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Book Review: Boomerang

Boomerang

Boomerang by Michael Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The financial crisis of 2008 was a shocking event. But I’m willing to bet you have no idea how shocking it really was. That happens when you truly realise the scale of the greed, duplicity & stupidity of the staggeringly small number of people involved who managed to bankrupt entire nations.

Here Lewis tours Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Germany & the US to discover how whole nations got themselves into a massive mess. No one comes out looking good. In Boomerang, Lewis not only shows the colossal folly of the bankers and the complicity of the politicians but also something of the soul and character of a people. Honestly, they’re not good looks.

His key question is this, what does a nation do if it finds itself alone in a dark room with a pile of money? The answer is variations on ‘nothing good’. In fact the utter lack of wisdom of almost everyone involved should give any concerned citizen plenty of reasons to pause and think. This is corruption, not of the simple bribe, but of a nation’s character.

To be honest I’d be surprised if anything has actually changed. The nations that got hit the hardest are still incredibly vulnerable and the nations that survived the last time may not have the wherewithal to survive another shock. There is very little evidence that the bankers have learned any lessons from their previous disaster. Certainly no one has made them suffer any penalty, which in and of itself is a stunning fact.

That Lewis makes global finance so entertaining and sometimes genuinely funny, is because he doesn’t tell you the numbers before he has told you about the people. The characters here come to life, and the predicament is put in human terms. Numbers which are mind-bogglingly large become reduced to questions of opportunity, honesty, greed, duty. In other words Lewis makes this human and in doing so exposes the sinful heart of societies. Greek systemic refusal to pay tax or trust each other, Icelandic urge to risk everything, Irish refusal to see reality and German desire to blame others (not that any of these faults are exclusive domains) get given a human and relatable face. The questions also become personal – what would you have done really?

All this is a long way of explaining why, I think, there are few better writers than Michael Lewis when it comes to exposing the machinations of the world’s financial rulers. Boomerang brings the biggest bust to life.

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