The problem with writing about cryptocurrency is that it’s complex. It’s economics meets cryptography, meets memes, meets extreme political ideologies, meets gambling, meets tech bros. And it’s genuinely difficult to parse one of these concepts without inevitably running into another and ultimately ending up in a mess and saying pretty much nothing at all.
Which is why Zeke Faux’s Number Go Up is not only a breath of fresh air but quite possibly the best book ever written about the cryptocurrency industry.
Cryptocurrency vs the cryptocurrency industry
Crypto advocates may well argue that Number Go Up doesn’t necessarily go into detail about how Bitcoin and Ethereum work, how smart contracts are deployed, and why cryptocurrency can change finance. And they may be right. But that’s not the point of the book.
Number Go Up is investigative journalism meets non-fiction and the goal isn’t to espouse the benefits and issues of specific protocols, but instead to examine under a microscope the industry that’s been built around blockchain, crypto, and Web3 over the past decade.
Access without the bullshit
Established journalist Faux, despite being relatively new to cryptocurrency, has been able to gain access to numerous major players in the industry. Some seemingly want to prove their transparency, others appear to be pushing for trust, but everybody looks to have an ulterior motive.
By the second chapter, it’s obvious that Faux is perplexed by crypto for all the wrong reasons:
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” he writes. “I am not a computer scientist, but I don’t think you can call the concept of prices going up forever, for no reason, a ‘technology.'”
Which is precisely where Faux is wrong and the moment when the story kicks into a higher gear.
Executives, parties, and changing the world
Faux soon falls down the rabbit hole that is Tether and its quirky executive leadership, crypto’s cult-like conventions, and the Ponzinomics of the industry at large.
Thankfully, he’s able to fund trips to Nassau, attend BAYC-exclusive events, and venture across Europe to chase down everyone he can, from Sam Bankman-Fried and Jean Chalopin (Deltec CEO), to Brock Pierce to pseudonymous crypto critic Bitfinex’ed. Unsurprisingly, there are no heroes in this story.
Instead, Number Go Up wallows in the seemingly neverending depravity of fintech. “Somebody is lying,” former Celsius CEO Alex Mashinsky told Faux. “Either the bank is lying or Celsius is lying.”
All I could think was, “Why not both?
Number Go Up is a difficult but important read
As Faux has hinted via X (formerly Twitter), renowned authors like Michael Lewis clearly fell for the hype. They were seduced by the dream of completely overhauling the financial system and fawned over the likes of Bankman-Fried, certain that these crypto bros really were the champions of the common man who could finally get the upper hand on the Wall Street suits.
Unfortunately, as Faux finds out over the course of a few years, countless hours, and 242 pages, Lewis — along with celebrities like Tom Brady, Gisele Bündchen, Snoop Dogg, and Eminem — aren’t embracing the new, innovative financial system. They’re getting swindled by manipulative conmen who are doing an outstanding job of convincing everyone they’re “still early.”
I’ll tell you this: while Number Go Up is the best book on the crypto industry and Faux is an absolutely beautiful wordsmith, the reality is, as Bankman-Fried says bluntly in the final few pages, the sickness that has permeated every nook and cranny of the financial industry “fucking sucks.”
But everyone needs to read about it.