Digital Cash: The Unknown History of the Anarchists, Utopians, and Technologists Who Created Cryptocurrency

Princeton University Press
Free sample

The fascinating untold story of digital cash and its creators—from experiments in the 1970s to the mania over Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies

Bitcoin may appear to be a revolutionary form of digital cash without precedent or prehistory. In fact, it is only the best-known recent experiment in a long line of similar efforts going back to the 1970s. But the story behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and its blockchain technology has largely been untold—until now. In Digital Cash, Finn Brunton reveals how technological utopians and political radicals created experimental money to bring about their visions of the future: protecting privacy or bringing down governments, preparing for apocalypse or launching a civilization of innovation and abundance that would make its creators immortal.

The incredible story of the pioneers of cryptocurrency takes us from autonomous zones on the high seas to the world’s most valuable dump, from bank runs to idea coupons, from time travelers in a San Francisco bar to the pattern securing every twenty-dollar bill, and from marketplaces for dangerous secrets to a tank of frozen heads awaiting revival in the far future. Along the way, Digital Cash explores the hard questions and challenges that these innovators faced: How do we learn to trust and use different kinds of money? What makes digital objects valuable? How does currency prove itself as real to us? What would it take to make a digital equivalent to cash, something that could be created but not forged, exchanged but not copied, and which reveals nothing about its users?

Filled with marvelous characters, stories, and ideas, Digital Cash is an engaging and accessible account of the strange origins and remarkable technologies behind today’s cryptocurrency explosion.

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About the author

Finn Brunton is assistant professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. He is the author of Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet and the coauthor of Communication and Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest. He has written for the Guardian, Artforum, and Radical Philosophy, among many other publications.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jun 25, 2019
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Pages
272
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ISBN
9780691185668
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Money & Monetary Policy
History / Social History
Social Science / Media Studies
Social Science / Popular Culture
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Love it or hate it, celebrity is one of the dominant features of modern life--and one of the least understood. Fred Inglis sets out to correct this problem in this entertaining and enlightening social history of modern celebrity, from eighteenth-century London to today's Hollywood. Vividly written and brimming with fascinating stories of figures whose lives mark important moments in the history of celebrity, this book explains how fame has changed over the past two-and-a-half centuries.

Starting with the first modern celebrities in mid-eighteenth-century London, including Samuel Johnson and the Prince Regent, the book traces the changing nature of celebrity and celebrities through the age of the Romantic hero, the European fin de siècle, and the Gilded Age in New York and Chicago. In the twentieth century, the book covers the Jazz Age, the rise of political celebrities such as Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin, and the democratization of celebrity in the postwar decades, as actors, rock stars, and sports heroes became the leading celebrities.


Arguing that celebrity is a mirror reflecting some of the worst as well as some of the best aspects of modern history itself, Inglis considers how the lives of the rich and famous provide not only entertainment but also social cohesion and, like morality plays, examples of what--and what not--to do.


This book will interest anyone who is curious about the history that lies behind one of the great preoccupations of our lives.

Some images inside the book are unavailable due to digital copyright restrictions.

What spam is, how it works, and how it has shaped online communities and the Internet itself.

The vast majority of all email sent every day is spam, a variety of idiosyncratically spelled requests to provide account information, invitations to spend money on dubious products, and pleas to send cash overseas. Most of it is caught by filters before ever reaching an in-box. Where does it come from? As Finn Brunton explains in Spam, it is produced and shaped by many different populations around the world: programmers, con artists, bots and their botmasters, pharmaceutical merchants, marketers, identity thieves, crooked bankers and their victims, cops, lawyers, network security professionals, vigilantes, and hackers. Every time we go online, we participate in the system of spam, with choices, refusals, and purchases the consequences of which we may not understand.

This is a book about what spam is, how it works, and what it means. Brunton provides a cultural history that stretches from pranks on early computer networks to the construction of a global criminal infrastructure. The history of spam, Brunton shows us, is a shadow history of the Internet itself, with spam emerging as the mirror image of the online communities it targets. Brunton traces spam through three epochs: the 1970s to 1995, and the early, noncommercial computer networks that became the Internet; 1995 to 2003, with the dot-com boom, the rise of spam's entrepreneurs, and the first efforts at regulating spam; and 2003 to the present, with the war of algorithms—spam versus anti-spam. Spam shows us how technologies, from email to search engines, are transformed by unintended consequences and adaptations, and how online communities develop and invent governance for themselves.

In 1971, President Nixon imposed national price controls and took the United States off the gold standard, an extreme measure intended to end an ongoing currency war that had destroyed faith in the U.S. dollar. Today we are engaged in a new currency war, and this time the consequences will be far worse than those that confronted Nixon.

 

Currency wars are one of the most destructive and feared outcomes in international economics. At best, they offer the sorry spectacle of countries' stealing growth from their trading partners. At worst, they degenerate into sequential bouts of inflation, recession, retaliation, and sometimes actual violence. Left unchecked, the next currency war could lead to a crisis worse than the panic of 2008.

Currency wars have happened before-twice in the last century alone-and they always end badly. Time and again, paper currencies have collapsed, assets have been frozen, gold has been confiscated, and capital controls have been imposed. And the next crash is overdue. Recent headlines about the debasement of the dollar, bailouts in Greece and Ireland, and Chinese currency manipulation are all indicators of the growing conflict.

As James Rickards argues in Currency Wars, this is more than just a concern for economists and investors. The United States is facing serious threats to its national security, from clandestine gold purchases by China to the hidden agendas of sovereign wealth funds. Greater than any single threat is the very real danger of the collapse of the dollar itself.

Baffling to many observers is the rank failure of economists to foresee or prevent the economic catastrophes of recent years. Not only have their theories failed to prevent calamity, they are making the currency wars worse. The U. S. Federal Reserve has engaged in the greatest gamble in the history of finance, a sustained effort to stimulate the economy by printing money on a trillion-dollar scale. Its solutions present hidden new dangers while resolving none of the current dilemmas.

While the outcome of the new currency war is not yet certain, some version of the worst-case scenario is almost inevitable if U.S. and world economic leaders fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. Rickards untangles the web of failed paradigms, wishful thinking, and arrogance driving current public policy and points the way toward a more informed and effective course of action.

Charles Wheelan’s wonderfully whimsical, best-selling Naked series tackles the weird, surprisingly colorful world of money and banking.

Consider the $20 bill.

It has no more value, as a simple slip of paper, than Monopoly money. Yet even children recognize that tearing one into small pieces is an act of inconceivable stupidity. What makes a $20 bill actually worth twenty dollars? In the third volume of his best-selling Naked series, Charles Wheelan uses this seemingly simple question to open the door to the surprisingly colorful world of money and banking.

The search for an answer triggers countless other questions along the way: Why does paper money (“fiat currency” if you want to be fancy) even exist? And why do some nations, like Zimbabwe in the 1990s, print so much of it that it becomes more valuable as toilet paper than as currency? How do central banks use the power of money creation to stop financial crises? Why does most of Europe share a common currency, and why has that arrangement caused so much trouble? And will payment apps, bitcoin, or other new technologies render all of this moot?

In Naked Money, Wheelan tackles all of the above and more, showing us how our banking and monetary systems should work in ideal situations and revealing the havoc and suffering caused in real situations by inflation, deflation, illiquidity, and other monetary effects. Throughout, Wheelan’s uniquely bright-eyed, whimsical style brings levity and clarity to a subject often devoid of both. With illuminating stories from Argentina, Zimbabwe, North Korea, America, China, and elsewhere around the globe, Wheelan demystifies the curious world behind the paper in our wallets and the digits in our bank accounts.

How we can evade, protest, and sabotage today's pervasive digital surveillance by deploying more data, not less—and why we should.

With Obfuscation, Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum mean to start a revolution. They are calling us not to the barricades but to our computers, offering us ways to fight today's pervasive digital surveillance—the collection of our data by governments, corporations, advertisers, and hackers. To the toolkit of privacy protecting techniques and projects, they propose adding obfuscation: the deliberate use of ambiguous, confusing, or misleading information to interfere with surveillance and data collection projects. Brunton and Nissenbaum provide tools and a rationale for evasion, noncompliance, refusal, even sabotage—especially for average users, those of us not in a position to opt out or exert control over data about ourselves. Obfuscation will teach users to push back, software developers to keep their user data safe, and policy makers to gather data without misusing it.

Brunton and Nissenbaum present a guide to the forms and formats that obfuscation has taken and explain how to craft its implementation to suit the goal and the adversary. They describe a series of historical and contemporary examples, including radar chaff deployed by World War II pilots, Twitter bots that hobbled the social media strategy of popular protest movements, and software that can camouflage users' search queries and stymie online advertising. They go on to consider obfuscation in more general terms, discussing why obfuscation is necessary, whether it is justified, how it works, and how it can be integrated with other privacy practices and technologies.

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