Mar 27, 12
Read in March, 2012
Bought this real, physical book in a fit of pique when I couldn't connect to the Internet at the Austin airport. I finished it just as we were taxiing to the gate at SFO.
This is a collection of essays, some of which were published before, about the part played in the European financial crisis by Iceland, Greece, Ireland, and Germany.
It ends with a portentous chapter on how a similar crisis in the US is being pushed down the state level, which in turn are pushing it down to the municipal level. The municipalities examined are San Jose and Vallejo, both towns in the San Francisco Bay Area. I had already read this about six months before in Vanity Fair. If you aren't going to read this book, then at least find that chapter on-line (title: "California and Bust") It's great and scary, right up to the inappropriately and suddenly optimistic last paragraph.
In the European chapters, Mr. Lewis tries to identify the nation character by their behavior before the bubble burst. In essence he asks, "How did this country behave when left alone with a big pile of money when no one was looking?"
Iceland: They turned from alpha fishermen into alpha finance men.
Greece: They threw a big party and gave each other too much money, blaming everyone but themselves when it was over.
Ireland: They bought houses in Ireland.
Germans: They stayed clean on the outside but filthy on the inside, which Mr. Lewis convincingly claims has always been their true national character.
Then we turn to San Jose, which in a few years will only exist to process pension claims for the people who used to work there. They managed to build a youth center, but they can't afford to staff it. So they closed it. The police union helpfully suggested that they could close the libraries more days per week and hire more cops or give the existing ones raises.
Last comes sad, old bankrupt Vallejo, where the office manager has to lock the front door when she goes to the bathroom because there is no one else there besides her and the city manager. By this time we are thinking that the guy from the introduction who bought a million dollars in nickels and a bunch of semi-automatic weapons maybe isn't so crazy after all.
It's not the best Michael Lewis book out, but even slightly recycled Lewis is better written and more interesting than anything else you are likely to find at an airport these days.