A map to the new frontier, and a rollicking ride across it
Ethan Lou goes on an epic quest through the proverbial cryptocurrency Wild West, through riches, absurdity, wonder, and woe. From investing in Bitcoin in university to his time writing for Reuters, and then mining the digital asset ― Lou meets a co-founder of Ethereum and Gerald Cotten of QuadrigaCX (before he was reported dead), and hangs out in North Korea with Virgil Griffith, the man later arrested for allegedly teaching blockchain to the totalitarian state.
Coming of age in the 2008 financial crisis, Lou’s generation has a natural affinity with this rebel internet money, this so-called millennial gold, created in the wake of that economic storm. At once an immersive narrative of adventure and fortune, Once a Bitcoin Miner is also a work of journalistic rigor. Lou examines this domain through the lens of the human condition, delving deep into the lives of the fast-talkers, the exiles, the ambitious, and the daring, forging their paths in a new world, harsh and unpredictable.
Journalist Lou (Field Notes from a Pandemic) recounts his roller-coaster ride in the woolly world of bitcoin in this colorful account. Lou began researching bitcoin in the early 2010s while working as a journalist, then began investing in it, and by 2017 became a "miner" who produces cryptocurrency. Among the many personalities he encountered along the way were an eclectic mix of showmen, a businessperson who "looked really silly... sitting inexplicably on a blue exercise ball," and crypto scammers who "peddle a sort of opiate... a hope and a dream." Their fortunes play out variously as bitcoin values fluctuate wildly, feuds rage, Ponzi schemes attract government regulators, and financial disasters befall investors, in one case giving rise to rumors of a faked death. Lou's adventuresome nature drives his story one highlight is when he attends a bitcoin conference in North Korea that provides a rare view of the shuttered country though he occasionally veers into the self-indulgent (a Reuters reporter "in wishing me well, said something specific about cryptocurrency, but didn't want to be quoted.... I can promise some nice things were said to me, though"). And his explanations of what "mining" entails are cursory, so readers lacking technical knowledge on mining or blockchains will find themselves struggling to fill in some fundamental blanks. Still, readers interested in an in-the-trenches view of the bitcoin world will appreciate Lou's willingness to tell all. Agent: Rob Firing, Transatlantic.