Keep in mind: as soon as you get beyond a cursory definition, it gets complicated—fast. This is not only because blockchain technology can be used in many ways, but because everyone seems to want to explain all the pieces that make it work at once, and that's overwhelming. So, it takes some patience for it all to click.
Spend time with a solid handful of these links, and you'll start to get a feel for it, I promise. And once you do, I suggest going out and searching for blockchain + whatever industry interests you. Music? Real estate? Education? Food? There are examples out there that will blow your mind, and I hope you will want to learn more (I included links to an extra five "next step" resources below the top 10).
Find something you like better than these? Send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org or @unblockedfuture on Twitter with your suggestions (I've already switched out one link!).
High production value tour of how blockchain works from Goldman Sachs. A great walkthrough, and many really like this one.
What is Blockchain Tech?
Excellent primer on the mechanics. Once you’ve read this piece from CB Insights you'll have a taste of the basics. CB Insights also has a wealth of other information on blockchain use cases on their site
Blockchain for Babies
Give Layne Haber's article three minutes, and you will come away with a high level understanding of how blockchains work. She'll be releasing articles that talk to other important aspects of blockchains soon.
Why Bitcoin Matters
Now historical article (2014) from Marc Andreessen. This stays on the list because Marc clearly explains areas that people tend to trip over. The gulf between the technology community and everyone else still exists. Note that Marc focuses on Bitcoin and the Bitcoin blockchain, but that much of what he talks about is extensible to other blockchains.
What is Cryptocurrency?
Still feeling lost? Don't worry, “It's everything you don't understand about money combined with everything you don't understand about computers."
Thank you, John Oliver, for making it possible to laugh and learn at the same time.
Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Basics
This Commonwealth Club discussion with two incredible women: Kathryn Haun and Laura Shin. This discussion breaks down and walks you through many important basics. The first 13 minutes are focused on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency; at 13:51 they talk more broadly about blockchains.
Nathaniel Popper's history of the Bitcoin blockchain's early years is entertaining and great learning at the same time. I tell my friends this is an absolute essential read.
Laura Shin's podcast is a fantastic way to go deeper. Start with the Crypto 101 episode, in which Elaine Zelby interviews Laura. But you will learn something important about the space in every episode. I've had many friends end up hooked.
The Original Whitepaper
With some basic background, the first few pages of Satoshi Nakamoto's whitepaper is surprisingly easy to read. Please read it—it is an important historical grounding, and at the very least will give you a little extra cred at cocktail parties. There is no mention of blockchains (that term came later), but this is the beginning of it all.
Jill Carlson's Reading List
Jill gives what I consider the essential reading list for those ready for more on her site. Come for the reading list, stay for her writing.