I work for a Wall Street firm - though about as far out in the orbit as one can be while still technically employed - and while I liked this book, I'mI work for a Wall Street firm - though about as far out in the orbit as one can be while still technically employed - and while I liked this book, I'm not sure I would have found it quite so engaging if I didn't recall so vividly the weeks at the center of the narrative, the anxiety that our firm might fail and we might all be jobless, the emails to staff that are quoted by the author (and come off, to me anyway, strangely more sincerely than they did at the time).
Having said that, the level of detail, the feeling of in-the-room-ness, is an extraordinary feat in itself, and Sorkin does a good job (as far as we know, anyway) bringing together the hundreds of interlocking narratives. He makes the decision to give each character the benefit of the doubt as to his motives, never questioning (until the epilogue) their decisions or reasoning. This aspirational approach, applied as it was to a group of people rarely treated in the public imagination as anything other than villains jumping gleefully into grottoes of taxpayer-funded gold coins, felt a bit funny to me for awhile, but began to make sense as Sorkin brought in multiple accounts of the same events and I realized that the characters were happily damning themselves or each other with their own words, and didn't need the author to do it. Sorkin didn't need to call Dick Fuld any names - Fuld's own recollections lay bare enough his strange behavior and catastrophic decisions.
The book's brief is to recall in painstaking detail the events of (primarily) September and October 2008, so there's very little in here about the underlying causes of the financial (let alone economic) crisis; for those issues readers should look elsewhere....more
Michael Lewis sometimes does this thing that bothers me: he starts a thread, then leaves it hanging; starts another, and leaves that one hanging; and you feel like all these loose threads are going to combine into a fantastic ending, but in fact he's just done with them. In other words he's like a phenomenal magazine writer who finds some difficulty in combining pieces into a book-length narrative. But I didn't find that to be the case with this book at all. Aside from some annoying repetition, which Chris pointed out in the comments before I wrote this review, all the pieces come together in a satisfying way.
Of the three main narratives, each takes place at a slightly different remove from the crisis's epicenter, but all have the same anticipatory feel, which leaves you with the feeling that you could TOTALLY have known the financial bloodbath was coming, if you'd had access to the right data. Which, in fact, is kind of the point; anyone who bothered to look into these securities (which were slightly foul-smelling even from a distance) found a surfeit of reasons to expect them to blow up.
This book has the gratifying quality of not seeming smug about having the benefit of hindsight - a quality conspicuously lacking in most of the public discourse, particularly in things like congressional hearings and speeches in late 2008 and 2009. One gets the distinct impression most of the politicians condemning greed on Wall Street couldn't have explained the connection between a Main Street home equity loan and a CDS on CDOs even after the subject became widely written about, let alone in advance of the fall in house prices when many of them wouldn't have been caught dead saying any American wasn't qualified to take out a mortgage to buy a new home.
In stark contrast, The Big Short is all about the few people who not only understood the vast, complex financial universe that fed on mortgages, but also understood its many risks and weaknesses - and yet, the tone of the book is not, as it might easily have been, "I told you so." I guess this is because you don't have to say something when it's so readily apparent. (A direct example of this is Eisman's flippant comment to the JPM CFO when the CDO market crashed, and his - Eisman's - immediate regret at having not left the obvious unsaid.)
Lewis has a unique vantage point - current writer but former bond salesman - and rare talent for educating the uninitiated (whether it's about baseball scouting, football formations or financial securities) which make him more or less the perfect person to tackle this subject, a task at which he succeeds pretty brilliantly.
ADDENDUM: I now realize my review makes it sound like I think the book is perfect. I don't. It's the most readable (not necessarily the best full stop) book about the financial crisis (not about the wider issues like the housing bubble, the connection with the real economy, etc.). But beyond that, I'm just too lazy to go into more detail, and it's pretty damn good, so I'm leaving it there....more
The masterpiece is "Authority and American Usage", which I'd read online before but could probably read six or seven times again. Also brilliant is hiThe masterpiece is "Authority and American Usage", which I'd read online before but could probably read six or seven times again. Also brilliant is his piece for Rolling Stone on the 2000 McCain presidential primary campaign....more
First, if you're going to read this, please don't read the goodreads description.
I can't say this with absolute certainty, having read none of the othFirst, if you're going to read this, please don't read the goodreads description.
I can't say this with absolute certainty, having read none of the other novels, but considering what I've heard about the Booker shortlist I'm surprised this didn't win. I guess it's part of the Booker's recent campaign to honor what is "fresh" and "important" rather than, you know. Good.
This book didn't change my world, but it was good. It's made up mostly of recollections by its very elderly narrator, but the way it uses (perhaps unreliable) memory isn't like, say, Ishiguro, who uses gradual revelations to turn a story on its head. There are surprises (or not, if you are the sort of person who guesses everything before you're told), but the surprises aren't supposed to make you think you've been had.
It's wonderfully written, if a tad on the dreamy side in occasional spots, and the story is fairly absorbing. I think I would have gotten a lot more out of it if I knew more about Irish history, but nonetheless I was hooked the whole way through, and enjoyed it a bunch.
I read A Long Long Way (also by Sebastian Barry) a couple of years ago, and really enjoyed that book as well. I didn't need a reminder that he's a good writer, but reading The Secret Scripture told me that he's not a one-trick pony. Maybe that's the wrong word, because A Long, Long Way, with its very linear plot and straightforward, honest descriptions, doesn't really have any tricks. The Secret Scripture has tricks, but they don't overwhelm the piece - Barry is not a gimmickist. I guess the worst you could say of him is that he sometimes strays into the whimsical. He is also a poet, and you can tell....more
It's hard to know what to say about this book. A lot of reviewers seem underwhelmed, and from what I can tell it has a lot to do with what they expectIt's hard to know what to say about this book. A lot of reviewers seem underwhelmed, and from what I can tell it has a lot to do with what they expected and how the book failed to live up. I guess I can't really criticize that, because my response to do it was pretty personal, too. Without getting gruesomely intimate, I'll say that I hoped (knowing Barnes's fear of death superficially resembled mine) that reading this book would mean encountering in erudite form the thoughts I've struggled with for years but never been able to put into words. It did, so perfectly that by the last ten or twenty pages, the extent to which he had distilled the terror of extinction was enough to make me put the book down without finishing.
Leaving that aside, I thought this interconnected and self-referencing series of essays and vignettes was fascinating, poignant, educational, funny and unique. Some of Barnes's writerly eccentricities that I found alienating in Flaubert's Parrot, like (what I then perceived to be) an over-familiarity with authors, poets, composers and artists past, are put to good use here. If you are preoccupied with the idea of dying (especially if you lack religious faith and are conscious of the self-satisfied certainty you therefore do not have about death), in this book you will find a like-minded club of thinkers: Stravinsky, Goethe, Turgenev, Maugham, Flaubert (of course) and Barnes himself, among others. But rather than intimidating figures, in this book they are sympathetic and accessible. That's because Barnes weaves their contributions (excerpted from published writings, letters, diaries) into the narrative in a manner akin to conversation, rather than subjecting their views to study. You get the feeling you're participating in a roundtable discussion with the author and these men.
Michel de Montaigne: To be a philosopher is to learn how to die. Julian Barnes: I wouldn't mind Dying at all, as long as I didn't end up Dead at the end of it. Jonathan Miller: I cannot actually conceive, can't make sense of the notion of total annihilation. Jules Renard: The word that is most true, most exact, most filled with meaning, is the word 'nothing'. Philip Larkin: Not to be here, / Not to be anywhere, / And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
Don't worry, it's not actually written like this....more
Got this as a gift one or two Christmases ago and just got around to reading it, at someone's suggestion. It's a cute, poppy book, reads like a long SGot this as a gift one or two Christmases ago and just got around to reading it, at someone's suggestion. It's a cute, poppy book, reads like a long Slate article, and raises one or two interesting topics, though it doesn't try too hard to get at the meat of them. Malcolm Gladwell is a self-promoter, and there are many mentions of Blink within Blink - e.g., "one of the many messages of Blink is that..." - which makes it feel more like a promo for a book, than an actual book. He also evidently places a lot of credence in anecdotes, which comprise the book entirely. After a while, an argument that illustrates each point with an amusing story starts to feel like answering questions with questions. Especially since his point near the end seemed like the opposite of the one he was trying to make in the beginning. But it only took a couple of hours to read, so I mean, if you're bored....more
The funniest novel I've ever read. Truly ingenious. Totally changed the way I think about funny in books. I fully subscribe to the narrator's view thaThe funniest novel I've ever read. Truly ingenious. Totally changed the way I think about funny in books. I fully subscribe to the narrator's view that nice things are nicer than nasty ones....more
[This review concerns only The Turn of the Screw; I haven't read The Aspern Papers yet.]
Ok, in order to wrap my mind around this book somewhat, I had[This review concerns only The Turn of the Screw; I haven't read The Aspern Papers yet.]
Ok, in order to wrap my mind around this book somewhat, I had to read almost as much material about it as was in it. But now, benefitted by Wikipedia's abbreviated summary of critical responses, by an pertinent excerpt from The Rhetoric of Fiction, and by an extensive 1971 queer-lit-crit interpretation I found online, I can say confidently that The Turn of the Screw is ingenious. It's remarkable how much discussion the little novella has generated - though less remarkable in light of its many ambiguities. I am no literary theorist, which gives me the freedom to marvel that so many interpretations stand up well to the text; James really left it open-ended (though I suppose if that was not by design, it technically points to some authorial failure. But I'd rather avoid such a dreary viewpoint).
Regardless of critical debate, there is no arguing that the work contains a tremendous number of themes - Christianity, exorcism, paganism, sexuality, repression (hi, it's Henry James), pathology, even imperialism by one account - a tall order for a hundred-page "ghost story."
Nonetheless, I can't say I "loved" this novella; James may have been a literary genius, but he's not fun or lovable. Top marks for excellence; medium marks for enjoyability....more