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|First things first -- yes, this 108-page book costs US$34. For the trade
press that's pretty high, though in the hard sciences $80 books on obscure
branches of quantum theory aren't uncommon. Co-author Wrightson is an
associate professor at the University of Newcastle (Australia) and is
currently researching "mathematical semantics for money," so the hard
sciences model is probably more appropriate. From a hard science perspective
Computer Money is a very solid book. The authors start out by
defining the salient characteristics of electronic payment systems (e.g.,
security, transaction costs, traceability, verification, etc.). Then they
present some of the theory underlying electronic payment schemes, illustrate
how existing transaction systems embody the elements presented, and offer a
brief look at some of the social and political implications of electronic
One aspect of electronic payment systems the authors pay particular attention to is how to prevent fraud, regardless of whether the transactions (and electronic money underlying them) are anonymous or completely in the open. The technological basis for transaction security is public key encryption, which the authors describe in formal mathematical terms in the book's appendix. Furche and Wrightson point out quite correctly that there is plenty of literature available for programmers who need to implement a public key encryption system, though the lack of explanation here, as in the other parts of the book, further shrinks Computer Money's potential audience.
While the book is certainly not a difficult read, there are frequent passages where the reader is reminded that at least one of the authors is not a native English speaker. The production team included an American copy editor (required, as the authors state in the introduction, because the text was meant for an audience used to American English), though there are quite a few instances of roundabout phrasing and transitions that disrupt the flow of the text. For a technical audience, especially those readers used to papers and books written by nonnative English speakers, the distraction should be minimal.
Computer Money is not a title everyone should own; knowing the formal principles behind the Secure Electronic Transactions standard (SET) or David Chaum's ecash (TM) won't be of much help to the average online merchant, but researchers and developers looking into better ways to design and implement electronic payment systems would be well advised to have Computer Money on their bookshelves. I would have rated the book higher in readability and editing if this review had been written for an academic audience.
Curtis D. Frye (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the editor and chief reviewer of Technology and Society Book Reviews. He worked for four years as a defense industry analyst at The MITRE Corporation in McLean, VA, and is the author of Privacy-Enhanced Business, from Quorum Books.