While not as accessable or entertainingly irate as Matt Taibbi's recent "Griftopia", this recent addition to the financial collapse literature is stilWhile not as accessable or entertainingly irate as Matt Taibbi's recent "Griftopia", this recent addition to the financial collapse literature is still a fascinating read, likely to get your hackles back up about all the causes of the 2008 financial meltdown.
Taibbi's book was a bit more readable thanks to his saintlike eagerness to clearly explain many extremely complicated economic concepts, and his decidedly unsaintlike urge to editorialize in a most profane manner.
With "All the Devils Are Here", McLean and Nocera take a more labrynthine approach, sniffing out root causes going all the way back to late 70s. Rather than bulking up the page count with detailed explanations of every type of derivitive and security and financial insturment in play, they hit the ground running, pausing only long enough to (if you're lucky) give you a paragraph-long primer so you have a slightly better chance of keeping up. They go heavy on the jargon, and just by virtue of the huge cast of characters and institutions involved, the authors toggle furiously between the goings-on of Goldman Sachs, Countrywide, the Fed, Fannie and Freddie, Merril Lynch, AIG, Moody's, and dozens of other lenders, ratings organizations, loan originators, insurers, and regulators. By the end, you realize that anytime you may have ever heard a pundit on a news network blaming the financial crisis on any single person or entity, they were totally full of crap. It has become pretty apparent in the year's since 2008 that it was, indeed, and entire industry that screwed up. Every single aspect of it. You can point to just about every one involved and find some act of stupidity or ignorance or greed they committed that contributed to the end result.
To truly understand it all, the complexity of the events themselves preclude anything resembling an 'easy' read. But within that context, McLean and Nocera manage to make a modicum of sense out of the dozens and dozens of threads that wove together to create the final frustratingly greed-tinted tapestry....more
Matt Taibbi fills his newest work, "Griftopia", with his typical pissed-off wit and not-so-subtle derision of the status quo, but what sets it apart fMatt Taibbi fills his newest work, "Griftopia", with his typical pissed-off wit and not-so-subtle derision of the status quo, but what sets it apart from his past endeavors is its laser-beam focus, not on snarky put-downs but on its obsession with explaining things. Taibbi has always been great at observing some aspect of politics or cultural extremism and describing with colorful hyperbole how ridiculous and stupid it is. But his coverage for Rolling Stones about the financial crisis of 2008 appears to have inspired in him a sobriety that cuts through the acid criticism.
The snarky tone is still there, to be sure, but Taibbi does a heroic job of explaining several rather complicated financial concepts such as Credit Default Swaps, Collateralized Debt Obligations, and Option ARMs, and helps to familiarize lay readers with things like the intricacies and origins of commodities trading and stock market bubbles. Making all of this accessible is no easy feat, but Taibbi proves himself up to the task as he mows through explanations of the wonky American health insurance system, investment bank shennagigans, the predatory housing loan industry, and a biography of Alan Greenspan.
Actually, as informative as the Greenspan biography is, it's also the one section of the book where the pissed off gonzo journalist finally come out to play in full force. You can tell that he reeaallly hates Alan Greenspan based on the title of that chapter alone: "The Biggest Asshole in the Universe".
And there are several other places where the author doesn't even try to hide his disdain for the practices of the super wealthy investment banks and jelly-spined politicians who work in concert to rig the system in their own favor. But "Griftopia" is not just the observations and exptrapolations of a roving reporter shouting loudly to make himself heard. Its more a primer on all the gears and machinations that churn and turn on the mountaintop above the clouds that effect our lives in ways we're never aware of.
The prologue of "Griftopia" makes a case for why all the bizarroland workings of these industries are so incredibly scary. In it, Taibbi is attending a the Republican Convention in St. Paul at which Sarah Palin was introduced to the world. During her coming-out speech, Palin makes a great to-do about how the enemy we must battle in America are the other Americans that do not share our political beliefs. The author is surely no fan of Sarah Palin, but he's not singling her out as some lone instigator as much as he's using her speech as an example of what both political parties have been doing in the extreme for the last decade or so. That is, distracting Americans from the real enemies. As long as we're busy making specious accusations about how the opposing political party is the cause of all societies' ills, no one will ever notice that it is corporate entities far removed from the 'average' American that quietly take what they want while the rest of us wallow in the scaps and leftovers....more
"Eat the Rich" isn't so much a treatise on economics as it is a travelogue with an economics slant.
I really enjoyed reading this work. I found it info"Eat the Rich" isn't so much a treatise on economics as it is a travelogue with an economics slant.
I really enjoyed reading this work. I found it informative to a degree, and laughed out loud multiple times at O'Rourke's wit. It's obvious to me now that P.J. O'Rourke is the direct literary predecesor of Sarah Vowell. Their politics probably don't synch up too swell, but their writing voices are practically Siamese twins. The humor with which O'Rourke describes and explains such diverse locales and cultures as Shanghai, Tanzania, Sweden, Hong Kong, Cuba, Russia, and Wall Street make this work immenantly readable.
The problem is, it never actually gets around to explaining much. The author does make quite a big deal early on about the weird thing about economics is that it makes no sense and that the experts seem to know less about it than lay people do. And that may be true (or not). But other than pointing out the underlying pros and cons of Socialism and Capitalism as they exist in various cultural and geographical contexts, there is no connective thread that even tries to draw any kind of conclusions.
Well, there sort of is, but it seemed to be a bit off the mark. In his closing chapter, O'Rourke states that wealth is not a bad thing, and frequently gets a bad wrap, as though it were personally responsible for the flip side of the economics coin, poverty. This is very true: wealth is a tool that can be (and sometimes actually is) used for mankind's benefit. But he then goes a step further and claims that wealth in most cases (even if accidentally) used for good, and that people living in poverty shouldn't resent rich people for having nice things! They should just go figure how to get nice things for themselves.
I'm sure O'Rourke could give a detailed explanation of why that is supposed to make sense and be in some way practical advice for poor people, but in the closing pages of "Eat the Rich", he doesn't really make any kind of case at all. He just sites the 10 Commandments ("Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbors Stuff") and some statistics that show the Life Expectancy and Infant Mortality Rate gaps between wealthy and poor nations have closed over the last few decades. Based on these two things, he concludes that everything is going to be okay.
Had I not read that last chapter, I probably would have awarded this 4 stars. Its clever, funny, insightful, and even if it doesn't have any systematic explanations of how economics work in different countries around the globe, it is still fun to read....more
I didn't know much about Nicaragua or the Contra War of the 80s, as I was only in gradeschool at the time. I didn't pick this book up because I wantedI didn't know much about Nicaragua or the Contra War of the 80s, as I was only in gradeschool at the time. I didn't pick this book up because I wanted to find out more about the topic either. I picked it up, because I thought it would a short novel I could finish off before the new year. I was the definition of a blank slate. Imagine my surprise when I realized that this was actually a work of non-fiction.
As a blank slate, I can't really rate this book based on how accurate Rushdie's depiction of the state of things was. I can only judge it on his prose, and his ability to explain what he is personally setting out to explain. On those terms, the book is very successful. I was very surprised that in such a brief work, I found myself comfortably knowledgable about most of the involved parties, including the Sandanistas, the east coast Misurasata, and various sects of the Contra movement. Rushdie's verdict in the end is an almost ambiguous one, coming hesitantly down on the side of the Sandanistas, with some reservations. Perhaps I'm naive, but his findings appeared to be the honest opinion of a neutral observer, and not any kind of liberal propaganda.
Outside of the politics, he also paints a picture of the citizens of the country, who are a resiliant and hopeful and poetic people. This jives pretty accurately with my impressions of various Central American friends from college, and the stories they shared about their lives.
Now, this book was written in 1987, and as a glimpse at that particular moment of time, I think this book is very effective. Rushdie sees a certain righteousness in the Sandanista movement, but warns that with power comes certain temptations, and admits that the leaders he met with were questionably equipped to deal with those temptations. The title, in fact, comes from a limerick in which a little girl wearing a smile rides away on a jaguar. When she returns, the girl is gone, and now the jaguar is wearing the smile. Far from being propaganda, Rushdie awknowledges with his title that the politics of Nicaragua are dangerous and ambiguous. History would show that neither the Sandanistas or the Contras or even the Americans who became involved turned out to be truely just in their actions.
But I guess that's always the way when politics and religion are concerned: people frequently end up doing the wrong things for the what they feel are the right reasons. "The Jaguar Smile" captures that pretty succinctly....more
Though I've enjoyed the two previous Richard Preston works that focused on frighteningly deadly viruses such as Ebola and Marburg, this one had a fewThough I've enjoyed the two previous Richard Preston works that focused on frighteningly deadly viruses such as Ebola and Marburg, this one had a few strikes against it before I decided I could like this one two:
1) The cover is horrible. People kept assuming I was reading some kind of Tom Clancy suspense thriller. I have nothing against Tom Clancy, but I don't read him. If I hadn't been a little more discerning when I was browsing through Barnes & Noble, I never would have looked at this book long enough to pick it up.
2) The prologue is also strangely bad. Preston spends most of it either giving us another stomach-churning obligatory description of the effects on the human body of the Ebola virus (never, please, read Richard Preston while you're eating), or delivering an odd description of his 'method' of writing narrative non-fiction, as though people were dying to know just how does he do it? Having read David McCullough and Joseph Persico, I've seen enough great examples of narrative non-fiction that I wasn't particularly interested in Preston's personal approach on the genre. If anything, his description drew my attention to stupid little things in Preston's writing that I hadn't really noticed before. He seemed to think we'd be really impressed that he notices his subjects' hands. I wasn't that impressed, and I was suddenly jerked out of the world of the narrative everytime he referred to people's hands in the actual articals.
Anyway, I really enjoyed this collection of articals, but the prologue and cover design were a little off-putting.
So how were the articals? Very good. As already stated, I began chapter one in a bad mood of sorts, but as soon as Preston began delving into the world of the Chudnovsky brothers, I was back in good spirits. In this first artical (I call them articals, as big chunks of this volume originally appeared in the New Yorker magazine) Preston explores the world of the Chudnovsky brothers, two apparently brilliant mathematicians who build a supercomputer in their apartment for, among other things, seeing how many digits of the number 'pi' they can calculate. (After breaking the record for the most digits several times, they give up to pursue other things after they calculate it beyond 2 billion digits).
This is my favorite section of the book, as it does a great job of being an interesting biography as well as being a very accessible look at the esoteric world of 'pi'.
Other sections deal with foreign parasites decimating native forest populations, the heated race to map the human genome waged between the government and a private company, the complexity of photographing some tapestries from antiquity (a story that also surprisingly involves the Chudnovsky brothers and their super computer), a humanizing look at genetic disease that causes self-cannibalism, and of course a short revisit to Ebola.
Some articals engaged me more than others, but as with any good collection of journalistic writing, the author keeps your attention with his ability to make you care about a variety of topics. "Panic in Level 4" is a quick read, and since he's giving you little chunks of story instead of writing an entire book about one subject (as he did brilliantly with "Red Zone" and "Demon in the Freezer"), this feels a tad slight.
But when I finished the prologue, I was pretty sure this would end up in the pile of books going back to HalfPrice Books. As I flipped past the last page, I found I'd surprisingly enjoyed the rest of it. I think I'll keep it....more
My first exposure to Studs was back in 1999 when the musical based on his book "Working" was produced by the Austin College theater department. I hadnMy first exposure to Studs was back in 1999 when the musical based on his book "Working" was produced by the Austin College theater department. I hadn't read "Working" (still haven't) but the premise of the show was that we'd see several musical vignettes, each focusing on an actual person Turkel had interviewed about their jobs. The show was a big success and introduced me to an interesting new writer to look into. A copy of "Working" soon sat on my bookshelf. And like a lot of books I buy, it sat there for a really long time.
You see, when given the freedom to choose anything in the world to read (yes, the selection at HalfPrice Books is THAT GOOD!), I just couldn't get myself too worked up to read what were essentially transcribed interviews. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but flipping through the book, I saw that the text mostly consisted of Studs asking a few questions followed my long passages of his subjects answering at great length. How exactly does that constitute 'writing' a book?
So, much to my detriment, "Working" went unread longer still. And because I have a serious mental illness and cannot resist purchasing new books based solely on the basis that it would look nice on a shelf next to other books by the same author even though I've never read that author, I picked up "The Spectator", which at least had the side benefit of being about theater, which is my chosen profession.
Anyway, every book in my apartment, no matter how little I may have considered reading it, has a bit of a gravitational tug at my attention. So inevitibility overtook me, and I finally decided to read Studs. Not having read any theater history or texts recently, I thought I'd take a look at "The Spectator".
And as is typical, I felt like an ass for having let this book sit on the shelf for so long.
Yes, it is basically Studs asking a few questions while his subjects answer at length. But what I didn't realize when I flipped through "Working" was that the answers given my the interviewees are greatly dependant on the interviewer asking the right questions. And Studs Terkel knows how to ask the right question. It didn't matter if he was talking to Buster Keaton or Tennessee Williams, Moms Mabley or Marcel Marceau, Tallulah Bankhead or even Arnold Schwarzenegger, Studs is so extraordinarily knowledgable about these people and their histories and their connections to the entertainment world, that he draws from them all sort of interesting little nuggets of wisdom.
If you printed the transcript of any interview I might conduct with James Cagney or Uta Hagen, that would be one really stupid book.
I'm really glad I picked this one up, and I look forward to digging into Terkel's volumes on World War II and the American 20th Century. And maybe, one of these days, I'll even get around to reading "Working"....more