Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hell is empty: A review of Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera on the financial crisis

There are lots of books on the financial crisis and some are very good.  Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera have entered a crowded market - but they have done what nobody else has yet done.  They have produced a book (All the Devils are Here) in which I have yet to find a single factual error.  And they have produced a book which did not start with an ideologically driven conclusion.   This is a big achievement making this book - above others - worthy of your time.

Just to make it more joyous though they have made a book that looks like it was effortless to write and it is a fun read.  The book is thought provoking not because it badgers you but because the story is laid out with nuance - all the devils, ranging from naivety to delusion to criminality are present within realistic characters sketches of many of the key players.  This was a human crisis with human causes - not a whirlwind caused by some deity.

If I have a criticism it is that the book is too narrow.  The bond insurers are barely mentioned.  (Ambac and MBIA are names that do not appear in the index.)  The crisis is placed in an American context - and it was a global crisis.  (At a minimum it was a North Atlantic crisis.)  The role of the British banks (huge players) was not explored.  You could read this book and not have an inkling of the crisis now engulfing Ireland.  That is a tough criticism though - because if the book were broadened to that it would have either been 800 pages or lost the depth of character displayed.

But my guess is that if someone wrote that book they would find all the devils of the American crisis lurking in the European crisis.  Hell may well be empty.  Human failings are found amongst the living.  All the devils would be there too!


David Merkel said...

I'm reading it now, and I think you are right. Two good investigative journalists, and no bias that I can see.

Thanks, John.

polit2k said...

Succinct review. Why do Amazon charge hugely more for their Kindle edition than even the hardcover version of All the Devils Are Here? $23.14 v. $17.50 is too much of a premium for instant gratification for me. Amazon prices seem to be getting much less competitive in general of late.

CV said...

Buying it as I type... good old paper version. I am still holding back on getting the Kindle. Is that a mistake?


Anonymous said...

hmm, just checked and the kindle one was at $16.99, maybe someone noticed.

Anonymous said...

There is a lot of traffic on amazon about the e-book pricing being $7 more than the hardback. Is this a new trend, or just a way to snaffle some early hardback orders?

Matt Hill said...

Here's an article with more info on this. Here in the US, the Kindle price is cheaper than the hardcover.

polit2k said...

More on Amazon pricing via Slate.

Every Day's a Tax Holiday
How undersells Best Buy, the Apple store, and almost everybody else.

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