This Week in the Mercury

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Talking Pop with Chvrches' Lauren Mayberry

Of Buffy, Goonies, and a Kick-Ass Sophomore Album

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Crisis Averted?

Posted by Jacob Schraer on Sun, Mar 28, 2010 at 12:10 PM

Everyone's talking about health care lately, but I'm guessing soon enough the news will be back to the financial crisis, the great existential crisis of the generation. And while we all live with the effects every day, the roots of it are still murky and complicated. We all know the basic details, a deregulated finance industry handed out millions in high risk loans, repackaged them as exotic investments, sold them, insured them, and collected billions from the government when the whole thing collapsed around their ears. And now people can't stop writing about it! You can whet your outrage in several different species of book.

First there's the Insider Account. featuring Henry Paulson's On the Brink. Not quite a work of self-aggrandizement but definitely a defense of his actions, Paulson served as Treasury Secretary under George W. Bush and was the chief architect of the bank bailout that people seem to think was Obama's brainchild. I read a great excerpt in the Wall Street Journal but it's now hidden behind a paywall so you can check this slightly less interesting excerpt at ABC news.

Scott Patterson helps us play the Blame Game with his book, The Quants. In it, he examines the physicists and mathematicians who created complex equations which, left to their own devices, allowed Wall Street companies to make obscene profits through techniques that executives didn't even understand. It's a frightening, fascinating account of our world's financial health being put in the clutches of computers. He had a good interview on The Daily Show, in spite of Jon Stewart talking over him most of the time.

In his element is Michael Lewis, whose canon shows that he's been waiting for this moment all along. Chronicling Wall Street excesses and culture since the 80's, his new book, The Big Short, focuses on investors and hedge fund managers who foresaw the crisis and, in essence, bet against the spread and made millions. If you like the sound of that you can trace his work on Wall Street backwards through Liar's Poker. And that doesn't even include his great book on baseball.

And of course the world of fiction is beginning to get in on the age. Notable books include Adam Haslett's very well received Union Atlantic which focuses on a detached financier. For the working stiff side of things check out The Ask by Sam Lipsyte, always a wonderful and antisocial writer. Or there's The Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter, which imagines a writer trying desperately to make money.


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