Just last month, at a crypto happy hour, I struck up a conversation with another attendee — it turns out our families were originally from the same part of Eastern Europe, and we had both made pilgrimages to our separate ancestral villages, looking for family history.
But in the middle of my sentence about finding my great-great-grandfather’s gravestone in a small town in Romania, he quite literally held up a hand to stop me — “Wait, we’re not talking about crypto, and we’re at a crypto party. Also, I can’t make any sales to you, you’re a journalist.”
And he walked away.
The crypto industry is at times quite proud of its lack of intellectualism. And the poster boy for this anti-literary movement is none other than Sam Bankman-Fried, who once infamously declared, “I would never read a book.”
I don’t care what anyone on Twitter thinks about liberal arts degrees. I don’t care about your data on what type of college major gets you a better (read: higher paying) job later on. I don’t care about any empirical arguments you may have on why fewer English majors are better for society.
Because all of that is wrong.
It’s not frivolous to want to spend your college years reading literature for the sake of knowledge alone.
Crypto needs more thinkers, not less.
So in my past five years working in cryptocurrency, I’ve found a way to quickly take the cultural and intellectual temperature of each new company I join by making everyone play the world’s simplest ice breaker: tell me your name, where you’re from, and your favorite book.
On one such first day, I felt a physical sensation of creeping disappointment as the answers started coming in. Of the roughly 15 people, I got about half “I haven’t read a book since high school,” several Malcolm Gladwells, one The Art of War, and the rest were Harry Potter. And these were adults!
That company ended up being closed-minded, unimaginative, and has now significantly fallen behind the rest of the market. And I do actually believe that if anyone at that company had read books, or been willing to read books, it would have made a better product.
I’ve had this argument that “readers succeed” in my head for a long time now, way before any liberal arts Crypto Twitter controversy. I’ve gotten into plenty of heated debates at crypto events whenever I hear people espouse the importance of only studying the hard sciences to get ahead, or to only read these godawful, dry non-fiction books to succeed better in business.
I’m not saying that every non-reader is going to end up with the same fate as Sam Bankman-Fried (although I’d like to point out that another “proud non-reader of books” is one Kanye West). But what I have noticed in my years in this tech-based sector, without fail, is that when my colleagues (or my bosses, or my bosses’ bosses) read novels, the company was better.
The working environment was better, the products were better, everything was just better.
This idea of needing to be a reader in order to succeed in business is not new. In the early 2000s, there was even a movement going around to teach Shakespeare to CEOs (I tried to bring this idea to that above-mentioned company to boost their imaginations a little bit above zero, but I was shot down).
I firmly believe that our society — and particularly the crypto industry — needs to encourage reading, not push it further away.
Don’t mention The Bitcoin Standard to me if I bring up books in our crypto party small talk: I want to hear what murder mystery you’re hooked on, or what Penguin Classic you’re revisiting. Work your way through the New York Times bestseller list, read Colleen Hoover or the Bridgerton series for all I care, but just read something real.
There is no substitute for what reading literature can teach you about humanity. If you can stomach learning something from crypto’s favorite love-to-hate-em Jamie Dimon, his sense of betrayal on being fired from his big Citigroup job by a father-figure boss was made more comprehensible when he saw an uncanny similarity to the plot of Shakespear’s King Lear.
If we look around — at the many crypto companies collapsing, at AI already beginning to take over some jobs, at the world economy in general — perhaps we’ll realize it is liberal arts degrees that are the only ones worth actually pursuing.
If your engineering job in crypto could be replaced tomorrow by an AI robot, you might really start kicking yourself for choosing your college degree solely based on what the prevailing concept at the time was for a “safe” major.
And if you spend your free time doomscrolling Crypto Twitter, pitching people at crypto happy hours or (god forbid) reading The Network State on your Kindle, stop what you’re doing right now.
There are very few people in the world who, on their deathbeds, confess in a rattling last gasp that they wish that they had read less and worked more (with the exception of Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock, a satire).
To even frame the idea of reading for pleasure — or as it has been put, a Book Club major — as something bad or good for your work life is entirely wrong. The framework itself is wrong.
Don’t let the world convince you that reading is out of style.
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