5 Must-Read Books for Cypherpunks and Crypto Enthusiasts

3 May 2024

A lot of the ideas that grew enough to change our civilization forever came from the written word. This way, brilliant and creative minds from all eras have left us their knowledge to improve the future, and it couldn’t be any other way in the crypto industry —whose roots go back long before the beginning of Bitcoin.

For cypherpunks and crypto enthusiasts diving into the realm of digital privacy, security, digital rights, and decentralized technologies, a curated selection of readings could serve as an invaluable compass. With this in mind, let’s discover some must-read books to navigate the ideological foundations of this open field.

The Machinery of Freedom

David D. Friedman is an American economist, physicist, and legal scholar who wasn’t on the cypherpunk mailing list in the 90s, but he’s considered a cypherpunk anyway. Not to mention that his ideas are also an inspiration for the crypto-anarchism manifesto published in 1988 by Tim May, one of the founders of Cypherpunks. Indeed, Friedman commented on it in a presentation to the Independent Institute in 2001:

David D. Friedman in 2016 by Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia

“The basic history of these ideas is that I stole them from a bunch of people called ‘Cypherpunks,’ of whom the leading light is Tim May, who stole some of them from me… and then I stole the ideas back from him.”

Both May and Friedman were talking specifically about the book “The Machinery of Freedom”, first published by the economist in 1973. This text focuses on a potential anarcho-capitalism and libertarian society, where governments wouldn’t be required to maintain order or influence free markets.

Drawing from economic principles and historical examples, Friedman explores how decentralized mechanisms can foster order, justice, and prosperity more effectively than centralized authority. He challenges conventional notions of governance, offering a thought-provoking vision of a stateless society grounded in individual freedom and market forces. Does it sound like a society with cryptocurrencies? Well, yes.

The Denationalisation of Money

In case you didn’t know this, for now, traditional money (USD, EUR, CNY, etc.) is fully issued and controlled by national or regional central banks. At the same time, those central banks are regulated and governed by a certain state (US for USD, CNY for China, etc.). In other words, money is in the hands of governments only, which don’t always make the best decisions with it.

Friedrich Hayek / Wikimedia

The Austrian-British economist Friedrich Hayek advocated against this system in his book “The Denationalisation of Money”, first published in 1976. He projected the establishment of several competitive ‘private moneys’, instead of the government imposition of a unique legal currency per country.

Hayek argued that state monopolies on money production could lead to economic instability and inflation, and proposed a system where private entities would issue their own currencies backed by commodities or trusted institutions. Through this decentralized approach, Hayek envisioned a more stable monetary system that could adapt to market forces and foster innovation, ultimately promoting economic freedom and prosperity.

Sadly, Hayek didn’t get to know cryptocurrencies before he passed in 1992. But he’s considered an important influence in the eventual creation of Bitcoin and P2P digital cash.

The Cathedral and the Bazaar

Now that we’ve seen economists, it’s time for a programmer to shine. This book isn’t exactly about decentralized money, but about decentralized development. And that’s another important part of the crypto world, where most projects are open source and collaborative.

"The Cathedral and the Bazaar” (CatB) started as an essay by the American software developer Eric S. Raymond, and later published as a book in 1999. Its premise is simple enough: the more eyes unraveling a piece of software, the better. He explained it with a metaphor of a cathedral compared to a bazaar, where a cathedral is a centralized, secretly-done development by a few; while a bazaar is a team of thousands working on the same code:

“In the cathedral-builder view of programming, bugs and development problems are tricky, insidious, deep phenomena. It takes months of scrutiny by a dedicated few to develop confidence that you've winkled them all out (...) In the bazaar view, on the other hand, you assume that bugs are generally shallow phenomena—or, at least, that they turn shallow pretty quickly when exposed to a thousand eager co-developers pounding on every single new release.”


He also coined Linus’s law here: “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." This open approach has served thousands of developers and organizations in crypto, starting from Satoshi Nakamoto himself. It’d be weird to see a non-open cryptocurrency code, not maintained by its own community of programmers. According to the Electric Capital Developer Report, there are currently around 22,411 open-source developers working monthly in numerous crypto protocols.

Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet

Julian Assange, as you likely know, is the creator of the controversial document-leaking platform WikiLeaks, but he’s also a remarkable cypherpunk himself. He fully embraced this ideology in his book “Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet,” published in 2012.

He mentioned that the message of this book is mainly that “strong cryptography is a vital tool in fighting state oppression,” because it’s the only way to protect our personal data and privacy in the online world. Through a series of essays and conversations with other Internet activists and cypherpunks such as Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn, and Jérémie Zimmermann, Assange analyzed the implications of mass surveillance and government overreach, while also discussing strategies for preserving online anonymity and fostering a more transparent and democratic Internet.

We can say that this book is also available on video since it’s mostly a transcript from the series “World Tomorrow” (The Julian Assange Show), aired in 2012 by the television network Russia Today (RT). In the show, Assange interviewed those activists across twelve episodes of around 26 minutes each.


The Network State

Old forms of money, governance, and surveillance should be left behind for crypto-anarchists, but the Indian-American entrepreneur Balaji Srinivasan proposed to go a step further by also replacing the traditional concept of nation. In his book, “The Network State: How to Start a New Country,” published in 2022, he described how to start a whole new stateless nation from scratch — with its own money and systems, and formed by like-minded people distributed all around the world.

This new type of country would start online and then would evolve into “physical nodes” funded and governed by its members. The book reads about it:

“A network state is a social network with a moral innovation, a sense of national consciousness, a recognized founder, a capacity for collective action, an in-person level of civility, an integrated cryptocurrency, a consensual government limited by a social smart contract, an archipelago of crowdfunded physical territories, a virtual capital, and an on-chain census that proves a large enough population, income, and real-estate footprint to attain a measure of diplomatic recognition.”

Anyone could choose to join a certain network state and abide by its rules and benefits, written and shared via smart contract. For Srinivasan, this system could be better than the alternative: be governed by the left or right global powers, which will always ensure the control and surveillance of the population while competing against each other. Is this really possible for the future? We still can’t know but, at the very least, the tools to start it are already there.

Bonus: 1984 by Orwell

Unlike the others on this list, this is actually a fiction book, but one that still could be a grim portrait of our future if we allow mass surveillance and total control by governments. Published in 1949 by George Orwell, this dystopian novel is set in a grim society where every action is monitored and independent thought is punishable.

The story follows Winston Smith as he dares to defy the suffocating conformity enforced by the Party. Through Winston's journey of rebellion and self-discovery, Orwell explores profound themes of oppression, manipulation, and the relentless quest for truth in a world dominated by propaganda and surveillance. "1984" stands as a stark reminder of the dangers of unchecked authority and the fragility of individual freedom in the face of totalitarianism.


That’s why we included it in the Obyte whitepaper as the very thing we’re trying to fight. Our ecosystem was created to offer a decentralized and privacy-focused alternative to traditional centralized systems, thus striving to prevent the emergence of a dystopian future reminiscent of the oppressive regime depicted in that novel (and already present in several totalitarian nations).

By leveraging distributed ledger technology and cryptographic tools, Obyte seeks to empower individuals with greater control over their personal data and financial transactions, mitigating the risk of pervasive surveillance and authoritarian control.

Featured Vector Image by Freepik