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Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth Paperback – October 7, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
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In her witty, acutely argued and almost freakishly prescient new book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth Margaret Atwood reminds us that debt is not just a political and economic issue. It's not just a matter for CEOs, heads of state, hedge fund managers or people with mortgages--sub-prime or otherwise. Debt is a cultural issue....Payback plugs a huge hole in our society-wide contemplation of the current financial crisis. In so many discussions of the ongoing mess in global markets, there is little mention of the venerable cultural ideas that underlie borrowing and lending.... All of this is presented, of course, not as something dry and scholarly, but as an arch--even, at times, ornery--argument that is vintage Atwood. --Chicago Tribune
Top Customer Reviews
The essays in Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth were presented as a series of radio lectures in Canada in November 2008. While I often enjoy the non-fiction writings of writers who are more famous for their novels (Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver, Stephen King, among others), such collections are usually on a variety of topics or on a fiction-related topic such as writing. In Margaret Atwood's case though, she has taken on the subject of debt, although not exclusively financial debt.
Starting with a history of debt that is sprinkled with childhood memories of Scrooge McDuck and her first bank account, she examines the morality of owing other people. Using examples from literature and from nature, Atwood explores the universality of the concept of fairness. When capuchin monkeys realize that when one of their group is being rewarded with juicy grapes while the rest of them are being rewarded for the same work with lesser treats, they know it's a rotten deal and they rebel.
Atwood looks at how changing attitudes toward debt have affected the way we look at debt in literature. In Shakespeare's A Merchant of Venice, for example, Shylock is a moneylender, which is a necessary, but not very respectable profession. Now one of the most respected professions is banking, which of course, is mainly moneylending.
Debt isn't just about money. Atwood explores the concept of forgiveness, such as when Nelson Mandela was finally released from prison and knew he had to forgive those who'd persecuted him over the years and he had to do it before he walked out of the prison grounds. Otherwise he would carry those resentments with him forever.Read more ›
It was with some amusement that I read the review of this book by The Economist magazine. The first sentence of the review: "Without debt there would be no capitalism; mankind would be living in caves and eating whatever it killed." Somehow I missed the part in the book where it said that primitivism was the route that society should have followed. It is ironic that if we continue to follow the current system's -- and The Economist's -- ideology of unlimited growth, we will end up living in caves and eating whatever we kill. It is hard to make the case that the dominant economic system has given us -- and I mean all of us -- much freedom. (See Mindful Economics: How the US Economy Works, Why it Matters, and How it Could be Different for an excellent treatise on the "system.") As Atwood illustrates with her Scrooge Nouveau tale in the last chapter, any freedom we had is rapidly being sucked from us as a result of the way we have conducted ourselves the last few hundred years.
Comments by other readers that this book did not provide answers reminded me that Atwood tells the story of Solon (p. 182 & 183). Solon solves "the nation's problems by cancelling the massive debt structure that has enriched some, but impoverished everyone else." Unless a "jubilee" of this nature takes place in short order, most countries will be struck in the doldrums for generations to come.Read more ›
A word of caution for starters, though: if you're looking for suggestions for getting out of the debt mess you're in, you've come to the wrong book. Payback is not a how-to, or even a how-not-to. It is a how-we-got-here, a how-this-is, a how-to-think-about-it, an intellectual (sometimes maddeningly so) journey into the meaning of debt. Atwood examines debt as a metaphor for all our obligations to one another; debt and sin; debt as a literary subtext in everything from Mephistopheles and Vanity Fair to A Christmas Carol; unpaid and unpayable debt; and the "debtor/creditor twinship." When you stop to think about it (and you do stop, and you do think, under Atwood's spell), debt and credit underlie everything under our sun and beyond, even our redemptive and retributive notions of Heaven and Hell. "In Heaven," Atwood writes, "there are no debts--all have been paid, one way or another." Hell is a different story.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Margaret Atwood is probably my favorite author -- I've greatly enjoyed almost everything I've read by her (Oryx and Crake series, Blind Assassin, Edible Woman, Handmaid's... Read morePublished 4 months ago by E. Botella
Atwood is remarkabe here (as usual). She has command of a vast amount of knowledge and information and weaves it together in an astonishing way. Read morePublished 13 months ago by N. McDowell
So difficult to read. Too much information, dating back to 1000 years.Published 18 months ago by Beverly
Precision and zest are two pretty good defining terms for any writing Margaret Atwood lays her hand to. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Glenn J. Shea
Debt is of course a vast idea, considering human psychology, even biology, as well as various canons of fairness, obligation and morality, all as played out across centuries of... Read morePublished on May 14, 2014 by Phil O.
I'm generally unfamiliar with Ms. Atwood's work, and this book was not what I expected (ie: what it means when wealth is most commonly just leveraged debt and currency becomes... Read morePublished on March 25, 2014 by J. Miller
This book was well written. Provided facts and opinions that were plain and understandable. A nice practical explanation of what has happened with people's attitude toward money... Read morePublished on January 28, 2014 by Born2BeMild
Debt as We Do Not Know It
Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth by Margaret Atwood is not about financial debt as we would easily and automatically assume from the... Read more