In this episode of 'The Books That Made Me', Ben Keene (Co-founder of Rebel Book Club) talks to Jamie Bartlett about 3 nonfiction books that have had a massive impact on him to date, including how they informed his research on massive projects like 'The Missing Cryptoqueen' and the kind of writer he has become over the years.
Jamie also discusses his feelings of 'imposter syndrome' when it comes to reading and how Jon Ronson became one of his nonfiction heroes.
Jamie Bartlett is the creator and host of the popular BBC podcast The Missing Cryptoqueen and is a bestselling author with his books: The People Vs Tech, The Dark Net, and Radicals. He has explored everything from online subcultures and hackers to blockchain and cryptocurrencies to the threat social media has on democracy.
Jamie is a Senior Fellow and former Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at the think-tank Demos. He frequently writes for The Spectator and is a feature writer for The Sunday Times, The Guardian, Foreign Policy, and The Telegraph.
His BBC Two documentary, The Secrets of Silicon Valley, explored the false promises that technology has brought for global economies, and how it has weakened many aspects of politics and society.
xigxag offers users the first-ever fully integrated listen-and-read experience, at an affordable price without a subscription.
Their goal is to make reading easier and more accessible, engaging, and sustainable so that everyone can enjoy more books.
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[00:00:00] I read a book afterwards, straight away afterwards cuz that book like got me hooked onto reading again and I was like looking for that drug, that hit.
[00:00:13] Welcome to The Books That Made Me, a brand new Rebel Book Club podcast. And today we are speaking with Jamie Bartlett and Jamie's an old friend of Rebel Book Club and he has been an author, an investigator, and uh, a journalist who's been on the front line of what we might describe as the weirdos of the digital world, uh, the radicals.
In fact, he has a book called Radicals and a book called The Dark Net, uh, which is all about the dark subcultures of the internet. And his most recent book, The Missing Crypto Queen, which is this remarkable investigation into the biggest scam in the, in the crypto and financial world for a long, long time.
Today we talk to Jamie about everything from, uh, his personal journey, the risks he's taken, and the three books that have made him as an author and as a human. Enjoy.
[00:01:05] Hello. How you doing?
[00:01:06] Really good. And I was just looking up in the notes that we, we last, uh, hosted you. It's been way, way too long in April, 2017. So, so just remind our, our newer audience, what happened that night and what what was the book?
[00:01:22] First of all, I remember it really well. Yeah, it was, um, was. Was it in Shoreditch? It was somewhere in Central London, wasn't it? Yeah, it was it knowing how cool you are, how trendy you are
[00:01:34] Somewhere like that. It's a no, we came to you. Come on. It was a coworking space called Launch 22, which was a tiny little coworking space.
But the book, Jamie was,
The book was The Dark Net. Uh, it was all about internet subcultures. I'd spent 18 months or so basically sort of inside strange and bizarre underground internet world. Um, mostly of the sort of dark variety internet trolls and eating disorder forums and drugs, uh, marketplaces. Just trying to understand those worlds, uh, sort of in great detail, not the sort of horror stories you might read one page about in the newspapers and also meeting in real life the people that populated them. So, on that, on that event at the real book club, we basically, I think me and you just came up with this idea that I would, I would sort of turn up and pretend I was one of.
[00:02:25] Just one of the members of the club, cuz I really wanted to hear what people were saying about it. So I was just chatting to people what they thought about, just sitting there. Didn't say who I was at all. And obviously I'm not so famous, so it's not like anyone recognized me.
[00:02:37] This was the, this was a pre Silicon Valley TV series. Yeah. So they, not everyone knew you . Um, but what, what was that like, if you can remember it? Cause it's a few years ago. What was that like as an experience almost being undercover and hearing people talk?
I remember the conversation was a lot about identities and you know, we've got a community of sort of international members who are talking about, oh, well, you know, part of my family's from, you know, this part of the world and I'm shaped by this. And The Dark Net was helping them uncover that kind of mixed sense of identity online, offline, and so on. So what was it like for you?
[00:03:08] I just, I, I, I sort of wished I'd done it before. I'd put the book out somehow. I know that's not possible, but like to, to, to hear the things that readers find interesting and the way that they see things, and you might think that you've written something very clearly and then when you hear someone talk about it, like, oh God, I haven't explained that well at all, have I?
It's really complicated. It's not obvious. Or people were just fascinated by some really basic questions like, but why would someone be nastier online than offline? I just. I don't understand why anyone would do that, and I was like, oh, I should have, maybe I should have pushed that a bit harder. That's a really basic but really important question that I just kind of, you know, oh, I'm almost like right in the weeds.
I'm forgetting what for a reader really matters. So it was so useful. I've never done it before or since, but I found it so interesting just to like capture how people read, read your work, and it's never quite how you think they're gonna read it. Yes. Each person brings something different to it. So it was so useful. I've gotta try and do it again.
[00:04:06] And, and the funny...thing is, Jamie, we haven't done it again and we should, cuz we're thinking back on it now. And the only comparison I have is when you show someone, you look over the shoulder of someone who's like, Uh, browsing the website that you've just built without them knowing or you watching them online do it and there's a giant button that says, join here, and they completely miss it and they click on the random link at the bottom.
They're like, no. You can't control humans.
[00:04:28] Exactly, exactly. It was basically user testing. It wasn't it. I mean, that's really what I should do much more of that.
[00:04:35] User testing, but much, much more interesting.
[00:04:36] Yeah, totally. No, I found, I found it so fascinating. Yeah. And obviously when someone was talking about one of the subjects or one of the chapters, I, I'm really wanting to like, no, wait, I didn't mean that. I meant...
[00:04:49] Anyway, that's the dark net. So I, I really recommend it. It's, uh, unlike a lot of nonfiction, it hasn't gone out of date, overnight. Um, and really powerful stories, but thank you. Loved it. Before we dive into the books, That have shaped your shapes, your work. Jamie, tell us about, um, what your current release. It's the summer of 2022 and a, the much anticipated release of your latest book.
[00:05:11] Yes. So it is coming actually in, in, yeah. June, uh, this year it's, uh, it's called The Missing Crypto Queen. It is about the story of - if anyone's listened to the podcast - Dr. Ruja Ignatova, uh, a brilliant businesswoman who in 2014 appeared out of nowhere promising she created the next Bitcoin.
Huge opportunity for people to get rich. A million people invested several billion dollars Into what they thought was the next hyped up cryptocurrency. And they were buzzing about it. They thought they were gonna transform their life. And then in 2017 she just disappeared and the whole thing was essentially a gigantic Ponzi scheme.
And she went on the run and she's still on the run. And it's one of the biggest Ponzi schemes. I mean, it's certainly the biggest Ponzi scheme since Bernie Madoff. Uh, it's the number of people affected the damage done to people's lives, but also hopefully a cautionary tale about the risks o hyped up tech and fear of missing out on like investing in things you don't really understand and what that does to ordinary people.
So it's, uh, it was the BBC's, uh, one of the BBC's biggest podcasts in 2019, 2020, The Missing Crypto Queen. And it's a much bigger story than the podcast. I'm gonna do a thread about the difference between a podcast and a book, it is totally different in terms of the material, the style, how you tell it.
In podcasts, you can ask a big question, leave it totally unanswered, add in a bit of music, and everyone thinks it's brilliant. If you do that in a book, readers like, 'Well, what's the answer then? Tell us.' We need, we need all the information.
[00:06:50] Yeah. Close that chapter up for us.
[00:06:51] Yeah. I need, I need closure. Exactly. Yeah. So it's, it was, it is a lot harder to write the book, but the book, the book is done and it's coming out soon. So, uh, I'm excited, but I'm a bit nervous because it's probably the first time I've really tried to sort of expose - it's sort of more investigative journalists with, with really serious concerns, serious people and law firms and criminals.
And you know, The Dark Net was dangerous in one way cuz you're dealing with sort of, you know, quite scary subcultures, but this is completely different. This is way, way harder, way more scary. So that's coming out soon. I'm not nervous about it, but I'm excited about it.
[00:07:28] I'm not the author, but I would definitely be on the excited side of things because I know, well, you know this cuz you've been at the center of it, but the in our community, for example, it was definitely the podcast that was shared the most during that sort of when it was live for those two or three months.
[00:07:53] Well curious people who love a good story, a good real story. And I think one of the things that made it so that podcast so powerful. Um, was the real-time nature of it. So you and your brilliant producer, whose name you'll have to remind me of, Geor,
Georgie Cat. Georgie,
[00:08:00] Yeah. Georgie Cat. Yeah. So you were doing this sort of real-time investigation, um, and educating everyone about crypto and the Ponzi side of this particular coin. Um, what was it like for you, sort of, I mean, that book has must have, we're about to talk about the other books that have shaped you, but that story must have had a big, big impact on you.
[00:08:20] It's the only thing I've done for the last three years. I mean, you just become completely obsessed with it. One of the dangers, um, when you get so obsessed with the story is to keep reminding yourself that the reader probably doesn't care about the exact small town that this OneCoin promoter lived in, that I've just spent six hours trying to work out.
They don't care about that. They want to know why did people invest? What did what, what was driving them, what was at stake for them? And when you are so deep in a story like this one, you become a little bit obsessed with the details and I was so into like individual characters and who said precisely what, what time and um, and I just have to keep coming back thinking, hang on a minute, this has gotta be a sort of page-turning, exciting story because the whole point of the podcast was -
I know the BBC really wanted to do serious work on cryptocurrency and, uh, educate people about it and its risks and how it worked, and just going in with your eyes open. But how do you do that in a way that's engaging because it's really techy and it can be quite dull. So this story was a perfect one because the idea was you got the thrust of the hunt for this missing woman, the drama, and where is she and are we gonna find her?
And the plan was that you listened. 8, 9, 10 episodes and there are more coming to hopefully find out what happens to this woman and where she is. But you finish and you suddenly, without realizing it, actually understand cryptocurrency quite well and why it works and why people love it.
[00:09:46] And you even bring your mum into to, to do the kind of like, you know, mum test on it.
[00:09:50] we had so weird, how many people have said, have mentioned that. Because basically, me and Georgia were sitting around one day and we were like, we, we, we tried and tried to come up with a way of explaining blockchain technology that wouldn't turn people off. Literally. Like people would switch this off and they wouldn't want to hear anymore.
And we were so worried because we realized from a storytelling perspective, you couldn't get to the end of episode two unless you understood what blockchain was. So we're like, how are we gonna do this? And we were racking our brains. And then I had this idea to basically, yeah, to phone my mum. Explain it to her and see if she understood it, and it forced me to write it really simply.
But I knew before I called my mum, and this wasn't staged, she really was hearing this for the first time. I knew no matter how well I did it, she would say, I don't get it. I dunno what you're talking about. Try again. So I knew she was gonna say that cuz she, she always says that whatever I do, she'll say like, 'no, no, I don't understand. It's rubbish'. In a nice way.
Um, so, but, and I thought people listening who didn't understand it wouldn't feel bad. They'd be like, oh good. I'm not the only idiot here. Jamie's mum also doesn't get it, and it doesn't matter. The point is I just need to have a vague sense of it and now we can carry on listening and it just, I dunno.
It's, it's, it's one of those times where you, you manage to take a really difficult problem, work on it a lot, a lot, and it turns into the best bit. And I was, so I'll say I've been, people have come up to me in the street like, you need to make your mum, you need to do a podcast with your mum. And I'm like, yeah, it'll be pretty boring cuz it'll be basically her saying the same thing over and over again.
[00:11:28] You'll be, you'll be like the tech versions of Romesh and his mum, won't you?
[00:11:31] Yeah. Oh yeah. They're brilliant. That. That. I think I did it before him, didn't I? I can't remember that.
[00:11:38] I'm sure you did.
[00:11:42] Um, maybe that's where he got the idea from
[00:12:00] Understanding tech with Jamie and his mum would be a great, you know, how dark is the net.
So the, the thread that goes through all your books is, is, um, trying to uncover and learn more about. Um, people at extremes of, of life. Mainly mainly online, but with new technologies. Um, so take us back, um, a few steps and the, the first book that had a big influence on you, um, and shaped your work.
So the origins of totalitarianism. Tell us about that.
[00:12:10] Yeah, well I, before I even say that, can you just say something about my sort of relationship with books? Cause it's kind of relevant cuz I actually felt like a bit of a fraud really when you asked me to do this because I feel really quite illiterate. I've not very well-read compared to most people in my profession.
Um, I don't, there's probably lots of reasons for that. I mean, just my background wasn't really in books. It really wasn't. And I, and I remember I got a, this is a, I never told anyone this before, but I got a, I got a, I won a scholarship to do a Master's degree at Oxford University, right?
So I'm well proud about that and everything, but that felt really stupid. I felt, cause I'd gone to comprehensive school, I felt really embarrassed that I, I just hadn't read any books. I'd done really well in my exams, but I didn't just love reading. I, I just, I preferred writing to reading. So I spent all of the summer trying to like read every book by Charles Dickens and stuff.
Cause I had this idea that's probably what people at Oxford would've read. So I, I read every Charles Dickens book and I mean, not that it made any difference whatsoever. Well probably did in some ways, but I, and when I read the whole of The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, I was so proud of myself. I remember that I bought a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
Um, so I'm not very well, I don't, when you asked me about the books that had shaped me, I had to really think about it, not because there were so many to choose wrong because there were so few. I was like, which ones can I actually say? So some of my choices are probably really obvious to people because I don't have this deep, like, well of reading knowledge.
So hopefully for some people who are the same as me, they won't feel so bad now cuz I'm sure a lot of people come to reading clubs. Like, I don't actually know much, I haven't read many books.
[00:13:59] I, I love the idea of writing more books than you've read as a, as a goal in life. Great to, well, appreciate hearing about that imposter syndrome because I think many people who want to learn about important things in the world, like the subjects you write on, struggle with a good reading habit in the distracted digital world that we live in, which is partly why, of course, we exist at Rebel Book Club.
Um, but yeah. Tell us about, tell us about a book that you did read.
[00:14:26] Well, lemme, lemme, lemme me, lemme, can I start with another one? Cause Origins is the most recent one. That's the one that recently really had an effect on me. Uh, but probably the first one was, um, The Looming Towers by Lawrence Wright.
Now I know it's, um, won a Pulit, so this is one I'm saying it's a really obvious book. Have you read that book?
[00:14:45] No, I haven't. And it's actually a title that hasn't come up often, so it's great to hear about it.
[00:14:50] It is, it's the, it's an in, it's the story of 9, 9 11 told, I suppose, I guess a classic of the genre. Lots of detailed, long interviews with some of the officials tasked with having stopped it and having to respond to it. I suppose the failure of the FBI and CIA to have sort of spotted this coming.
But also the planning of it from the side of the Jihadi's in Afghanistan. And, Saudi Arabia and North Africa, and those two stories running alongside each other simultaneously.
And I just, I couldn't, there are two things about that book that I couldn't believe. One was, the amount of work, the research, the detail, the interviews, the places Lawrence Wright had gone, the level of facts checking, just, I couldn't believe how much hard work had gone into writing a book like this. It was just phenomenal and I didn't feel like I'd, I'd read a lot about 9/11 obviously at the time, and I had followed it like everybody else.
But reading that book, I think it really showed me the value of a book sitting down there and 400 pages or whatever, just on this one event. Really getting to grips with it. And I understood it in a whole new way.
But the other thing, and this was the more important thing, was how well-written it was. I just couldn't, I couldn't get my head over how, it's gonna sound really basic, but how it flowed. How it just like, I just wanted to read every sentence and I, and when I would read a page and think, I just, I just flew through that page. I don't even, I hardly even stop for breath. And then I'd go back and there were no long words, there were no complicated sentences or structure.
There was nothing sophisticated. It was all really simple, simple language, and I just was blown away by how he'd done all this incredible research. And told it in such an easy and accessible way. And I realized, I learned actually after having written books how hard it is to write something that's easy to read and how easy it is to write something that's hard to read.
And it just made me even more impressed by Lawrence Wright. Like the way, he just makes it simple and it looks easy, like a tennis player makes it look easy to hit a ball. That's what he does with writing. And I just, I just really wanted to be able to write like, Just to write like he'd written.
And I read a book afterwards straight away afterwards cuz that book like got me hooked onto reading again.
[00:17:17] You know what it is. And, and I was like looking for that drug that hit cuz I just, you know when you are like walking down the street reading your book cuz you just can't stop. And I read another book that was a brilliantly like highly recommended award-winning book and I literally couldn't read it. It was the prose, it was like cloggy and it, I was like wading through mud because, and it wasn't, it was a brilliant, the really,
[00:17:40]: I can't believe you brought up Daniel Pink in the middle of this conversation.
[00:17:44] I'm not gonna say what it was. I couldn't read it. I had to put it down. I had to put it down because, I, I just come from this like, flow of how that was written and, and it just made me realize how good that book really was, and I just wanted to learn how to write like that.
[00:18:00] So Lawrence Wright as the sort of Johnny Ive of, uh, uhhuh of, um, non-fiction writing. That's a great recommendation.
[00:18:06] He, he is. Really, he is. I mean, and his other stuff on Scientology I don't think was probably quite as good. But it's still amazing. And I mean, everything he writes is amazing and I, and I just, I'm just as in, I'm probably mostly impressed by his technique more than the content.
[00:18:22] I love this. So, well, I don't think we've had a recommendation yet on this podcast, which was like, basically research and format was the, what I got out of this, this book. But, but on the content of the book itself, cuz it does overlap massively with your work, um, and interest. What was, uh, was there an insight or was there something that you took from this?
Was it like, oh, if you researched this level and with this many resources and this depth, you do get closer to the truth, or, or was it not as inspiring as that?
[00:18:49] No, no. It was as well, because I'd, I'd done my, I'd done my master's degree and stuff at that point, and I, it was in research methods. Okay. So I was really, I was into like the detailed research and, um, I just hadn't read, I'd read a lot of academic books and they were all so boring. They're all well researched, but then he comes along. His book is as well researched as the academics. It's better because he's on the ground in Afghanistan speaking to people.
So it's, it's better than the people that are, the people that were researching 9/11, because they were reading other people's theoretical books about it. I felt like he'd done more academic research than any of the academics, but then told it in a way that just. I couldn't stop reading it.
And so it really showed me, I think the value from a storytelling perspective of like getting in there and really sort of meeting the people being on the ground. And I've always found that with everything I've done, and it's the same with. TV and podcasts and everything. When you are interviewing someone virtually or you're just reading and writing based on the reading you're doing, you miss something really important.
Like the mood, uh, the, the sort of the body language, the, the, the neighborhood the person's living in when you go to meet them. And it, it's not that that gives you material to use, it does, it gives you ideas. It makes you think, oh, maybe this mood's making me think of something. Yeah. It's connecting ideas in my head somehow.
Yeah. And it, it's like it just helps you. Enlarge the sort of story somehow that you're telling. So that was also the, the other lesson I took from it.
[00:20:25] It also makes me think about, like, it brings in that first brain human, you know, the gut instinct side of of life. And we, um, we read, uh, it's making me think of a book we read called In Extremis, which was written by the brilliant journalist Lindsay Hilsum, about the life of Marie Colvin, who was tragically killed in Syria.
And it, and because she's a, we've seen Lindsey Hillsong a lot in the, in recent months, um, broadcasting from Ukraine. But she's, you know, she's on the ground. She's been a, a peer and a colleague of of Marie and observed it. She's got her diaries and, and that dual kind of observation and being physically in, uh, there with her in the war zone, it just makes it for a thrilling and, and frightening read. So I, I think you're absolutely right on all of these things. Um,
[00:21:12] Jamie: you have a certain credibility as well. I think once you've been somewhere and you've seen it, you have a, a piece of evidence that no one can question.
Like, it's you, you were there, you saw it, you've got a story about it, you saw something you, I've noticed when I, whenever I've done research, And I'm presenting in more like academic environments or something. And it can be a bit intimidating when you've been out there on the ground doing stuff, interviewing people in person, and a lot of them haven't. You've got a certain credibility as well that can, it's really useful for, I mean, it's useful for them as well.
[00:21:44] So it turns out you don't just need to be a published author to have had books change your life. We see this happen every month, Rebel Book Club, and we're also seeing our members reading habits shift as well towards listening to more books to fit around their busy digital lives on the move.
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[00:23:00] So there you go. That shaped you as a, as a researcher and format and everything else. What, what about a book? Another book that's had an impact?
[00:23:07] Well, okay, so the other one, the other one is, uh, again, not very original. It's 'Them: Adventures with Extremists' by Jon Ronson. And I suppose Jon Ronson is the sort of person that I'm, I'm always looking up to, to try to, I, I like if I could be a sort of budget, uh, cult, Jon Ronson, that's far less successful. But some people compare me to him cuz of my style of what I'm trying to do. Then that would be a life goal achieved for sure, because he's, he's very thoughtful, but he's also very, he's inquisitive. He's a brilliant writer. He writes in the way that Lawrence Wright flows.
Jon Ronson has a similar skill and he also, he also does radio, you know, he, he'll do multiple... He's more about interested in the stories and he chooses. He's a bit like Tom Hanks. Like he's never chosen a bad story, Jon Ronson, he seems to always, it's like he spends most of his time finding the stories and identifying them and then once he's got them, he knows he can do a brilliant job.
So he's very careful with what he chooses, but his adventures with extremists, um, this is where he spent months basically partly undercover, partly not really undercover with society's weirdoes, I suppose is how you could call it. Uh, Alex Jones, the sort of, uh, shock-jock from the US. Was one example he spent time with, um, uh, was it, uh, it wasn't Anjem Choudary I think it was a, it might have been Anjem Choudary.
It was one, it was one of the sort of, um, it might have been Dr. Hook as they called him Abu Hanza. Right. But he spent a lot of time with, um, radical Islamists, and he, like every chapter is him going around, spending time with different people that most in society would, uh, discard as being sort of crazy and weird.
But what I really loved about that is, Just obviously his fascination with society's outsiders and I, it immediately was, I just loved the idea of what can you learn from these people? What do they see about the world that you don't see? Uh, what's life like for them on the inside? They're always interesting people.
Anytime you find a political outsider, they are far more interesting in person than you expect them to be. They've got weird stories. They do strange things, and it also struck me that it, it just looked like a lot of fun. I mean, it looked like he was having a good time. He was learning things, he was meeting people, he was going places and, and then writing about it in a really, sort of understanding way.
He wasn't just dismissing these people. And, and that really just inspired the book that I wrote 'Radicals' where I just spent, I just spent basically two years with radical political movement. Um, and I spent sort of months with Tommy Robinson. Yeah. I spent ages with Proto, um, I suppose a Proto Extinction Rebellion groups. So some of the people that ended up creating Extinction rebellion, I spent time with them. Transhumanists and going, trying to go undercover and take serious lessons from those people.
[00:26:00] And the, and the, the, uh, comedian in Italy. What was his name?
[00:26:04] Yeah, Beppe Guillo. I spent a load of time going to five-star movement meetings.
[00:26:09] What happens to that movement for a moment? It looked like it was gonna take over.
[00:26:13] Well, they did well. I think they're still doing quite well, but they're not, I mean, it's Lega Nord is now in power, isn't it, in Italy. But they're, they've, I think they have this amazing burst. But as ever, this is often the problem with internet-based movements, they can create a huge surge of excitement and interest, but then the actual task of governing is a lot harder and they sort of drift away.
[00:26:31] The sort of very simple comparison I always think about with this is, um, starting a business and running a business, like, you know, turning an idea into a first version and building momentum. It's not easy, but it's like, it's the real fun, but it's a completely different role being a CEO and managing a team and people doing that scale with politics sounds, sounds really tough. So, so, so Jon Ronson basically in almost like inspired and, and, and got you excited about exploring this world of humans on the edge.
[00:26:59] Hundred percent. So you could imagine that Lawrence Wright was all about amazing detailed research, um, going places, but there's the importance of the style of writing to get that across. You don't, you know, amazingly detailed research isn't at odds with good storytelling, which is what I'd basically come to conclude at University, no insult, uh, intended to any of my former professors or anything.
But then John Ronson was the one that gave me the sort of, I guess the topic for that technique, which is society's outsiders. Um, now my thing was, well, Jon Ronson's doing it offline. I'll do it online. I'll be the one that tries to do the Jon Ronson approach, but to internet subcultures. Yeah. Rather than real-world subcultures.
So them two were the sort of two that got me, I guess they were the two that got me to writing The Dark Net, if you like, and sort of the two tried. I tried to get, God, if I, if that book could have been as popular as combined John Ronson and Lawrence Wright. Then, uh,
[00:28:05] Well, it, it, it got, it set you on your way. And we, we loved a rebel book. Like, what I love about this, Jamie, is the way you've told, explained the influence of those two books on you is that it's like, it's a bit like, um, you know, bands or artists saying, here are my musical influences. And they, they have, like, whether it's consciously or not, they have really shaped what, what you've ended up writing.
And Radicals, I remember reading Radicals and, and you obviously did, you know, take on a lot of that kind of Jon Ronson approach to it because it is one of those books where you can just go, oh, I'm really curious about that one, and skip to number six. Um, and it doesn't matter which order you read them in, which I think for a lot of nonfiction readers is, is really helpful.
[00:28:43] Yeah, I think, you know what, like that's what I wanted to, I wanted it to be like that and, um, but I learned a lesson there. Like it wasn't commercially very successful, that book. Right. But to me it was the best one I wrote and I, and I enjoyed it the most. I felt like it was the best thing I'd done, but I think it might have lacked some coherence for that.
It wasn't just a simple single message. It was I trying to maybe do too much. You know, I was going to all these different places and someone said, why didn't you just take one of those chapters? Like the one about Tommy Robinson? You spent six months with Tommy Robinson. Why not just make it a book about Tommy Robinson.
[00:29:19]Like this sort of Tom Bower approach to writing.
[00:29:21] Yeah, yeah. And, and that probably would've been better cuz everyone would've known like, oh yeah, I just, I'm gonna read about him. Uh, whereas I was jumping from subjects cuz the whole point of the book was this argument that politics in society, In 2016 when I started writing it, it's about to change radically.
It was before Brexit when I started. It probably started in 2015. Everything's gonna change. Political norms are gonna change. Society as we understand it, is gonna be blown apart by the internet, by lots of other underlying tensions like the, you know, the. The, um, the tectonic plates underneath. Everything looks good on the surface politically, but there's these tectonic plates underneath demography, uh, internet culture inequality, climate change, and it's gonna shift all of that that's on the top.
And here are some of the ideas that might fill, you know, that might step in, but I think that was maybe too complex an argument, and I was trying to combine that with different stories and I maybe fell between the two, so I was a bit disappointed with it.
[00:30:19] I can hear that. But at the same time, but it, it was prescient, clearly Radicals, and yet The Missing Crypto Queen is a chapter from that same book right.
It's a book about, uh, a story about radical that's, that's turned into, into a bigger story, um, that's representing some of these, these, um, tectonic movements. Right. And now is getting, has got a lot of attention. So, um, it will, it will, uh, be, know 20 times the, the sales of, uh, Radicals
[00:30:47]Yeah, I mean, I was gonna say, it's not about sales. It kind of is about the sales. It's the sales, but it's also just you, it's the sales of course. But connected to the sales is wanting people to have read it cuz you put your life into it. And the impact. Everything into it and you Yeah. Yeah. You want it to do well.
Final book. Let me just give you this one because this is a, this is a monster book, 'The Origins of Totalitarianism'
[00:31:14] Says a non-reading author. I'm gonna give you a monster to finish with.
[00:31:16] I look at these brick, these like breeze block books with trepidation and fear, cuz I'm like, I'm never gonna, I'm just never gonna get through that. But this book, which was written in 1950, um, well it's, I mean obviously from the title it's um, it's Hannah Arendt sort of lived, lived through both totalitarian systems of the 20th century. She understood them both brilliantly. So the book is about where did Nazism and communism and communism come from.
And it wasn't just about like, oh, the rise of power in 1930- in the 1920s and thirties of Hitler because of hyperinflation. t's like, no, let's look back at the 18th century trade union movement in Germany and how that separated and the growth of small towns and historic German culture and like all these much deeper trends that she's pulling together over decades and decades.
And this incredible analysis of how both Nazism and communism sort of worked as a philosophy about blurring the lines of, you know, it's not about there being a truth and a fiction, it's about blurring the lines between the two, so you wouldn't really know what to believe. And in the absence of any firm truth, people will believe anything you tell them.
I live tweeted me reading that book because it felt like every page. There was something that was so unbelievably prescient and insightful far more than George Orwell or, or Huxley or these people. And it made me really think about technology in a new way because I'd been reading these technology books that were all about, I dunno, they were, they were sort of technology books written that were about the tech. They were all a bit superficial.
And I read Hannah Arendt's book and I just thought so much of what she says is really important for modern technology about our understanding of truth. About our understanding of bonds between citizens and how they're formed and how the, but one of the big things she would write about was how physical, like the Nazis first went after trade union movements and small local civic groups because that's how bonds between citizens are formed.
And if you can break them, people only have power above them to look to for identity. And I was like, but this is amazing cuz this is, these are the problems when you create only virtual society, only virtual connections. Are they weaker bonds? Than physical ones when we are actually meeting up down the bowling club or whatever it is, and what does that mean for the strength of a democracy.
And I was like, but I got that from Hannah Arendt's book. I thought it was really important insight into how modern technology's changing society. It wasn't from a book about tech. It's from a book from 1950 about the origins of totalitarianism. And I suddenly thought the big gap here is writing on technology that is not just informed by the specific tech. It's about a deeper understanding of society. And I just became interested in reading books, had nothing to do with tech, but that I knew would have valuable lessons for how technology shaping the world. And that's what I took from her. Which is incredible. I mean, it's unbelievable. It's, it was that the relevance of an amazing, deep look at society on modern technology and what it means could be really useful.
[00:34:23] It's fascinating hearing that as a, as an approach to taking a classic old book and applying it to where we're at now, but also stripping away the, the, this idea of tech. So we read the Cambridge Analytical story last year through Mind Fuck Christopher Wiley, brilliant whistleblower.
and of course, The story is about initially you think, oh, it's about this technology that can sort of like scan Facebook profiles. Um, and it, and, but really it's about like how, how a group of people got caught up in the, the Brexit push and pull of, of that political argument and, um, And infiltrated and used power and money to change the outcome.
And we're seeing it, you know, this week, not this week, this month with these, um, crazy trials going, you know, like the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, her trial being influenced by TikTokers. Is it the technology that's changing society or is it just humans finding another avenue in which to, uh, abuse power or unite in a positive way.
[00:35:23] Can I really answer that? That's like the big question now, isn't it? That's like the, that feels like that's the, the, what did you, what would you call it? The ERG question, like the big underlying question, like is the, is, is it us using technology to do the old, the same old things we've always done, but in clever new ways? Or is it genuinely changing how we live, how we see the world with the speed and scale at which it happens. And yeah, and I wonder whether you might, I don't know if there's an answer, it might even be your own political persuasion, might just inform and your own position in life and your relationship with technology would give you a different answer to that question.
I mean, personally, I don't think anything as significant as the way that phones have changed our interactions with each other, it in inevitably is gonna have an enormous impact on our social and economic and personal lives and identity. I mean, it has to, it just might not be evident to us at the moment.
It might be, I'm sure in 500 years our era will be studied in the same way that we study the Reformation or we study the Enlightenment and they'll talk about all the problems, but all the good things and what did, and they're, we're still debating that now about the Enlightenment and the reformation.
And so we will be debating it in 500 years time. And what I'm interested actually is are there dates and moments that they will study that to us aren't obvious at the moment. They were like, oh yeah, that moment in 2014 when such and such did this - that's, that was the moment it really all started and to us it was, we don't even know it happened.
[00:36:59] Yeah. And it's when The Missing Crypto Queen story was the best advert for cryptocurrencies ever. Despite it looking like putting everyone off, everyone was like, that was the moment I understood crypto and it changed the world of finance forever. Yeah.
[00:37:11] That was the high point. Yeah.
[00:37:12] Jamie, it's been so good talking to you about, about everything and we could go on or I could anyway. Um, but final question, like, so we're at the point in your, in your writing career and in and journalism where you are, where you're launching The Missing Crypto Queen, this sort of one story deep dive, which has got so much attention. Do you, you said at the start, you've been in this for three years, it's been everything. So do you stick with this story now once the book is out? Um, or do you, have you got the next, the next project around the corner?
[00:37:41] I, I am working on something else as well. You sort of have to, because, uh, like you say, you, you, you've gotta earn money as well, and you've gotta come up with new projects and things and it's quite, it's quite difficult. But the thing about The Missing Crypto Queen. I, I feel like, sorry to, it sounds like a cliche again, but so many people became invested in the story, not financially. I mean, they just wanted to know what happened and there was so much interest in it. I feel like a, a great honour, really to be able to be the person that keeps talking about it and keeps trying to...
So it might be boring for me - not boring, but you know, I'm so familiar with it. But there's a, there's a lot of people that will, that still want to hear certain new bits of the story, still wanna know what happened, and the fact there's an audience out there that wants that, I'm, I'm honoured to be able to carry on doing it. So I will stick with that story until I think I really either.
[00:38:31] Until you've auctioned it to Apple or Netflix. That's, that's the hook.
[00:38:36] No, until, until there's a, there's a really conclusive end, and I think that's totally it. Or maybe some mafia takes me out.
[00:38:44] Well, there's a whole other, there's a whole other thing there about risk and, and what it's been like to go through or, but, um, we'll leave that for the, when you appear on the next crime, real crime podcast. Uh, Jamie Bartlett and The Missing Crypto Queen on The Books That Have Made You. Um, thank you so much.
[00:39:00] Thanks so much, Ben. Thanks for having me.