of what you can do with Bitcoin and why the blockchain will change the universe, and only in later chapters dare to get into the details of how this is going to be accomplished. Well, ‘The Bitcoin Tutorial’ does exactly the opposite.
The first part of the book (more than a third of the overall volume) is dedicated solely to the basics:
- number bases other than decimal;
- large number fundamentals;
- general and cryptographic hash functions;
- merkle trees;
- elliptic curves;
- public key cryptography.
Each of those topics is reviewed and explained onto its own. Only after they have all been fully covered, the author moves onto Part 2 — the topic of Bitcoin as a currency and as a technology. Having presented all the underlying components in advance, it is now easier for him to explain the basics of bitcoin with which other authors start: addresses, keys, transactions, and real-world usage.
Layered approach to detail
The last thing which makes this book truly unique is how the information in each chapter is delivered in three ‘levels’ of detail. If you are not interested in a particular part of the book (for example, you hate maths and don’t want to be bothered with how elliptic curve cryptography works), you can read only the top-down view part of the relevant chapter and move on. You will still have all the necessary details to understand later topics in the book, without getting prematurely overloaded with information. Once you feel comfortable with the information you have absorbed, you can always return to a deeper level of detail.
The first level for each subject is called ‘The view from 30,000 feet’ and is a technically complete, if sometimes oversimplified, description. By reading all topics at this level, you will generally get a good understanding of what Bitcoin can do for you, but you will not be able to explain to others how it’s being achieved.
The second level is aptly named ‘The view from the ground’ and deals with the how’s and why’s of each subject; technically-minded people will find all necessary details here.
The final level, ‘The view for the truly curious’ is where all the ‘aha’ moments are stored. The details in these sections bring true familiarity, or should I say intimacy? with the ins and outs of Bitcoin. I don’t have data on this to back me up, but I am fairly certain that ‘The view for the truly curious’ brings knowledge to which only the top 1% of bitcoin experts are privy.
Marks of Quality
Sadly, many books on the subject of Bitcoin feel rushed. ‘The Bitcoin Tutorial’ stays in sharp contrast to these. The author is extremely careful with words. Just to make sure you will not get confused, Bruce Kleinman will frequently state whether particular piece of terminology is commonly used, and will caution you if a certain term or phrase is coined for the purpose of better explanation (and might have a different meaning outside of the book).
Such attention to detail is the norm in scholarly texts but is sadly missing from the huge majority of popular books.
But Surely There Must Be Something Wrong With It…?
There is a single issue I have with this book. The author really wants to come across as a smart and funny guy. This is especially important throughout the first part of the book where there is so much dry theory that less enthusiastic readers may drop the book. The way the author has chosen to keep things varied and interesting is by frequently using footnotes.
The problem is that the contents of these footnotes can be either very helpful, or annoyingly goofy and pointless. What drives me mad is not so much the goofiness but rather the goofy notes are interspersed with really helpful ones. If it was just the silly remarks, I’d be fine with it and would just know to skip any footnote I saw. But many of these footnotes include spot-on clarifications that are genuinely useful to the overall discourse.
I would say the good:bad footnote ratio is about 60:40 and the author is more ‘guilty’ in adding silly notes in the first third of the book; much less so afterwards. A good editor would trim some of these footnotes down; but until a revised version of the book is published, you have been warned.
In another Bitcoin book review elsewhere on this website (see Bitcoin for the Befuddled) I said ‘If you only have time for a single book on the subject of Bitcoin, make it this one.’ After reading The Bitcoin Tutorial a couple of times, I still stand by my initial conclusion, but with one important proviso: BFTB can only get you that far.
If you want to appear knowledgeable about Bitcoin among your friends, BFTB will suffice. But if you are in any kind involved in the Bitcoin industry, you owe it to yourself to also read The Bitcoin Tutorial. You may skip the more technical parts but even the ‘View from 30,000 feet’ will give you more detailed and useful information than the whole of BFTB will.
As I am writing this review, the Kindle version of the The Bitcoin Tutorial costs £2.78 at amazon.co.uk. The quality of this book and the amount of information it provides are easily worth ten times as much. Just get the damn thing and thank me later.