Nearly a year ago, on July 20, the actor-turned-crypto-skeptic-cum-author Ben McKenzie met with Sam Bankman-Fried at the One Hotel, near Central Park, for an interview for his forthcoming book. At the time, S.B.F. was at the peak of his powers at FTX—the unbathed alleged billionaire prodigy who had the whole world believing his hype. He was in town for media interviews with Bloomberg, and with Fortune, for what would turn out to be the infamous cover story, The Next Warren Buffet? “I remember looking through the glass at this guy who I’d never met, who was the ‘J.P. Morgan of Crypto,’ according to The Mooch, anyway. And I was just kind of fascinated by him,” McKenzie recalled to me. “A 30-year-old guy, comes from quite an intellectual pedigree: parents are professors of law at Stanford. He went to MIT. Jane Street Capital. Now he’s King of the World.”
Of course, you may know McKenzie, now 44 years old, from the famous teen drama, The O.C., where he played Ryan Atwood, or as Ben Sherman, on Southland, or as James Gordon, on Gotham. (Not me. I’ve never watched any of those shows.) I know Ben only from his new side gig as a crypto debunker and co-author of the forthcoming book, Easy Money: Cryptocurrency, Casino Capitalism and The Golden Age of Fraud, and it’s a doozy.
Co-written with Jacob Silverman, a contributing editor at the New Republic, the book will be published on July 18 by Abrams Press, which is best known for its elaborate art books but is now publishing more traditional non-fiction. McKenzie’s book is the story of his deep dive into the world of crypto, first as a curious enthusiast and then as a realist. “Am I crazy, or is this a total scam?” he asks himself rhetorically at one point early on. I’ve read and enjoyed Easy Money—in fact, I blurbed the book after my friend Liaquat Ahamed, author of Lords of Finance, urged me to do so.