Peter Mountford's A Young Man's Guide To Late Capitalism is an enjoyable look at a very serious subject: capitalism as practiced today and its effects on people. Most of the enjoyment from this examination is generated by Mountford's superb writing style. To put it simply, it's been a long time since I've read a new author put together pithy lines like those that Mountford inserts into his text (my favorite: "It [a qualitative analyst] was one of the few jobs for which a dash of autism was considered a plus."). But, Mountford's writing strengths aren't just limited to one-liners. He displays a sure-hand with dialogue, develops his characters with depth and believability, and portrays the Bolivian setting in such a manner that a reader gets a vivid picture of the location. When these strengths are taken together, the reader finds that Mountford chillingly and convincingly conveys the "who cares about people/it's just business backed by high-level mathematics" attitude that dominates capitalist transactions today.
Despite all its charms, Mountford makes a couple of "rookie" mistakes that weaken the story. The most obvious mistake is one that most first-time authors make: the need to cram every personal interest into a book. In this case, Mountford inserts long passages about game theory and Bolivian history in between plot devices. While those topics are interesting, he spends too much time discoursing on both subjects, thus breaking the underlying story's flow. Mountford also overuses the symbolism within the story's context. The best example of his over-application of symbols is his use of "angel/devil" characters to personify the choices that the story's main character (Gabriel) faces. Mountford is not content to have one set of "angel/devil" characters (the press secretary for Bolivia's president and a reporter for the Wall Street Journal), he drives the point home by adding a second set (Gabriel's mother and Gabriel's boss back in the United States). While having the second set of "angel/devil" characters communicate with Gabriel primarily by phone was a nice twist, the moral dilemmas with which Gabriel deals are more than adequately personified by the first set of "angel/devil" characters, thereby rendering the second set redundant.
A Young Man's Guide To Late Capitalism isn't a great book. But, it is a very good book that examines a topical subject in an entertaining manner. Best of all, Mountford displays skills that make it evident he is capable of writing a great book in the future. Thus, if for no other reason than to become familiar with an author who possesses a tremendous amount of promise, readers should give A Young Man's Guide To Late Capitalism a try.