Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin: From Money that We Understand to Money that Understands Us

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David Birch

Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin is a special volume in London Publishing Partnership’s Perspectives series, edited by Diane Coyle

Technology is changing money and this book looks at where it might be taking us. Technology has transformed money from physical objects to intangible information. With the arrival of  smart cards, mobile phones and Bitcoin it has become easier than ever to create new forms of  money. Crucially, money is also inextricably connected with our identities. Your card or phone is a security device that can identify you – and link information about you to your money.

To see where these developments might be taking us, Dave Birch looks back over the history of money, spanning thousands of years. He sees in the past, both recent and ancient, evidence for several possible futures. Looking further back to a world before cash and central banks, there were multiple ‘currencies’ operating at the level of communities, and the use of barter for transactions. Perhaps technology will take us back to the future, a future that began back in 1971, when money became a claim backed by reputation rather than by physical commodities of any kind. Since then, money has been bits.

The author shows that these phenomena are not only possible in the future, but already upon us. We may well want to make transactions in Tesco points, Air Miles, Manchester United pounds, Microsoft dollars, Islamic e-gold or Cornish e-tin. The use of cash is already in decline, and is certain to vanish from polite society.

The newest technologies will take money back to its origins: a substitute for memory, a record of mutual debt obligations within multiple overlapping communities. This time though, money will be smart. It will be money that reflects the values of the communities that produced it. Future money will know where it has been, who has been using it and what they have been using it for.


Click here to be taken to a page detailing a special pre-publication offer we are running on this book.


You can also download and read an unfinished proof of the book’s introduction here: Birch_BBBB_unfinished_introduction.pdf

And you can read a longer introduction to the book in a blog post by the author here: Mo’ Identity, Mo’ Money


Advance praise for Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin

“David Birch brings out in rich and lucid detail the full historical journey money has been undertaking and the technological revolutions it has encountered en route. Historical scholars, technologists, monetary economists and policy makers will all find something in here to hold their attention, to reshape their view of history or technology, finance or policy.”

From the foreword by Andrew Haldane, Chief Economist of the Bank of England and member of the Monetary Policy Committee


“This is a book I’m proud to endorse, not only because it’s well written, funny and full of great facts and history, but because the author is about the smartest guy on the planet when it comes to the future of money.”

From the foreword by Brett King, author of Augmented: Life in the Smart Lane


“During the past decade, we have witnessed an explosion in new forms of money, in which the social fabric of money itself is being transformed in some very profound ways. Birch tells the complex story of technology’s role in these transformations. His analysis is wide-ranging and comprehensive, stretching back to the temples of Babylon and looking ahead to a monetary landscape that will be dominated by digital technology but organized by various local, regional and global communities. This is a ‘back to the future’ look at money that is hard-headed, insightful, entertaining and accessible. It is a brilliant book, a tour de force that should be read by anyone who is interested in the past, present and future of money.”

Nigel Dodd, Professor of Sociology at LSE and author of The Social Life of Money


“Taking a journey through the past and future of money with David Birch is not only eye-opening, it’s immensely entertaining. You get Milton Friedman mixed with Bill Bryson. With money undergoing one of its periodic paradigm shifts, I can’t think of a better guide than Birch for navigating this exciting yet highly disruptive moment.”

Michael J. Casey, co-author of The Age of Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and the Blockchain are Challenging the Global Economic Order


“Marvellous. A deeply researched and brilliant synthesis of history, technology and futurology, and a worthy follow-up to Birch’s pioneering 2014 book on identity as the new money.”

Kenneth Rogoff, Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Economics at Harvard University


“David Birch knows his stuff. His writing, as well as being on the pulse of fintech, is always diced with fantastically obscure stories from history, so it never fails to be both witty and informed. You, the reader, are simultaneously entertained and educated. What more could you want from a book?”

Dominic Frisby, author of Bitcoin – The Future of Money?


“Whether you agree with his controversial predictions or not, David’s fascinating tale of the interrelationship between technology and money is required reading for those interested in either or both of them.”

Alastair Lukies CBE, Chair of Innovate Finance and the Prime Minister’s Business Ambassador for Fintech


Praise for Dave Birch’s previous book in the Perspectives series, Identity Is the New Money

“David Birch is the author of a fresh, original and fascinatingly wide-ranging short book about developments in the field, Identity Is the New Money. His is the best book on general issues around new forms of money, and new possibilities generated by blockchain technology.”

John Lanchester, London Review of Books


“If you’re anything like me, by the time you’ve finished reading the book, you’ll be wondering not just why we’re still exchanging copper, zinc and nickel coins with each other, but whether the days when a country can hold a monopoly over currency are coming to an end.”

From the book’s foreword, by Ed Conway, Economics Editor, Sky News


Dave Birch is an internationally recognised thought leader in digital money and digital identity. He is a director of Consult Hyperion, a technical and strategic consultancy that specialises in electronic transactions. He is the author of Identity is the New Money.

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