“Easy Money” Audiobook Review
My experience with cryptocurrency has been a bit complicated. While I’ve been interested in the technology for a handful of years, I never bothered to dive too deep into the topic. Similarly, while I’d buy a few dollars worth of Bitcoin and some other coins when they’d become available in apps like Robinhood, I’m pretty sure I’ve never owned more than a couple hundred dollars worth of crypto. That’s something I’ve been thankful for in recent months as it’s seemingly been scandal after scandal in the crypto world. So, with that backdrop, there may be no better time for a book called Easy Money: Cryptocurrency, Casino Capitalism, and the Golden Age of Fraud. In turn, I cashed in a different type of currency called an “Audible credit” to download and listen to the book.
Easy Money comes from Ben McKenzie, who may be more recognizable as an actor given his starring roles on shows like The O.C. or Gotham. On that note, I actually preordered this audiobook months ago after seeing McKenzie’s appearance on Real Time. For the book, he’s joined by journalist Jacob Silverman, with the duo seeming to make a good team on the page. Of course, I didn’t consume Easy Money on the page, which is where McKenzie’s narration comes in. Given his acting background, it should be no surprise that he does a fantastic job with the material.
Speaking of the material, for those looking at the book’s 10.5-hour runtime (if played at 1x — I opted for 1.7x) and bracing for a jargon-heavy deep dive into crypto, fear not. Instead, the first chapter of Easy Money basically sets the stage for everything you need to know about cryptocurrencies, blockchain, etc. while the rest plays out in more of a meta fashion.
Throughout the book, you’ll join along as McKenzie first contacts his eventual co-author, speaks at South by Southwest, interviews the now-infamous Sam Bankman-Fried, and otherwise deepens his crypto skepticism while moonlighting as a journalist. This approach makes consuming the book feel much more like listening to an audio documentary than a lecture. In other words, the book proved much breezier and more entertaining than I might have expected going into it.
Some might find a few of these side stories to be distracting or unnecessary — and I could see an argument for that. However, I happened to enjoy the entire ride, even if some of it was just extra scenery. Also, since the story is told mostly linearly, we as listeners have the benefit of hindsight that might lead to what I’ll call real-world spoilers. Again, this didn’t diminish my experience with the book (in fact, it may have made some sections more poignant), but it may be a minor drawback for others.
Just as I stated after listening to Cloudmoney, Easy Money did lead me to be slightly more skeptical about cryptocurrency (not that I was all that invested in it to begin with). Yet, I didn’t come away feeling as though I needed to immediately sell what little Bitcoin and other crypto assets I have. Moreover, while McKenzie does mostly mock the idea that people he speaks with can only speak on the possibilities of crypto rather than current applications, I do hold out hope that the technology could prove viable in the future — even if, as only a casual observer, I couldn’t tell you exactly what I’d want to see done. With that in mind, I’d love to see a sequel to the book in, say, five or 10 years when the dust has likely settled on more fallout.
Overall, those who already know all about crypto and are true believers are unlikely to be swayed too much by Easy Money. At the same time, those who still can’t wrap their heads around blockchain will probably walk away from the book still not understanding it. Yet, for those who can navigate just a bit of jargon, the storytelling of Easy Money: Cryptocurrency, Casino Capitalism, and the Golden Age of Fraud makes for an enjoyable listen that might also open your eyes just a bit. While it’s not quite to the level of something like The Big Short (a book and film referenced at least a few times along the way), McKenzie and Silverman still turn out what I think is an informative and entertaining read that’s perfect for 2023.