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I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay Hardcover – January 5, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred 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.
"I.O.U. is the map to the crazed world of contemporary finance we have all been waiting for. John Lanchester's superb book is everything its subject, the 2008 crash, was not: namely lucid, beautifully contrived, comprehensible to the reader with no specialist knowledgeand most of all devastatingly funny. I urge you to read it." Will Self, author of Liver
"Warning to bankers everywhere in the world. You better buy every single copy of I.O.U. because Lanchester's painted the target on you that the rest of us so desperately wanted to see. My prediction: bankers may be an endangered species once I.O.U. gets out, and from this read, I can tell you, while I hate to rush Darwin, it can't happen fast enough." James J. Cramer, host of CNBC's Mad Money and author of Jim Cramer's Getting Back to Even
“I.O.U. is so clear and funny and cleverly written. I love the personal asides and observations and jokes and bits of autobiography that make it seem human and not text-book like. And the more and more improbable analogies for the ups and downs of the markets (a bride's nightie...a gorilla on a pogo stick). But what I like most is that it makes me feel intelligent, because I can now understand all this stuff.” Marina Lewycka, author of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
“In I.O.U., the only truly entertaining book I've read on the subject, the British writer John Lanchester theorizes that after the Cold War, capitalism could go wild because Western governments no longer had to worry about competing with communism. This is a fascinating idea...” Jacob Weisberg, Newsweek
“The novelist John Lanchester's short book on the finance crisis, I.O.U....is literary and profound...But this is not just finance-for-poets. Lanchester...is a master explainer with an excellent grasp of sophisticated finance. His book is a gem.” Christopher Caldwell, The Daily Beast
“Witty, lucid, solicitous of the average person's difficulty in grasping the conceptual underpinnings of international finance...Lanchester manages to know enough to explain the terrain clearly and yet he never loses his perspective...Lanchester had me in the palm of his hand...” Salon.com
“[A] writer with literary bona fides...[Lanchester] has the intellectual heft and the chops, as a jazz musician might say, to deliver a resounding book about the crisis...An elegant and wonderfully witty writer, Mr. Lanchester approaches his subject with a newcomer's verve. It's infectious...frame[s] the Great Recession in startlingly original terms.” Devin Leonard, The New York Times, Sunday Business
“[H]ere's a prediction: Few if any of these [finance] books will be as pleasurableand by that I mean as literate or as wickedly funnyas John Lanchester's I.O.U...Mr. Lanchester explains these things methodically, with mathematical rigor, but he is also, crucially, guided as much by perception and feel...history lesson is peppered with dead-on references to everything, including “Annie Hall,” “The Simpsons,” “The Wire,” Hemingway and Jacques Derrida...Before you begin to cry, pick up a copy of I.O.U. Good humor and good company will be the things that'll get us through.” Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“[John Lanchester has] leaped into nonfiction, combining prodigious research and reporting with his storytelling gift. The result is this elegantly crafted little book-equal parts history, economic primer, and social commentary-that manages to be, by turns, acidic, frightening, and sharply funny. What it is not is boring. In fact, this is a better book about the global meltdown than any other to date-and some of our best financial and business writers have weighed in on the subject...He explains everything so lucidly, so simply, refracted through the lens of history for perspective, that it all makes perfect sense. A” Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly
“[Lanchester] brings his mischievous wit to bear on the Great Credit Crackup in his boisterous primer...His method: to boil complex instruments and linkages down to anecdotes, outlandish images and acerbic asides that strip away those layers of bank jargon. The result is the perfect read for anyone still wondering what went wrong and why.” Bloomberg News
Top customer reviews
While this book still occasionally leaves me in the dust, the author has done the best job I've seen in aiding this "non-Streeter's" understanding of the events that caused the "Great Recession." Mr. Lanchester uses ordinary examples to explain what happened, which helped me a great deal.
I'm often told that nobody fully understands what happened or how these extraordinarily complex investment "opportunities" came to exist or what they contain(ed). I believe that, but I'm trying to get to the bottom of the whole pile of delusion: big money investors attempting to "hedge" risk out of existence and creating vehicles that served no useful purchase except to make them rich. And they're still rich.
If you are interested in some basic information on the genesis of this crisis, then turn to John Lanchester and his book "Whoops!" first.
It's also mighty interesting that the book, a 2010 UK copyright, is currently unavailable ANYWHERE in the US--at least it was when I ordered my copy.
And by the way: the book is well written and often (and unexpectedly) humorous.
P.144 "To most of us, risk is for the most part a bad thing; at best, it's something we seek out under specific circumstances to generate a feeling that things are just dangerous enough to be exciting. In the world of money, risk is different: it's desirable. That's because in investments, risks are correlated with rewards."
P.162 "The mathematical models simply didn't work in a crisis. They worked when they worked, which was most of the time; but the whole point of them was to assess risk, and some risks by definition happen at the edges of known likelihoods." Having set up the system of CDOs, SPVs, and CDSs everyone in the chain just churned the money. The formulas blew up because the assumptions failed to anticipate the overweighted numbers of unqualified buyers added to speculative house flippers. The historical data used even failed to foresee that when there were no more first time buyers, no one else could sell their house to buy the next one.
As Lanchester and Das explain this was just one spoke in the wheel of self destruction. Everybody was betting on everything imaginable and buying insurance on other people's bets. Would you buy insurance on everyone's house and car who lived in your block hoping to collect on an accident? And what happens when the insurance company doesn't have enough to cover all the claims? The ultimate problem was that everyone lent to everyone else so one default became total default to all. Every corporation, business, and government is built on debt and now no one can pay the loan back and the interest alone is sinking most of them.
This was an enjoyable read. I found I had to take "time-outs" reading Das' book as it was complicated.
sense than before is how so many very smart people could have bet so much money on an edifice built on sand. The book is a very helpful analysis of the sand.
Most recent customer reviews
To the general public/looks like a witch hunting
Worth and easy reading anyway