Although blockchain is, among other things, a promising new technology, there is also a lot of hype surrounding it. Its proponents have suggested that it can do everything from tracking tuna to ending world poverty.
Part of the problem is that, as with many new technologies, most people don’t fully understand it and therefore are at the mercy of the people who have an agenda (and who may also not understand the technology).
It is with this in mind that I read and reviewed the book Blockchain basics: a non-technical introduction in 25 steps by Daniel Drescher.
The book is nontechnical and does manage to avoid any computer code and mathematical formulas. Although this may be a strength for the completely nontechnical reader, there were times that I felt a slight amount of frustration because I felt that with just a short formula or piece of code I would be able to understand a concept a lot more easily and better.
One issue with blockchain is that blockchain can refer to many things. It can refer to the blockchain algorithm, the blockchain data structure, the blockchain infrastructure that allows us to maintain things like distributed ledgers, and so on. Because of this, there is a large domain of things that the reader must comprehend to understand blockchain. Things like distributed systems, cryptography algorithms, and computing complexity. This is one of those areas where I thought a bit of technical writing would go a long way.
Given, however, that the book is designed for a nontechnical audience, the author did a good job. The 25 chapters are divided into five sections (or stages):
- (1) “Terminology and Technical Foundations”;
- (2) “Why the Blockchain Is Needed”;
- (3) “How the Blockchain Works”;
- (4) “Limitations and How to Overcome Them”; and
- (5) “Using the Blockchain, Summary, and Outlook.”
Each chapter has a similar structure. It starts with a short introduction followed by a metaphor. The metaphors are generally quite well chosen and I expect would be meaningful to the reader. This is then followed by the bulk of the chapter, and then each chapter ends with a summary.
The book comes with an accompanying website that has some interactive pages that allow readers to better understand hashes, hash puzzles, and nonces. This is an excellent accompaniment to the book.
Most people would be familiar with blockchain because of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. While the book says that it does not specifically address Bitcoin or other specific examples, many of the technologies described in the book did originate from Bitcoin.
The 25-part structure of the book and the chapter structure would be helpful for someone running a course. The book could be used as a textbook or simply to help structure a presentation on blockchain.
In the end, I think that the book achieves its objectives: to explain to a nontechnical audience what the blockchain is, how it works, and where it can be applied. It should also allow the reader to understand a lot of the hype that surrounds blockchain and to differentiate the ways in which the term is used.
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