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Friday, April 2, 2010

Book of the Year to 3/31: IOU: Why everybody owes everybody and no one can pay

Cover of "I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Every...Cover via Amazon

If you want to understand why the City of Salem's budget is collapsing faster than a Minnesota freeway bridge -- and to get a really good, crisp, clear and even witty education in the arcana of collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, and all the other mumbo jumbo terms that you've heard about -- you can not possibly do better than with John Lanchester's excellent book.

Lanchester does an outstanding job revealing the complete intellectual bankruptcy of economics, which has been taken over by the kind borderline autism that we associate with pimply teens just discovering Dungeons and Dragons, Lord of the Rings, and Ayn Rand ... who makes a footnote appearance as a Charlie's Angels devotee in IOU.

This is a great book for the person who is allergic to financial stories, because he keeps bringing it back to how and why people in places like Salem are going to suffer for the sins of the SOBs, and how taking trillions of dollars from the victims of skullduggery and giving it to the crooks who victimized the rest of us in the first place came to be thought necessary, for example.

Publisher Comments:

Part economic primer, part fiscal and historical analysis, New Yorker and London Review of Books contributor John Lanchester offers his brilliantly witty, succinct overview of the current financial crisis.

For most people, the reasons for the sudden collapse of our economy remain obscure. I.O.U. is the story of how we came to experience such a complete and devastating financial implosion, and how the decisions and actions of a select group of individuals had profound consequences for America, Europe, and the global economy overall. John Lanchester begins with The ATM Moment, that seemingly magical proliferation of cheap credit that led to an explosion of lending, and then deftly outlines the global and local landscapes of banking and finance. Viewing the crisis through the lens of politics, culture, and contemporary history — from the invention and widespread misuse of financial instruments to the culpability of subprime mortgages — Lanchester draws perceptive conclusions on the limitations of financial and governmental regulation, capitalism's deepest flaw, and, most important, on the plain and simple facts of human nature where cash is concerned.

Weaving together firsthand research and superbly written reportage, Lanchester delivers a shrewd perspective and a digestible, comprehensive analysis that connects the dots for the expert and casual reader alike. I.O.U. is an eye-opener of a book — it may well provoke anger, amazement, or rueful disbelief — and, as the author clearly reveals, we've only just begun to get ourselves back on track.

Review:

"With clarity and a conversational style often (sometimes deliberately) lacking in the financial industry and its coverage, British journalist Lanchester (The Debt to Pleasure) takes readers on a comprehensive global tour of 2008's economic meltdown, focusing on each guilty parties' contributions to-and missed opportunities to halt-the worldwide crisis. Starting with the political buildup and then marching through the field of 'banksters,' regulators, mortgage companies and everyone else in a position to know better, Lanchester illustrates exactly how loans from predatory and incompetent players wound up being sold as triple-A investments, and how a subsequent housing market dip toppled the financial system. By prioritizing the financial sector and tenets of laissez-faire capitalism (to the point that it 'became a kind of secular religion'), those in charge of the markets failed to identify the growing systemic dangers; meanwhile, those responsible to the public acted as if benefits for financial institutions also benefited every economic participant, no matter how small. Laypeople seeking to understand the crisis, and what it means for their own bank account, will find Lanchester's volume an oasis of understanding in a sea of partisan spin and convoluted financial language." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)


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