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Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  2,229 ratings  ·  300 reviews
We are, to use a technical economic term, screwed. The cowboy capitalists had a party with everyone's money and now we're all paying for it. What went wrong? And will we learn our lesson - or just carry on as before, like celebrating surviving a heart attack with a packet of Rothmans?

If you want to know, but are the sort of person who finds it hard to tell the difference b
Paperback, 256 pages
Published October 7th 2010 by Penguin (first published December 14th 2009)
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Start your review of Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay
This brilliant, scary little book is the first account I've seen of the credit crunch which truly made sense. I read it in a day, and, if you're at all interested in politics, economics or current affairs, I can't recommend it too highly. Lanchester is an acclaimed novelist, which shows in the witty and stylish writing; here, he also proves that he's a great investigative journalist.

The credit crunch was a first-magnitude disaster, and at several points I found myself comparing Whoops! to the m
Jan 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dismal-science
One of the few times George W. Bush ever rose to quotability came during the 2008 credit crunch, when he was heard to mutter darkly: "This sucker could go down." He wasn’t talking about the US banking system; he was talking about civilization as we know it. That’s how close we were to the abyss. Another few days and you’d have seen armed mobs looting 7-Eleven’s and Viggo Mortensen trudging down the Road.

Some day, decades from now, someone’s going to write the definitive history of the financial
Jan 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Trevor by: Manny
I had very high expectations of this book, and how could I not have, given that both Manny and David were so full of praise for it? The best thing about this site is that hearing praise from certain people on certain topics can really mean the book is going to be beyond worthwhile. David, for example, is a statistics person and Manny some sort of maths God, so if this book is praised by one of them it is probably worth reading, by both and it is probably essential reading. And they both understa ...more
I'd been putting off thinking about the economic meltdown. It just seemed like a surefire trigger for righteous indignation. Helpless, righteous indignation. And what good is that - it's the stuff that heart attacks are made of (note: not ulcers - they come from bacteria) - feeling angry about stuff you have no control over just leaves you out there on the heath, shaking your fist at the uncaring deities above.

Well, actually, it turns out that the exercise can be quite cathartic. John Lancheste
Paul Bryant
Aug 26, 2010 marked it as probably-never  ·  review of another edition

FROM Dr.Manu Kala.
The Head of File and Auditing Department,
Ouagadougou Burkina-Faso ( West Africa )



My dearest Sir

This message might meet you in utmost surprise, however, it will be my Urgent need for foreign partner that made me to contact you for this transaction I am banker by profession from Burkina Faso in West Africa and currently holding the post of director Auditing and accounting unit
Sheryl Tribble
May 24, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
John Lanchester has been reading the wrong economists. I knew that would be the case early on, because he clearly does not understand what laissez faire capitalism is and interprets it to mean being in favor of deregulation. But laissez faire essentially means "let it be" or "leave it alone," meaning the government should not meddle in the markets. Since Lanchester understands laissez faire capitalism to mean "in favor of deregulation," he thinks capitalism has failed, even though he shows, agai ...more
Rosie Brocklehurst
I have read four books recently on the credit crunch with the desire to understand better what went wrong, why and who is to blame, and to marshall my own arguments. These books were Gillian Tett's 'Fools' Gold', Ha Joon Chang's '23 things they don't tell you about Capitalism',Michael Lewis's 'The Big Short', and this, John Lanchester's 'Whoops'. Lanchester's is the best of this group. I had been reading Lanchester in the London Review of Books in 2007 and 2008 when he wrote about the early stag ...more
Clif Hostetler
From time to time I like to read about the recent financial collapse in an effort to try to understand what happened. This book is written by an author who normally writes novels, so he knows how to explain things very simply. In the early part of the book it was so simple that I thought it might insult my intelligence. But my mind got stretched soon enough. He used simple fictional examples to try to illustrate how each new financial instrument worked. I think I almost understand now what deriv ...more
Todd N
Jan 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finance, kindle
I really enjoyed this book about the financial crisis by a UK novelist. This isn't a typical journo tick-tock hack jobs that are littering book store windows these days. Mr Lanchester -- a fancy-pants writer who writes for New York Review Of Books and London Review Of Books -- writes with humor and clarity, two traits needed for a subject like this.

The book begins by putting the financial crisis in historical context. (Most financial books take a Battlestar Galactica approach to crashes: All thi
Jan 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lena by: Trevor
Shelves: non-fiction
If you're looking for a good story, a novelist is not a bad person to turn to. At its core, after all, the financial crisis is a really good story - one full of high hopes and big dreams, smart innovations and even smarter deceptions, big egos and fatal flaws. It has all the makings of a classic tragedy, in fact, one whose consequences, unfortunately, are far more real than fiction.

John Lanchester is by trade a novelist rather than a financier, and he brings his full bag of tricks to bear on the
Dec 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
Here is a book that makes clear to even a mathematical dunce , moi, the pickle into which our country has managed to get itself. John Lanchester is a journalist, so he struggled with understanding the financial shenanigans played out over the last several decades and has lucidly laid it all bare for the ordinary reader to understand. He is British, so he covers the Anglo-Saxon world, mostly Britain and the USA, with some references to Canada. (Canada , by the way, is the only western country tha ...more
How can I resist a book about economics that begins with a quotation from David St. Hubbins? There is, after all, such a fine line between stupid and clever.

This book has the best summary of Enron that I have ever read: "Basically, it bought things from itself at made-up prices."

I learned the word WIMBLEDONIZATION, which is the way British people express their frustration at the way the City of London (the British equivalent of Wall Street) is now: a British institution in which all the major pl
Darran Mclaughlin
Superb. I finished this book with a far clearer understanding of the events and culture that lead to the economic crash of 2008, and a general feeling of simmering fury. I would introduce this book as a set text in schools because as Lanchester makes clear, there is an enormous gulf in understanding of how finance and economics works between the people in the industry and the new laity. This lack of understanding is partly what has allowed the financial services sector to take over the western w ...more
Pedro L. Fragoso
This book is an amazingly, almost unbelievably good primer for the crisis and the current financial system predicaments. It should be rightly titled “What’s Wrong With the World”, as it explains this as nothing else in the market (at least, that I’ve read, and I’ve read much already…) This is the definitive account to be read in the first place, even for people that understand the facts, as it contextualizes all the fundamentals, gives a historic perspective that’s interesting and relevant, and ...more
A comprehensive Great Recession review. Communism collapsed as an economic system more or less in 1989 after seventy or so mostly dysfunctional years. Did capitalism outlast it only by another two decades? This intriguing argument is put forward by Lanchester unfortunately only very late in this book. Leading up to it is a fairly yeoman round-up with UK accented authority of what active business readers already know from dozens of Wall Street Journal articles and hours of CNBC.

Lanchester fills

Apr 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: non-fiction
Posted on my book blog.

Like a lot of people in the world today, I've been struggling for a while to truly understand just how things got to be the way they are right now. Even with everyone and their uncle talking about the crisis, most of what is said concentrates on throwing accusations to one another, and I've missed seeing a systematic, organized account of what went on.

I admit, I'm not the most economically savvy person - my education has been focused primarily in the natural sciences and
Oct 01, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The problem with enough

[Through my ratings, reviews and edits I'm providing intellectual property and labor to Inc., listed on Nasdaq, which fully owns and in 2013 posted revenues for $74 billion and $274 million profits. Intellectual property and labor require compensation. Inc. is also requested to provide assurance that its employees and contractors' work conditions meet the highest health and safety standards at all the company's sites].

Populist and coa
Paul  Perry
This is simply one of the most frightening books I have ever read. Lanchester sets out the causes of the current economic recession following the 'credit crunch' with a power and clarity that is superb - he manages to explain the culture of finance, the novel financial products and the relationships between the financial institutions and governments in a way which is understandable and memorable. The dominance of 'city culture', the drive for ever increasing profits, the belief in economic model ...more
Feb 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Part breezy primer on what exactly "banking" means these days (never will you be more entertained by a definitions of derivatives); part vivid, step-by-step analysis of how said bankers and their enablers in government have nearly destroyed the world's economy these past ten years or so, and ruined so many lives of just regular non-banker people... with virtually NO PENALTY OR CONSEQUENCES; part measured attack on the culture of greed and asshole-ness, and how the Anglo-Saxon version of capitali ...more
Apr 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
An impressive and also damning look at the so called 'Developed' World's financial institutions; as Lanchester sketches out easy to understand definitions and explanations of sub prime markets, derivatives, bonds, CDPs, un-regulation etc etc. In addition he details the decision of the last century that led the financial markets to where they are today, he details the Credit Crunch and the ensuing recession etc etc. This book is a fantastic overview of the financial markets, where they went wrong ...more
May 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finance
If Goodreads allowed readers to award a book 6 stars, that's what I would give I.O.U. Without a doubt it is one of the best, and one of the most significant, books I have read in a long time. It should be required reading of every college student or, better yet, of everyone who votes. ...more
Doris Raines
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is 2012 and the United States will soon be forced to choose whether a Republican or a Democrat should run America. Although many journalists focus on what should be done to fix the financial crisis, after reading John Lanchester's I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay I would like to see journalists ask the candidates what caused the financial collapse.

Lanchester points to four primary causes: a culture, a problem, a mistake, and a failure.

The problem was the subprime mortgage
David Rush
It started when a coworker decided to explain to me that the 2008 - 2009 financial crisis featured in The Big Short was really caused by self serving politicians forcing poor bankers to give undeserving poor people loans...he really said “forced”. I softly tried to disagree as I tried to dredge up what I remembered from reading The Big Short a few years ago.

Anyway I ended up reading this book to help me understand it. I think it did a good job of giving a reasonable explanation of the particula
Jul 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ben Dutton
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In 2012 John Lanchester published his novel, Capital, which in part dealt with the economic crisis of 2008 to (ongoing). The novel had been developed partly through his research into, and writing for newspapers about, the economic crisis. These other works formed a small book about the crash, Whoops!: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay that came out in 2010. This small volume had great reviews when it appeared, and as time has gone on, many have said it is the best book about what hap ...more
Nov 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business, non-fiction
Entitled Whoops! in the UK, this is one of the best overviews of the financial crisis I have read, largely because it assumes you know nothing about things like derivatives, arbitrage and futures, and thus explains them in a straightforward non-technical way. We are not all mathematicians or game theorists, thankfully, but we'd like to slag off and feel more streetwise than those who are, and this book kind of hints you might have a chance at it. Some nice and simple ideas are put forward, like ...more
Apr 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Instead of writing a review, I'll quote a few of the many great passages:

"You have to ask yourself how intelligent people could ever have come to persuade themselves [that the housing market would never go down:]. I'm only forty-seven, but this is the second time in my adult lifetime--the second time in my lifetime as a mortgage paying property owner--that property prices have fallen more than 20 percent. It seems willful and bizarre and well over the fine line between clever and stupid for enti
Simon Wood
Sep 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Once the hype of the current election fades into memory, whichever parcel of rouges wins sufficient seats in Parliament to lord it over us for the next four or five years is going to have their victory somewhat soured by the parlous state of the nations finances. Cuts of around twenty percent in public spending are being touted for the next few years, and beyond the effect of these cuts on a whole range of public services, this will also precipitate an unprecedented f
Justin Evans
Dec 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-etc
I read this because of Lanchester's essays in the LRB, which were well written, funny and clear-headed; the book's the same. I think I may actually now know what a collateralized debt obligation is. It's particularly useful for big-picture stuff. He traces and explains the financial instruments, and the mathematical research behind them, that reduced/massively increased the instability of the financial system; he traces the attitudes to home-ownership that increased demand for home loans while s ...more
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John Lanchester is the author of four novels and three books of non-fiction. He was born in Germany and moved to Hong Kong. He studied in UK. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker and was awarded the 2008 E.M. Forster Award. He lives in London.

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