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Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth
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Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  1,977 ratings  ·  313 reviews
Collected here, the Massey Lectures from legendary novelist Margaret Atwood investigate the highly topical subject of debt. She doesn’t talk about high finance or managing money; instead, she goes far deeper to explore debt as an ancient and central motif in religion, literature, and the structure of human societies. By looking at how debt has informed our thinking from pr ...more
Paperback, 230 pages
Published 2008 by Anansi (first published March 15th 2007)
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3.73  · 
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 ·  1,977 ratings  ·  313 reviews

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Nov 09, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: two-stars-books

2 "upper-middle class, pseudo left wing and bullshit" stars.

Ms. Atwood has written some of my favorite books, namely "Alias Grace" and "Oryx and Crake". She is very talented in some of her fiction but she really missed the mark (unless you are part of the well heeled but not too well heeled bureaucrats, academics and professionals that run downtown Toronto and feel that only their voices have truth), in this book based on a series of lectures she did some years back.

Indirectly she insults some o
The God of Cosmic Debt

Payback is a literary anthropology, not of the concept or practice of debt but of the relationship between debtor and creditor from ancient Greece to modern Europe and North America. Consequently, it will have little interest to economists or lawyers or ethicists to the extent that any of these is looking for evidence or exposition of a theory of debt. The facts Atwood presents are attitudes and judgements found almost exclusively in fictional writing. On the face of it, th
Shonna Froebel
Nov 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian
This book has been billed as a look at the literary side of debt, but it is much more than that. It does indeed look at how debt has appeared in literature, including both financial debt and social debt, but it also looks at the history and meaning of debt itself. Atwood talks repeatedly about the balance that is a natural part of debt: for every debtor a creditor. She talks about historical practices around debt forgiveness and what that meant to society. She talks about the debt we owe the env ...more
Jan 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is titled "Payback and the Shadow Side of Wealth." It does deal with financial debt, but also the larger concept of dept, balance, and fairness. Margaret Atwood is enjoyable smart and witty. I enjoyed this book! There were many memorable quotes. A put a couple of my favorites (so I can find them later)

"The trickle-down theory of economics has it that it's good for rich people to get even richer because some of their wealth will trickle own, through their no doubt lavish spending, upon
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(Original review date: 10 August 2013)

The whole world is swimming in debt, and by that I don't just mean a lot of us are up to our eyeballs in overdue bills. I mean that the concept of debt - of being in hock, of owing something to someone, of carrying a balance that will soon come due - is a construct that permeates our social environment, and has done so throughout recorded history. The idea of debt is central not only to our financial lives, but to our relationships with others, the metaphors
As President Obama signs the 800 billion dollar stimulus package today, and our national debt balloons to a 53-year high of 10 trillion dollars, lots of us have debt on our minds. Most of us are simply focusing on how to pay our credit card bills, but Margaret Atwood takes on debt from evolutionary, spiritual, and literary standpoints.

She starts the book by explaining how reciprocity is the underlying structure of most human and primate relations. We are willing to give and share, as long as we
Carolyn Lane
Jun 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Note: This Review was written in 2010 – but Atwood’s writing is even more relevant now when you consider the rise of the Occupy movement and the near-revolutionary activity in Greece, Spain and Portugal.

I like to imagine that baby Margaret Atwood’s first word was not “Mama” or “Dada”, but “Why?”
When novelist Atwood focuses her curiosity on our personal and societal relationship with debt she shifts the discussion into quite a different realm from the normal commentary on the financial crisis.

Stephen Durrant
Apr 08, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book could hardly be more timely nor from the hand of a better writer. No, this is not fiction, at least not for the most part, but a study of debt. Margaret Atwood begins her book by considering the idea of fairness, upon which so much loaning and paying back are based. She then considers the connection between debt and sin, pointing out, among other things the variance in the Lord's Prayer between "forgive us our debts" and "forgive us our trespasses." Atwood goes on to argue that debt is ...more
May 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an extraordinary book. I am incredibly impressed at the variety of literary and scientific sources combined with multiple storytelling methods that Atwood uses. A Christmas Carol has always been one of my favorite books. It has been parodied a thousand times, I think, but Atwood's suggestion of the debt owed to Mother Earth and the hilarious Cockroach Future Trader Ghost was brilliant.
Oct 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Exellent. Classic Atwood humour and detail. Interesting/curious history of the debt issue. Wry. Predicted, to some degree, the fall presently happening. Definitely worth reading. Small book.
Dec 21, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1-kindle
Margaret Atwood is the kind of writer who makes me want to read more - not just more of her own writing, though certainly I intend to eventually read all she's written, but she also makes me want to read everything there is out there. Her breadth of knowledge and acquaintance with other texts is always astounding. In addition to writing incredible books, I'll never forget her wonderful sense of humour and fascinating talks - living in Edinburgh was a treat for a bookworm like me.

"Payback: Debt a
Juliet Wilson
May 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is a brilliant book from Margaret Atwood (who is my favourite poet, despite her being better known as a novelist). This book however is neither poetry nor fiction but a considered, thought provoking and enlightening look at debt. It looks at the idea of debt and how it has informed politics, the justice system and literature through history. Atwood looks at word origins and the origins of debt awareness, showing that other primates are aware of debt. She also looks at how potent a theme deb ...more
Althea Ann
Aug 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Look! I read a non-fiction book!
Yes, I usually read fiction books, and non-fiction in magazine or journal articles. Ironically, this non-fiction book (which I liked very much) reminded me why. Most non-fiction is just not written in a style that encourages long-form reading. Atwood is an exception – probably correlated with her being a consummate fiction writer.

The writing here is engaging and consistently interesting. It’s almost like sitting down to dinner with a chatty Atwood, as she digresse
Sep 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Imagine how Margaret Atwood might sound if you asked her to deliver a few lectures on the topic of debt and its role in history and literature. Everything you might imagine is right here--her humor, her insight, her far-ranging taste. And most importantly, the lovely connections that she can draw to make us all feel like we're in it together.

Exquisite, but didactic. Pick it up if you're looking for a short read that teaches you something. This is one of those weird books where MONTHS later, I a
Thurston Hunger
I enjoyed this book at the outset, it felt like a chance to listen in on an author wool-gathering facts for spinning fiction. And the idea of debts/trespasses caught my post-Cathoholic ear, apparently as it did an ear at the Economist, since I saw Atwoord's comments referenced there.

It seems like debt used to be a more isolated misfortune, as opposed to a mandated one. And step aside mortgages, here come school loans! That's what drew me to the book (and Atwood's prose prowess), as hinted at by
Mar 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting and witty look of how the concept of "fairness" is intigrated into out beings. Also of how the role of a Debtor and Lender change over time, as seen through Literature and Life events.
Philip Athans
Aug 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Find my full-throated recommendation of this book at:
Brian Tucker
Dec 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It doesn't matter what Atwood writes...I'll read it.
Anna Bunce
Jun 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book made me wish Margaret Atwood would write more non-fiction. It is EXCELLENT.
Apr 14, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Margaret Atwood is winner of multiple prestigious awards in literature and author of more than thirty-five bestselling books. She approaches the moral root of debt in her book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, published in October 2008. Without further knowledge as to what the book would discuss, I first assumed the book was written with the purpose to help someone out of financial instability and discuss ways to better manage your personal debt (literally judging the book by its cove ...more
Susan Albert
Jul 27, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Margaret Atwood's Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth arrived at the end of 2008--an opportune time, when families were watching jobs and mortgages implode, corporations and communities running out of credit, and the global economic system undergoing a meltdown, all because of debt. It was, truly, payback time.

And even though the Credit Crash of 2008 is history, its effects linger on--and for some people, have become magnified. Readers will have that ongoing dramatic scenario fresh in th
Christina Boyle
Margaret Atwood is a critically acclaimed author and this book is simply mostly a transcript of a researched lecture she delivered on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. It's incredibly interesting but also incredibly wide ranging and little too much to process. (Sorry! My personal opinion)

She spent quite a bit of time on the degree to which literature obsesses on balancing debt and soul. If you examine this concept against a backdrop of Christianity, you see two goal post lines: god / godliness and
Aug 01, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written in a short form as part of annual Massey lectures, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth could be considered a very useful survey of all the literary, religious and societal representation of debt throughout history. Margaret Atwood, benefiting from the beautiful writing prose of a big author, tells many stories of debt, starting from the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians, and connecting it with modern day, by even giving herself as an example to show how she learned the value of m ...more
Nicolette Hawkins
The book is laid out plain and simple for the reader, though there would be some confusion for a person who is not well read. A weakness in this book is that she assumes everyone reading it is going to be well-cultured. For the average college student there will be some things that have to be researched in order to grasp the full concept of what she is saying through her stories. Her tone is amusing and witty, it’s not impossible to make the book entertaining and educational to read. She wrote t ...more
EXCELLENT. Margaret Atwood trained as an anthropologist (I think) and her education comes through in this short and very readable treatise of sorts. I noticed my copy was due back in the library in two days, and I only wish I'd had more time to digest it. She divides her book into 5 chapters: Ancient Balances (the Egyptians, the Greeks and Romans, on debt); Debt and Sin (debt and its religious force and significance - did you know that debt and sin are the same word in Aramaic?); Debt as Plot (s ...more
I cannot rate it, because I could not finish it. I was interested in the topic, but her writing was beyond me. I passed the book along to my 23yr old son. Maybe he can explain it to me. ;)
Stephen Wong
Aug 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Debt as Plot" was the most useful chapter for me.

The book is also my first reading of Margaret Atwood, fiction or non-fiction. I believe she succeeded in digging for the instauration stories, the venal and the redeeming, while telling its story for our ears. Somehow it invites re-reading familiar stories through the prism of debt; as well it points to the creation of stories that will balance the recent preponderance of debt in all its forms with some paying up or paying back.

I would think Jacq
Oct 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: multiple-reads
This is an excellent book! The breadth of thought and history and myth and language and the Bible and literature and thought that is brought to light in the examination of debt is delightful. As I suspected when I first read it, there is too much to be absorbed properly with just one read. And now that I have just finished my 2nd read I was correct: it is far better the second time through.

I was fascinated by how the role of sinner has been applied at one time or another to both the debtor and t
Nov 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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Mar 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant book. It is a subjective 5 star for me as I had read most of the referred books. The "amazing" , rather than just "really likeing", part for me that leaves me with such respect for her is that she pulled out patterns that I missed.

I also like her outlook on debt and the environment (especially birds) is very much in line with my the person I tried to be before getting sucked into the world of personal debt and mineral and energy exploitation.

The book consists of 5 chapters that are cl
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Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master's degree from Radcliffe College.

Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, childr
“The trickle-down theory of economics has it that it's good for rich people to get even richer because some of their wealth will trickle own, through their no doubt lavish spending, upon those who stand below them on the economic ladder. Notice that the metaphor is not that of a gushing waterfall but of a leaking tap: even the most optimistic endorsers of this concept do not picture very much real flow, as their language reveals" pg. 102.” 32 likes
“Nature is an expert in cost-benefit analysis,' she says. 'Although she does her accounting a little differently. As for debts, she always collects in the long run...” 20 likes
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