Book Review: Blockchain by Melanie Swan

Blockchain is the combination of distributed computing and cryptography that underlies Bitcoin, and it is a fascinating technology that essentially allows users in a network to have usable digital currency. But cryptocurrency is not the only use of blockchain technology: it is also verifiable reputation, contracts, and information in a decentralised manner that hints at some pretty neat applications, all of which have the same underlying theme: making trade much more efficient. This is the topic of Blockchain: Blueprint for a New Economy by Melanie Swan.

The meat of this book are discussions on the uses of blockchain technology from existing ones like decentralised domain name services to possible future ones like decentralised government and secure health data verification. It turns out that there are many situations that would benefit from decentralisation and that also require verifiability. Digital currency, which has (a) decentralisation to avoid middle men like banks, and (b) verifiability so that one cannot just make up how much money is in a digital wallet, is by far not the only one.

One example I found particularly fascinating is blockchain journals. This system would involve peer-to-peer peer review, keeping track of who does the reviewing and editing in the blockchain. If someone were daring to implement something sufficiently user-friendly for the academic community, publishing could be transformed and unfortunate entities like Elsevier could be cut out of the paper publishing business for good.

Where this book falls a little short is its lack some needed technical detail. For instance, the book does not explain mining in sufficient detail and it makes a few minorly misleading statements about hashes. This lack of detail can be partly forgiven as the book is part of a series, and a separate book in the series entitled Mastering Bitcoin by Antonopoulos is supposed to delve more into technical aspects.

Despite some of my misgivings, I found Swan’s book to be an informative look into existing and future blockchain applications. There is a thoroughness in the selection of examples, and each is a fascinating nugget that many readers will want to further explore. In summary, I recommend this book as an important learning resource for anyone interested in blockchain technology.

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