In 2016, former New York Times reporter Nathaniel Popper published Digital Gold, an early account of Bitcoin that holds up as one of the best books on crypto. Since then, there have been a flood of other titles as publishers rushed to cash in on a subject defined by easy riches, outrageous characters, and a mind-boggling array of scams.
This past year brought a new glut of books. Unlike the ones published during crypto boom years, which pulse with a mix of greed and adulation, most of the 2023 titles came wrapped in a thick sheen of scorn—and understandably so given the spectacular frauds, epitomized by Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX, that defined the industry’s most recent bust.
Here are Fortune Crypto’s picks for the three best crypto titles of the year: two of them monuments to crimes, and one a reminder that the broader blockchain industry is not only alive and well but becoming part of the mainstream financial system.
Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon
By Michael Lewis
Star business writer Michael Lewis—whose bestsellers include Moneyball and The Big Short—enjoyed an unprecedented level of access to boy king Sam Bankman-Fried right up until his $32 billion empire unraveled in the space of a week.
The published version of Going Infinite is not what Lewis had intended to write, and, indeed, the first version of his manuscript cast Bankman-Fried as a sympathetic figure poised to change the world through the nebulous philosophy of effective altruism. The final text reflects how Lewis had to adapt his story upon learning that the young mogul’s tale was all a web of lies.
This abrupt pivot results in the last chapters of the book becoming an intellectual scramble as the author can’t quite forsake his one-time protagonist. But that doesn’t matter much given the incredible amount of mind-blowing details Lewis is able to reveal about Bankman-Fried, his family, and the bizarre, hypocritical lifestyle he forged while walking the highest corridors of power in Washington, D.C., and raising money from everyone from Tom Brody to Sequoia Capital. Going Infinite will join Digital Gold as one of the all-time best crypto books.
Number Go Up: Inside Crypto’s Wild Rise and Staggering Fall
By Zeke Faux
As the title suggests, there is nothing subtle about this book. Bloomberg journalist Zeke Faux takes the reader on an up-close tour of the very worst people in crypto—from the grifter/rapper wannabe Razzlekhan to the Bond-like villains slinging billions of dollars of digital assets in murky cross-border business dealings.
Number Go Up is often uproariously funny, most notably when Faux risks his kids’ college savings to temporarily purchase a Bored Ape NFT in order to attend a cringe-inducing party of crypto geeks. But the book is also a sober look at the darker side of crypto. In particular, Faux shows how the unregulated stablecoin Tether has helped to power a sinister industry called pig-butchering that relies on slave labor to text lonely people and dupe them into sending money to offshore criminal gangs. While the people behind Tether are unquestionably shady, Faux’s drive to expose them sometimes takes on a monomaniacal quality, and his campaign to show the entirety of crypto is a scam feels more like advocacy than reporting. Still, this is a relatively minor quibble with an otherwise excellent book.
Ethereum for Business: A Plain English Guide
By Paul Brody
Even as scams and scandals dominated news coverage of crypto for most of 2023, the industry continued to plod forward and—to the likely disappointment of its many haters—even flourish. This book by Paul Brody, Ernst & Young’s global blockchain leader, shows why that’s the case.
Ethereum for Business shows how a growing number of real-world enterprises—from banks to shipping agencies—are using the power of distributed-ledger technology to improve security and efficiency in everything from payments to supply chains.
The book is not a narrative yarn like the others on this list, but is instead a practical overview of an emerging field in crypto and business, focusing on Ethereum—the second-most-valuable blockchain and one that popularized the use of autonomous smart contracts. It will be helpful reading to anyone interested in how technology is changing business and benefits from Brody’s clear, straightforward writing style.