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

Finn Brunton (Author)


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.

Product Details

$26.95  $24.79
Princeton University Press
Publish Date
June 25, 2019
5.6 X 1.1 X 8.6 inches | 1.1 pounds

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About the Author

Finn Brunton is associate 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.


"Brunton's wildly inventive history reveals the dystopian visions that drove the creation of digital cash. Both a lucid unfolding of the technologies inside of money and a thrilling page-turner that takes us from secret WWII-era codebooks to cryopreservation sci-fi, Digital Cash is the rarest of books: engaging, philosophical, and urgent."--Tung-Hui Hu, author of A Prehistory of the Cloud
"A very important book."--Lana Swartz, coeditor of Paid: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff
"Ever wondered why anyone would build cryptocurrency? Finn Brunton dances across the fantasies that inspired its development. From the demise of governments, to spontaneous market order, to immortality, he shows us that cryptocurrency runs on techno-utopias both familiar and strange and reveals how these far-out visions are shaping our daily realities."--Caitlin Zaloom, New York University
"On rare occasions a book comes along whose contents are too extraordinary to be believed. It may be the characters, the narrative or perhaps its evocative prose. . . . Digital Cash will raise as many questions as it answers. You may feel elated, amused and even depressed in turn. But like any good book it will lead you to further reading, to new ideas and eventually, perhaps, to enlightenment."---Gregory Dobbs, Good Reading
"Digital Cash is the history of the internet in inverted color. It's a story full of passionate, misguided, utopian, and paranoid characters at the center of a fevered money-dream. From company scrip to Bitcoin, from anticounterfeit technology to missed cryptographic connections, Brunton's book is bedazzling cultural history."--Christopher M. Kelty, University of California, Los Angeles
"Beautifully written and meticulously researched, Digital Cash manages to connect these multiple pasts to key contemporary questions of digital value, ownership, and politics."---Rachel O'Dwyer, Science
"A fascinating and important book that addresses big questions about cryptocurrency: What is money? How can virtual things have lasting value? And what does the explosion of cryptocurrency mean for the global economy? I can't think of another book on the subject that accomplishes so much in such a concise and readable way."--Nathan Ensmenger, author of The Computer Boys Take Over
"The best book I've read this year."---Joe Weisenthal, Bloomberg Markets
"Brunton makes a convincing argument that for all their hype, cryptocurrencies cannot -- and should not -- be the future of money."---Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan, Financial Times
"Digital Cash dives into the history and philosophy of cryptocurrency, unearthing some unforgettable characters along the way."--Happy Magazine
"Digital Cash is a good book. Even experienced denizens of the cryptocurrency space are likely to learn something from it. Brunton comes across as a thoughtful outsider, one who take bitcoin and the ideas embraced by its users quite seriously."---Sonya Mann, Reason
"[Digital Cash is] quite a ride, from cryptographer David Chaum's failed DigiCash initiative of 1989 through to the bitcoin saga -- by way of 'a wall of lava lamps, and a tank of frozen human heads.'"---Barbara Kiser, Nature
"[Brunton] brings to life the history of efforts to synthesize money out of math and electrons . . . Digital Cash is stocked with colorful characters . . . Readers may at times feel as though they were dropped without explanation into the middle of a dinner party, albeit a delightful one."---Kevin Werbach, Los Angeles Review of Books

Brunton's book is an important record of concepts and the players that have contributed to
what may represent a whole new phase of civilisation.

"---S. Ananthanarayanan, The Statesman
"Winner of the Bronze Medal in Business Technology, Axiom Business Book Awards"