Read Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis Online


The tsunami of cheap credit that rolled across the planet between 2002 and 2008 was more than a simple financial phenomenon: it was temptation, offering entire societies the chance to reveal aspects of their characters they could not normally afford to indulge.Icelanders wanted to stop fishing and become investment bankers. The Greeks wanted to turn their country into a piThe tsunami of cheap credit that rolled across the planet between 2002 and 2008 was more than a simple financial phenomenon: it was temptation, offering entire societies the chance to reveal aspects of their characters they could not normally afford to indulge.Icelanders wanted to stop fishing and become investment bankers. The Greeks wanted to turn their country into a pinata stuffed with cash and allow as many citizens as possible to take a whack at it. The Germans wanted to be even more German; the Irish wanted to stop being Irish.Michael Lewis's investigation of bubbles beyond our shores is so brilliantly, sadly hilarious that it leads the American reader to a comfortable complacency: oh, those foolish foreigners. But when he turns a merciless eye on California and Washington, DC, we see that the narrative is a trap baited with humor, and we understand the reckoning that awaits the greatest and greediest of debtor nations....

Title : Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World
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ISBN : 9780393343441
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 218 Pages
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Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World Reviews

  • Will Byrnes
    2019-04-05 21:59

    UPDATED - July 28, 2013 - at bottomChecking in with the whiz kids who predicted the Wall Street crash that he wrote about in The Big Short, his excellent look at the latest Wall Street meltdown, Michael Lewis finds that the next big bust will be on the nation-state scale. His construct for analyzing how nations deal with the economic environment of the 21st century is to imagine each of these countries in a dark room in which piles of money were dumped, the easy credit available in the first chunk of the 21st century. What would the different countries do, based on presumed national characteristics?The answer, obviously, varies from nation to nation. In the case of Ireland they used the money to buy up property, Irish property, and sold it to each other for increasing prices, generating a nifty real estate bubble that eventually burst. In Greece they used their largesse to continue what, in Lewis’s description, seems like a corrupt, kleptocratic society in which the national cookie jar needed a much larger mouth to accommodate all the hands that were yanking out the koulourakia. Lewis looks at Iceland, Germany and the USA as well, each offering its own response to the sudden availability of great gobs of cash. His national portraits are very interesting, and at times amusing. It does seem a simplistic way to judge the behavior of entire nations though. Particularly when the problems that resulted were created, for the most part, not by working men and women, but financial high fliers, gambling with other people’s money. Perhaps a view of that smaller group might have been more illuminating. OK, so suspend disbelief for a bit and go along for the ride. What Lewis finds is disturbing. It is only a matter of time before nations begin defaulting on their national debts. The likely result of such a failure would be a ratcheting up of interest rates in the defaulting nation, which would impair the nation’s ability to pay off the initial debt as investment would grind to a halt, reducing the government’s ability to cover its costs, thus increasing its need for debt, and so on in a lovely death spiral. In the USA there is a very specific way in which the debt crisis will find its way into your life and mine. That was, for me, the most interesting piece of the book. That Lewis got to hang with Ah-nold makes for a fun read, but his analysis is where the real beefcake is. How did all this come to be? There are several reasons for this international debacle, but much of it comes down to simple greed. It may be comforting to know that the USA still exports something, even if it is a form of corruption. For example, that bastion of righteousness, Goldman-Sachs, or as Matt Taibbi prefers to call it, the Vampire Squid, did the Greek government the favor, for a stunning fee, of offering advice on how to lie to the European Community about the state of their economic affairs. In a larger view, Wall Street monetization of assets, toxic and otherwise, took the western world by storm. Perfect. Not only are American companies drowning in lie-based securities, now investors and nations across the world are able to go glug-glug in the same waters. And in most cases, financial institutions (think AIG and Wall Street investment houses), and banks, private, public, or some combination, manage to externalize their debt, their greed and stupidity onto the national taxpayer and somehow keep themselves afloat. Thus working people in Ireland are being soaked to pay back loans made by German banks, among others, caught up in the mindless feeding frenzy. Why should the taxpayers of Ireland be stuck with that bill? American taxpayers have been hit with hundreds of billions of dollars in cost to prop up corrupt financial predators, while the hyenas continue to treat themselves to astounding salaries, bonuses and stock options. Similar externalizations of cost have become standard operating practice, as governments step in to keep afloat too-big-to-fail corporate entities, often under the guise of keeping nations above water. A significant point is made here about the fuzzing of the line between public and private indebtedness. As governments trend towards privatizing public assets they are increasingly on the hook for private debt, by guaranteeing private loans, or buying toxic assets. One result is a gross understatement of how much debt governments are truly responsible for, since not all the indebtedness shows up on the public ledgers. The numbers are staggering, and frightening. Big changes are needed, but all Lewis offers at the end is a feeble optimism that we (in the USA) will figure something out. Boomerang is a fascinating read, rich with information, range and insight. It could have used a bit more analysis, and seems to refer to, without naming, a significant current trend, namely that governments are becoming little more than mechanisms through which private corporations can shift their indebtedness and failure onto the backs of taxpayers while keeping their profits nicely private. There is plenty of personal responsibility to go around. Yes, there are people who have taken on more debt than they can manage, bought more house than they could afford, but as often as not, they were misled when applying for their mortgages. (A subject that seems outside the purview of this book is that in the face of skyrocketing prices for medical care, housing, and energy, among other things, millions of people have taken on more and more debt, not to live large, but merely to be able to pay their bills) But the major culprits here are not middle class people trying to achieve or sustain a decent standard of living. Lewis, on the other hand, sees much greater responsibility lying with middle class folks, in tandem with big speculators.The answer to so much of this is simple and clear. More fairness in our tax structure and regulation of our financial system that takes account of the street’s ability to go out of its way to create unregulated products and corporate entities. In the United States the wealthy began kicking up the rate at which they were looting the nation in 1980. It has only gotten worse in the years since. How about we start by returning, more or less, to the tax rates extant before the Reaganauts took power? Even if we forget about trying to get back the money the rich stole from the rest of us since then, the increased fairness of the tax burden would make a huge difference in government’s ability to cover costs, including the cost of interest on the national debt that the looters incurred, and saddled us with, in order to feed their greed. How about the long-hairs at the top taking a haircut instead of them continually trying to trim the newly-bald middle class and making the lives of the poor even more intolerable.A whole new financial economy has come into existence in the last few decades. And those making big bucks from it have paid off our legislators to keep those areas away from government regulation. It is the absence of such regulation that has allowed the madness to go on. Clearly there are more than just banks involved in the world of finance these days, and the regulators (and also the legislators that provide the laws that regulators enforce, or somehow manage not to) need to get serious about keeping up with the latest attempts to evade scrutiny. It might be nice if the financial regulatory agencies were run by people other than former Wall Street CEOs or their fellow travellers. And it is beyond ironic, into the level of evil, that those who push laws limiting government’s ability to raise revenue, and who rail against the horrors of regulation, are the very ones who gripe about the ineffectiveness of the governments they choose to starve.Lewis doesn’t venture into such territory, but he does successfully give us a big-picture inkling of what lies ahead. As with civilization, the Greeks led the way. Will the rest of the world, the Western world anyway, follow in their steps?==============================EXTRA STUFFI would heartily recommend for any who have not yet read it, Naomi Klein’s great book, The Shock Doctrine. What is happening in Europe will make much more sense after you read that.Confessions of an Economic Hit Man , by John Perkins, details how international debt is consciously used as a way of virtually enslaving entire countries.Another outstanding analytical book is Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia, which looks closely at more domestic economic abominationsGary Rivlin’s Broke USAshows how predatory lending practices affect our lives here at home. November 9, 2011 - New York Times article: Crisis in Italy Deepens, as Bond Yields Hit Record HighsJanuary 18, 2012 - a Nation of Change article that looks into banks hoarding cheap public subsidy money while governments face increasing costs as a result of supporting private financial entities - Bailouts + Downgrades = Austerity and PainJanuary 24, 2012 - Krugman on what is happening in Greece vis a vis German push for reducing the public sphere - Rooted in Politics, Austerity Worsens the Greek TragedyFebruary 18, 2012 - a NY Times article offering a harbinger of things to come - Budget Woes Prompt Erosion of Public Jobs, With a Heavy Toll in Silicon ValleyApril 19, 2012 - TARP on steroids for the EEU furthers the demise of democracy - The European Stabilization Mechanism, Or How the Goldman Vampire Squid Just Captured EuropeMay 17, 2012 - Relating to how Lewis sees local government as a major point at which austerity-driven service cutbacks and worse will be inflicted on regular folks, here is a Barbara Ehrenreich article on how local governments and the private sector are squeezing the poor. Dickens would find 21st Century America far too familiar.June 18, 2012 - Joe Nocera's NY Times column on how ALEC-based programs are gutting democracy in Rhode IslandJuly 18, 2012 - What a Republican America looks likeJuly 28, 2013 - Tana French piece in the NY Times re actions and consquences in Ireland The Psychology of an Irish Meltdown

  • Perry
    2019-04-17 22:48

    European Economies Collapse Under Collective Weight of Icelandic Elves, German Scheiße, Self-Hating Greeks, Suspicious IrishEnlightening (and Entertaining) Background from 2012 on Topics underlying Brexit and FrancofuirLolleepðpp Guild, Controlling Significant Portion of Iceland's EconomyI've been entertained and enlightened by every Michael Lewis book I've read, including Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, which explores Major League Baseball's use of quantum mathematics, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, the heightened value of a left tackle in the National Football League, the stock market and financial shorting (The Big Short and Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt). This was no exception. Lewis has the uncanny, creative ability to explain in clear and simple terms subjects that are complex or seem otherwise mundane. "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." This ability along with his mordant wit renders otherwise uninteresting topics compelling to the average reader. I read this a couple of years ago, after Greek citizens soundly rejected the terms of a proposed 2d bailout agreement. The book is an excellent aid to understanding the basic root causes of the economic catastrophes in Greece, Iceland and Ireland, Germany's role in European collapse, as well as giving a view in the U.S. of California's economic and political climate.To give a sampling of quotes from the book to show Lewis' ability to offer the intriguing with wit:Iceland:One problem encountered by “Alcoa, the biggest aluminum company in the country, ...when, in 2004, it set about erecting its giant smelting plant... [was] the so-called hidden people—or, to put it more plainly, elves—in whom some large number of Icelanders, steeped long and thoroughly in their rich folkloric culture, sincerely believe. Before Alcoa could build its smelter it had to defer to a government expert to scour the enclosed plant site and certify that no elves were on or under it. It was a delicate corporate situation, an Alcoa spokesman told me, because they had to pay hard cash to declare the site elf-free...."Germany:Lewis notes the Germans' obsession with scheiße (pronounced "scheisse"), as a way to explain that country's role in the global debt collapse:“Germans longed to be near [scheiße], but not in it. This, as it turns out, is an excellent description of their role in the current financial crisis.”"The first thing Gutenberg sought to publish, after the Bible, was a laxative timetable he called a 'Purgation-Calendar.' [noting also] the astonishing number of anal German folk sayings. 'As the fish lives in water, so does the [scheiße] stick to the asshole!,' to select but one of the seemingly endless examples.” Another is *you are just as dirty as toilet paper!*Greece:“Individual Greeks are delightful: funny, warm, smart, and good company. I left two dozen interviews saying... 'What great people!' They do not share the sentiment about one another: the hardest thing to do in Greece is to get one Greek to compliment another behind his back. No success of any kind is regarded without suspicion. Everyone is pretty sure everyone is cheating on his taxes, or bribing politicians, or taking bribes, or lying about the value of his real estate. And this total absence of faith in one another is self-reinforcing. The epidemic of lying and cheating and stealing makes any sort of civic life impossible; the collapse of civic life only encourages more lying, cheating, and stealing....”Ireland:“The Irish people and their country are like lovers whose passion is heightened by their suspicion that they will probably wind up leaving each other.”I highly recommend this book for both delight and enlightenment.

  • Scott
    2019-03-24 17:30

    Lewis’s Boomerang (2011) is a slick read that coasts on its author’s reputation for writing well about others' fiscal knavery and financial stupidity. I usually don’t pick up a book if the author’s name on the cover is twice the size of the book’s title, especially when that title is anything but fresh and intriguing (How many gazillion books are named Boomerang? Do a Goodreads book search and marvel at the results.); but this one came to me on loan from a neighbor who heard I liked to read (bless his heart), and I felt obligated to look through it. What I found was a fast, entertaining romp through post-bubble Europe ... part travelogue, part chamber of horrors ... that to my surprise, took pride of place among a tall stack of ghoulish Halloween reads teetering on my nightstand.Lewis’s latest book is a cartoonish discussion of what happens to a society after it has been presented with almost unlimited credit, as many Western countries were between 2002 and 2008. Last Spring Lewis visited some of the Eurozone’s fringe states (Iceland, Ireland, Greece) who drank far too deeply from the proffered cup and now are tottering on the edge of insolvency. The result of his journey, this snarky read, is sort of a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! of economic and social shortcomings. The book isn’t long on explanations, and Lewis’s caricatures and stereotypes of supposed national traits are crafted to shock and offend in a way that has become fashionable with modern broadcast journalism. Look to be entertained first and enlightened only by accident.Its anecdotal explanations aren’t limited to little countries in Europe, though. The final chapter hints at what may be about to happen to several cities in the United State which have been squeezed nearly out of existence by the same forces that have bankrupted parts of the Old World. Like most good journalism, Lewis’s book is illustrated with intriguing trivia that at least flirts with logic ... and scatalogic. Parts of the book are distasteful, but there are enough bizarre figures and non sequiturs to satisfy most readers’ appetite for the absurd. My favorite tidbit?A color-coded map of American personal indebtedness could be laid on top of the Centers for Disease Control’s color-coded map that illustrates the fantastic rise in rates of obesity across the United States since 1985 without disturbing the general pattern.If you take a big swig of the Daily Show along with your viewing of the Nightly Business Report, you'll love Boomerang.y

  • Brian Yahn
    2019-04-11 15:54

    Michael Lewis is surprisingly racist and politically incorrect in this book. For entertainment's sake, he reduces entire nations to cartoon characters, essentially turning the world into the Looney Tunes. It's equal parts hilarious and frightening--the more you learn about the financial future of the global economy, the more you start to think of the world in terms of Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny.This is less of a story and more of a collection of five separate articles about the lead up to the financial crises in Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Germany, and the US. It's almost scary how funny it is.

  • Marsha
    2019-04-17 22:47

    I am a huge Michael Lewis fan - in fact I wish I could have his job. He writes about money and sports, two subjects I find fascinating. However, Lewis crosses the line with this book, which is a compilation of previously published magazine pieces about the financial crisis as it has played out in Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Germany and California. Lewis seems to have reached some sweeping conclusions about the "essential character" of these places, based on spending a couple of weeks there and talking to carefully selected people. The results are mean-spirited caricatures of entire nations. Like all caricatures they have an element of truth but are fundamentally distorted. The section on California was a little more interesting and nuanced, and I agreed with Lewis' conclusion about the fact that financial markets are based on extreme self-interest and will always find innocent victims if they are not controlled. So read this book if you liked The Big Short, but it's not anywhere near as good.

  • Nick
    2019-03-25 19:40

    I'm loving this. Taken in tandem with Lewis's previous book, The Big Short, it's a hilarious and terrifying explanation of the present financial crisis (ruination, collapse, armageddon?)I was chatting to a couple of people the other day who really know finance and suchlike, and they objected that Lewis doesn't get everything right. I can't say whether that's a question of fact or a matter of nuance and opinion. What I can say is that a) nothing he writes clashes with my experience or understanding of what is happening right now and b) I suspect that while he may get things wrong, they are things which matter if you already know what a Credit Default Swap is or how you sell a hundred million dollars' worth of coffee without ever leaving your office. In the broad brush, Lewis's books are an answer to the occasional sense of "what the f*** were those guys up to? How in tarnation do you crash your dad's global economy?!" which besets us all when the newspaper headlines and the first item on TV news shows are along the lines of "the arse has fallen out of the financial trousers again".You want to know why Iceland tanked? Why Italy and Greece are in trouble? Why the whole thing is worse than you know? You want to laugh while you learn?Here's your book.

  • Mark Rice
    2019-04-11 16:48

    In 2004, Wall Street's largest investment banks brought about the beginning of a worldwide financial downturn by creating the credit default swap on the subprime mortgage bond. The events that followed have been widely reported. Once-wealthy nations such as Greece, Ireland, Iceland and Germany accrued gargantuan debts, causing governments, banks and other companies to crumble. In 'Boomerang', Michael Lewis explains the details of how and why this happened, visiting the worst-affected countries and speaking with key players from both sides of the fence (those whose actions caused the damage, and those whose predictions - if taken seriously - could have prevented it). Lewis's snappy prose and incisive wit make this an enjoyable reading experience as well as an educational one. In an amusing aside that could be viewed as a prophetic metaphor for Iceland's approaching financial meltdown, Lewis reveals that Alcoa, the biggest aluminium company in Iceland, encountered a problem unique to their nation when, in 2004, it set about erecting a giant smelting plant. Iceland's folklore is so all-pervasive that many Icelanders believe in 'hidden people', or, in other words, elves. Before Alcoa could build a smelter, it had to pay a government expert to examine the enclosed plant site and certify that no elves were on or under it. One Alcoa spokesman told Lewis that it had been a delicate corporate situation, as the company had been forced to pay hard cash to declare the site elf-free, but, as he put it, "we couldn't as a company be in a position of acknowledging the existence of hidden people."Lewis cites a 2001 paper called 'Boys Will Be Boys: Gender, Overconfidence, and Common Stock Investment', published by MIT Quarterly Journal of Economics, which found that men trade more often than women, and from a position of worse judgement. The study found that single men trade more recklessly than married men, who in turn trade more irresponsibly than single women. The weaker the female presence, the less rational the approach to financial-market trading. One of the characteristics common to both Iceland's financial collapse and Wall Street's is the absence of women (only one woman occupied a senior position in an Icelandic bank), who weren't given risk-taking jobs. Interestingly, only one woman had a senior position in Icelandic banking in 2005. The woman in question, Kristin Pétursdóttir, quit her job in 2006 to set up a financial-services business run entirely by women, as she didn't like the reckless way men were running Icelandic banks. Her business is now one of very few profitable financial businesses in Iceland. An old man turned up at Pétursdóttir's door one morning with his life savings and the proclamation, "I'm so fed up with this whole system. I just want some women to take care of my money." (Please note that this approach is not foolproof - I once tried it with my wife and she spent the lot on cars, designer handbags and shoes. She's now my ex-wife, for obvious reasons!)Greece's financial downfall was unique in that it was caused by bankers behaving ethically: they did not buy US subprime-backed bonds nor did they irredeemably leverage their assets or pay themselves inordinate sums of money. The Greek bankers made one fatal mistake: they lent 30 billion euros to the Greek government, where it was stolen or squandered. Michael Lewis points out that, "In Greece the banks didn't sink the country. The country sank the banks." (This reaffirms the increasingly popular belief that entrusting one's money to bankers or politicians is unwise...a bit like entrusting one's budgie to a hungry cat.) Unpaid taxes were another main contributor to Greece's financial troubles. No one has ever been punished in Greece for not paying taxes, which is seen as an option rather than a responsibility.Ireland's post-millennial boom in property development led to debts that were unsalvageable. The Irish banks - most notably Anglo Irish Bank - lent billions of euros to property developers whose construction activities ran amok, despite there being no influx of buyers for these new properties, until the developers were broke and the banks went bust. Germany's financial problems resulted from trying to bail out European countries which were in deep financial trouble. In doing so, they behaved in a way that was uncharacteristically unGerman (putting other nations' financial wellbeing before their own). Germany was dragged into financial descent, its downward spiral inextricably linked to the economic fate of the countries that simply couldn't afford to pay back the billions of euros they had borrowed from the Germans.One factor was common to the worst-affected countries (United States, Greece, Ireland, Iceland and Germany): an insistence on burying their heads in the sand and repeatedly proclaiming that all was well, even though their financial foundations were sinking into oblivion. In each case, the dissenting voices of a few shrewd observers were hushed or ridiculed, granting the countries a short-term facade of financial wellness, but making them look foolish, conceited and financially immature when the truth finally came out and the brown stuff hit the fan.'Boomerang' is an eye-opening book which gives the inside scoop on events that have been - for the most part - covered up. Lewis's world tour of financial destruction is an enlightening adventure for the reader. He tells his tale with a voice of wisdom, humour and humanity.Well written, immaculately researched and told from a perspective of economic knowledge, 'Boomerang' is a must-read book.

  • Bettie☯
    2019-04-07 20:42

    At 48mins 31secs - ye geezer states that Iceland will drop the kroner in favour of the Euro - wrong - Iceland is not in the EU. It works through Norway and both have trade agreements with the EU. Neither are full members.Iceland now wants to be ((candidate list)no financial surprise) and Norway strongly doesn't want to be. The peoples of Sweden want out but the govt is not keen on the penalty clauses.There have been meetings to consider a nordic block.This man is not the definitive - nosiree.Taking in more, I have to dump here. This is written to make american home policies more palatable and is not a reflection of actual events.That patronising bit about Icelanders going down to Wall Street and saying 'we can do that' is not right AT ALL. Icelanders had the money x 00000000 and US was skint - doh! guess who played the bad boy with Icelandic kroner??

  • Mark
    2019-04-13 18:34

    To say i am totally p***ed off is to water down my feelings enormously. having just written out a review of this book which took me an hour my computer has chosen to wipe it and, being a total luddite, i have no idea how to retrieve it. As i went along I was removing the clips from the pages which had struck me as provoking, incisive, witty etc. Now i look at a pile of magnetic page markers and a book wholly free of them. Short of wading my way through again I have no way of tracing them. How incredibly annoying. So here is a much briefer one. Thinking about it, perhaps you will be cheering my computer's taste.What i can remember is there is a brilliant interview with a neuroscientist called Peter Whybrow who states that ' Human beings are wandering around with brains that are fabulously limited. We have the core of the average lizard' Around this core, he says, is a mammalian layer and outside of this is the layer which enables memory and abstract thought. The only problem is that ' our passions are driven by the lizard core. We are set up to acquire as much as we can of things that are scarce, particularly sex, safety and food'. Now, being neither a neuroscientist nor an economist i cannot state the truth either way but it was an interesting thought which at least gave me, if not a total explanation for the insanity of the last few years of excess and irresponsibility, a small light which enabled me to nod in a ' well that does make some sort of sense'. Cos otherwise the only other explanation is too horrible to contemplate. That either bankers and leaders of government are totally without moral compass of any kind or that they are totally incompetent shites. Either makes me shiver.Lewis looks in detail at Iceland, Ireland, Germany, Greece and the United States. He touches down in other confusions and messes but focuses on these. he is emminently readable and has a great turn of phrase. If his generalizations are sometimes breathtakingly sweeping they are still funny. At one point he speaks of the Icelanders as 'having a feral streak in them, like a horse that's just pretending to be broken' and he states the evident truth that 'men not only trade more often than women but do so from a false faith in their own financial judgement'. At another place he points out the similarity of this to the long-suffering woman sitting in the car just wishing her husband would stop and ask the way to the place from which he is self-evidently lost. He is very funny but also very incisive in his use of example. At one point he mentions visiting the Saga Museum in Iceland, (the Poems not the Holidays) and remarks how the displays were so lifelike and bloodthirsty that at one point he pokes a motionless Japanese woman just to make sure she is flesh and blood. This is a simple device but quite a clever image as it underlines that veneer of reality and financial success of rampantly dubious economies which so easily escaped detection simply because anyone who had the nerve or audacity to 'poke' or question or check any of these 'success stories' was, almost without exception, belittled, berated and ignored until it all came crashing down.He does have a habit of making fun of quirks and oddities in the different nations he visits and though this is funny I do wonder whether he misses a little of the point. It is extraordinary how many times the weird specifics of a countries response is tied up with its historical journey. For example, he uses the fact that Irish politicians have to address the Irish Parliament in both English and Gaelic and he says how repetitive, boring and pointless this is especially when all Irish people speak English and when many of the politicians Gaelic is rough to say the least. This is to overlook the obvious that it is a proclamation of Identity and Nationhood over and above the oppression, real or imagined, historically from the British State and likewise the buying up of real estate, the getting of your own house is of such paramount importance to people who, in the past, have felt dispossessed, disenfranchised and discarded. The Lizard mentality of Dr Whybrow is perhaps far more poweful and influential then it first seems.I found this book a really fascinating trawl through the disaster area of financial wreckage and ruin. It was interesting to see how some individual politicians redeem the whole by their nobility and yet also how others refuse to take responsibility for their actions or continue to ignore the inevitable, turning a blind eye to the approaching pile up. He quotes Miterrand at some point, (lost without my magic magnet clip), saying how he didn't really worry about the future cos that would be for some other poor wretch to sort out. It is this short termism that i suppose is at the crux of the whole mess. The refusal to look at it square in the face would be hilarious if it was just a case of the guilty, the arrogant, the careless going under but of course the whole point, as Lewis makes very clear, is it is almost always those who get away; if not scot free then certainly without too much disadvantage.

  • Joe
    2019-04-03 18:38

    I've read and enjoyed other books from Lewis -- The Big Short, The Blind Side, Moneyball, Liar's Poker -- but this book was a severe disappointment.I think my main complaints can be summarized with three observations: 1) This book seemed rushed, and not in-depth; 2) Lewis has demonstrated the ability to simplify complex situations, but in this book he instead relies on over-simplistic cliches; 3) as opposed to explaining and illuminating, he seems to have an axe to grind -- a biased viewpoint he is trying to push.Lewis begins by discussing the financial situation in Iceland -- and it's not bad. He gives the (absolutely amazing) details of the financial run-up, and talks with politicians, academics, and economists. It's mostly the sort of writing I hoped, and expected, to see. But it's not all great: even this section, the best in the book, has a lot of fluff and stereotypes: for example, Lewis feels it necessary to describe the couple in the next hotel room having sex, and how their Icelandic speech sounds like names from a J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy novel. Lewis also describes hearing a couple of explosions -- apparently, part of a trend of insurance fraud perpetrated by "many Icelanders" who can no longer keep up with the payments on their fancy cars. Cute story -- but one that seems to have completely escaped news sites on the internet.The stereotypes don't end there. Greeks are lazy, Irish are simple, Germans are obsessed with order -- he goes on and on. It's insulting, and unnecessary.Finally, I get an impression of bias in this book that I haven't really seen in previous Lewis books. Time and again, he tries to push the idea that recent financial problems are really not the fault of banks, but rather were caused by the lazy, greedy, average citizen. "If there were any justice in the world", Lewis writes, "the Greek bankers would be in the streets marching to protest the morals of the ordinary Greek citizen." He tries to push the idea that greedy unions have pushed California to the point where it's about to descend into absolute anarchy -- ignoring the fact that most troubled economies (Greece, Portugal) run a debt to GDP of around 100%, whereas California has a debt to GDP ratio of less than 10%. There are interesting issues there, for sure, but Lewis doesn't even attempt to explore them: he talks to a doom-and-gloom economist that predicted a huge wave of large municipal defaults this year (which never happened), goes for a bike ride with Schwarzenegger who talks about how politics is difficult, talks to the mayor of San Jose about labor negotiations, and then finally talks about a city with actual financial problems: Vallejo. Even there, he doesn't talk about how the economy had to radically transform itself in the mid-90's after the largest employer (the Naval Shipyards) was shut down.I know Michael Lewis can do much better than this -- he has in the past. I can only hope his next effort will be up to his usual standards.

  • Cheryl
    2019-04-16 22:31

    Who knew it could be so enjoyable reading about the financial crisis, explained with examples from several key areas of the world? Fascinating. Iceland, Greece, Ireland, USA -- these are some of the countries in what he calls the New Third World. We have been undone by our ancient lizard nature of greed, where short term satisfaction overwhelms common sense. Hilarious and sobering all at once.

  • Brent
    2019-04-02 21:49

    As a huge Michael Lewis fan, I was a bit disappointed by this book. The concept was neat, but the lack of an overall narrative and the length of the five stories made them somewhat shallow. Even the best of the bunch (the US) won't tell you anything you don't already know.

  • Christine Zibas
    2019-04-05 17:37

    Ever wonder just how the global economy got into such a mess? With a generous dose of humor, author and financial guru Michael Lewis turns his attention to the “new Third World,” that is, Europe. And of course, the United States.While other financial writers can make eyes glaze over as they detail the markets and throw around acronyms like ECB (European Central Bank) and IMF (International Monetary Fund), Lewis has a rare gift for making economics personal. In “Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World,” he trains his eyes on individuals in a number of countries, such as Iceland (where it all began), Greece, Ireland, and the United States, to illustrate the greater global economy and where finances have generally gone wrong.Through this personalization of money-making (and spending), he is able to show the bigger picture, introducing economic concepts so that they are integral to the storyline and not overwhelming to the reader. He talks about the foibles of the human personality and why (despite logical conclusions) individuals with access to cheap credit (who knew better) fell for its lure anyway.In Iceland, for example, he demonstrates how investment banking overtook the nation, then sunk the economy. It was only the switch from reckless Alpha males to more reasoned Icelandic females that allowed the banking system in that country to recover. Lewis addresses both general human traits and national dispositions (such as the Greek general avoidance of tax-paying) to enlighten and make sense of the wider economic story.This timely look at the European crisis does not merely focus on the sinners like the Greeks and Irish (who wildly spent their cheap credit on a housing boom as well), but also those (such as the Germans) who are required to bail their indolent brethren out. Despite their reluctance to indulge such irresponsible European neighbors, Lewis shows just how naïve and trusting Germans truly are, highlighting again the nuances of the economic story.This is not a book about evil-doers and white knights. Instead, it’s a saga of aspirations and short-cuts, of irrational behavior in the face of easy money. As the New York Times notes, “In ‘Boomerang’ Mr. Lewis captures the utter folly and madness that spread across both sides of the Atlantic during the last decade, as individuals, institutions and entire nations mindlessly embraced instant gratification over long-term planning, the too good to be true over common sense.”Lewis is the perfect person to tell this story, combining the human dilemma, finances, and a bit of travel writing to create the perfect nonfiction book for its time. With the European and US crises under way, and more trouble looming, “Boomerang” lends its funny, albeit heartbreaking, voice and sage wisdom to help explain just what is going on in Europe (and the world) today.

  • Scott Rhee
    2019-04-16 19:32

    I puzzled over the title of Michael Lewis’s book “Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World”, as the word “boomerang” does not appear once throughout. It confused me until I began to piece together what exactly Lewis was trying to say between the lines.Lewis’s books are all about what’s between the lines. He is all about the subtle extrapolation of meanings and hidden meanings lurking beneath the subject matter. In his wonderful book, “Moneyball”, which was ostensibly about baseball and the economics of the game, Lewis was actually writing about innovative and revolutionary thinking, and how our culture discourages, demeans, and tries to destroy new ways of doing things, even when---and especially when---those new ways are more efficient and more productive.“Boomerang” is Lewis’s follow-up to his book, “The Big Short”, which was about the 2008 U.S. financial disaster, following the collapse of the housing market bubble that nearly wiped out several huge banks. The federal government stepped in with a huge bailout of taxpayer money, thinking that they stopped the hemorrhaging and saved the patient. For all intents and purposes, they did. Lewis, however, wonders if, maybe, it was a temporary fix and a harbinger of worse things to come. Because Lewis, who has a propensity for finding people with keener perceptions than most humans, actually listens to those people spouting gloom-and-doom prophecies, especially when nobody else is listening, and especially when those prophetic loners have a track record of being correct.One of those prophetic loners is Kyle Bass, a hedge fund manager from Texas. In 2006, he clearly saw what apparently no one else on Wall Street saw or, more likely, wanted to see. When he tried to warn everybody of the impending subprime mortgage crisis, he was laughed or thrown out of offices and buildings. So, he did what only a select few in the know (including the guys in “The Big Short”) could do in the situation: bet against the market. He literally made billions while hundreds of thousands of other investors and banks lost billions.After 2008, though, Bass did more research and began to realize that nothing was actually fixed after the crisis. Wall Streeters, politicians, and economists were still doing and encouraging the same stupid behaviors that got them into the mess in the first place. The subprime mortgage crisis was, according to Bass, not the cause of the ’08 debacle but merely a symptom of a much bigger problem.Bass predicted that the next financial crisis was going to be bigger and it was going to be global.Thus, “Boomerang” is Lewis’s attempt to investigate the root cause of these financial crises.Reading, at times, more like a humorous travelogue than an in-depth investigative report, “Boomerang” follows Lewis to Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Germany, and then the state of California---all locations that have, since 2008, suffered their own financial crises.What Lewis learns, in a nutshell, is that each unique culture---based on a combination of racial, national, and regional idiosyncrasies---contributed to their own unique problems as well as to how they dealt with it. This is why Greeks---most of whom, statistically, refuse to pay taxes because the government doesn’t enforce the law anyway---violently protested the government’s attempts to use taxpayer money to pay back debts, while most Germans willfully and graciously encouraged their government to use their money to pay debts.In most cases, Lewis discovers something that isn’t that shocking: a majority of human beings want their governments to offer basic services, but they don’t want to have to pay for them.It’s a paradox that each culture on Earth deals with in a myriad of weird, shocking ways. Weird in the fact that sometimes the attempts at cheating the system seems to actually work. Shocking in that, in most cases, people are mystified and outraged when those attempts eventually backfire.Essentially, Lewis is saying that people are stupid.In a nicer way, Lewis makes the point that almost all humans lack the ability to see the consequences of their own actions, even when those consequences are the only possible consequences to those actions.Like a boomerang, humanity’s capacity for enormous greed and self-interest will inevitably, and horribly, come back to kick us in the ass.

  • Greg Bates
    2019-04-12 22:32

    With a subtitle like “Travels in the New Third World,” you might pick up Boomerang expecting to read about Michael Lewis tramping through New Orleans and the Deep South, looking at people whose savings and livelihoods were wiped out by the financial crisis and the squalor they deal with on a daily basis. Instead, you get a gleeful travelogue of all the countries he's visited in the last year and a half, complete with rambling diatribe about how the financial crisis affected them and snide comments on their national character. I'll spoil it for you: all Greeks are shifty and thieving, the Irish are foolhardy and overwilling to sell their psychic souls to foreign investment, and the Germans are incredibly honorable and only had the tragic weakness of being “too trusting” in Wall Street. Forgive me for any typos in that last sentence; my eyes seem to have rolled into the back of my head. Lewis continues his style of matching statistic with amusing anecdote that's worked so well in The Big Short here, but the trail of breadcrumbs leading from his funny stories about the Greek monastery or the Reykjavik hotel to an actual point about the global economy is needlessly winding and sometimes lost entirely in the dark forest of self-indulgence. Rather than come to any point about the crisis, Lewis is far too willing to fall back on the lazy tactic of criticizing the citizens of a given nation – the section about the Greeks' unwillingness to accept a financial deal authored by the same international business institutions that caused the crisis is harsher than any other section of the book, particularly anything he writes about a company. This book really feels like the excuse Lewis slapped together in order to do some vacationing on his publisher's dime, and I was extremely disappointed in it coming off of The Big Short and Moneyball.

  • Trish
    2019-03-25 15:35

    Michael Lewis turns his curiosity on the wider world after the financial debacle of 2007 and the success of his book The Big Short . Here he attempts to answer a few questions: How did the crisis unravel overseas, what was the role of European banks, and how did governments and investors deal with the disaster? Then he returns home to America to look at state failures, California specifically, in the aftermath. I listened to the Recorded Books edition of this book, and Lewis has a laugh in his voice as he reads, and he has chosen to share with us the most ridiculous examples of human credulity, greed, and wanton foolishness one can see anywhere. If one doesn’t laugh, one would have to cry, it is so pitiful. I wonder if voters anywhere will ever have the trust in government now they require to elect someone who can lead properly. The more we know, the more cynical we must become. Look at Greece, for goodness’ sakes. If you only have the faintest idea of what the situation is in Greece, and can’t really grasp why the people are demonstrating with such virulence, Lewis’ take is a helpful primer. Very clearly he tells us what’s going on. When you are done, you will probably wonder how this is going to play out. It surely makes it more interesting to watch the news.Likewise, listening to recent news of California’s plan for high speed rail has much more depth when one knows what Lewis tells us about the state of California’s finances. It is amazing the state functions at all, and it does give one a bit of a burning sensation in the pit of one’s stomach when one thinks about the U.S. federal deficit. Read this, or better still, listen when you are doing something rote. It is amusing, informative, and makes you wiser.

  • David
    2019-04-03 15:59

    Economics books can be depressing, especially the more you learn about how the world's markets move. I read Michael Lewis's The Big Short a few years ago. In that book, he covered the subprime mortgage market that lead to the 2007 housing bubble collapse, and the most shocking takeaway there was not that people were greedy and short-sighted, but that all the "experts," the brokers, the realtors, the bankers, the Federal Reserve officials, the "Big Money Men" - didn't actually have a clue! You or I could probably have taken over one of those big, complicated "investment instruments" and run it with about the same chance of success or catastrophic failure.Boomerang looks at international markets, but here's a spoiler: it's the same story! We like to think that somewhere up there there are actual grown-ups in charge. People who know what they're doing. Sure, they may make mistakes now and then, but they aren't really going to run the economy off a cliff because they're too stupid or greedy to know better."What happened was that everyone in Ireland had the idea that somewhere in Ireland there was a little wise old man who was in charge of the money, and this was the first time they’d ever seen this little man," says McCarthy. "And then they saw him and said, Who the fuck was that??? Is that the fucking guy who is in charge of the money??? That’s when everyone panicked."As the Irish found out after their own housing market bubble burst: not so much.Left alone in a dark room with a pile of money, the Irish decided what they really wanted to do with it was buy Ireland. From each other. An Irish economist named Morgan Kelly, whose estimates of Irish bank losses have been the most prescient, has made a back-of-the-envelope calculation that puts the property-related losses of all Irish banks at roughly 106 billion euros. (Think $10.6 trillion.) At the rate money flows into the Irish treasury, Irish bank losses alone would absorb every penny of Irish taxes for the next four years.But the fairly pedestrian housing bubble of Ireland is less fascinating than the banking speculation that did in Iceland. It all started when they decided they didn't want to be fishermen anymore. They had a lot of cheap geothermal energy, so looked around for a way to make money off of it, and decided on aluminum manufacturing.Alcoa, the biggest aluminum company in the country, encountered two problems peculiar to Iceland when, in 2004, it set about erecting its giant smelting plant. The first was the so-called hidden people—or, to put it more plainly, elves—in whom some large number of Icelanders, steeped long and thoroughly in their rich folkloric culture, sincerely believe. Before Alcoa could build its smelter it had to defer to a government expert to scour the enclosed plant site and certify that no elves were on or under it. It was a delicate corporate situation, an Alcoa spokesman told me, because they had to pay hard cash to declare the site elf-free, but, as he put it, “we couldn’t as a company be in a position of acknowledging the existence of hidden people.As funny as that is, the second problem was a much bigger one - Icelanders didn't actually have any aptitude or desire to be aluminum smelters. So they wound up becoming investment bankers instead.Onwards to Greece, which was and is a real financial basket case. Here, Lewis surprisingly does not blame the bankers, but makes a compelling argument that the bankers were actually the grown-ups who were trying to manage the economy, while it was the Greek population, with no real tradition of civic duty or sense of communal obligation, that looted the entire country's economy.The retirement age for Greek jobs classified as "arduous" is as early as fifty-five for men and fifty for women. As this is also the moment when the state begins to shovel out generous pensions, more than six hundred Greek professions somehow managed to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians, and on and on and on.Then Lewis comes back to the U.S., and looks at the dire financial woes of San Jose and Vallejo, two California cities with income levels that would be the envy of many countries, and both of which are financial basket cases. Their main problems are public pensions for firefighters and police.The relationship between the people and their money in California is such that you can pluck almost any city at random and enter a crisis. San Jose has the highest per capita income of any city in the United States, after New York. It has the highest credit rating of any city in California with a population over 250,000. It is one of the few cities in America with a triple-A rating from Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, but only because its bondholders have the power to compel the city to levy a tax on property owners to pay off the bonds. The city itself is not all that far from being bankrupt.Lewis examines all these places, and goes on a bike ride with former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who comes off rather sympathetically here. According to Lewis, Schwarzenegger was basically an honest guy who tried to get things done without catering to special interests. Sure, he had his political biases, but he genuinely wanted to reform the state's finances. The response from California voters, when they voted down every one of his measures, was an unambiguous "Fuck you." And so Schwarzenegger finished his term in office essentially gelded. Now he's happy, unremorseful, and still rich... and California's economy is still screwed. Though not as screwed as Ireland, Iceland, and Greece.This book won't really give you a deeper understanding of economics, and it doesn't really offer any solutions. (The solution is for people to stop being so short-sighted and stop buying things they can't pay for on a national scale. Hahahah right.) But if you want a closer look at economic trainwrecks, Lewis explains them in a very understandable way that will leave you with very little optimism about anything improving.

  • Tim
    2019-03-24 23:32

    Michael Lewis has a remarkable gift for giving insight through stories. Each of the five sections of the book was fascinating in a different way: how various countries reacted to having a big pot of seemingly free money on offer, how they responded when things didn't turn out as well as they hoped, and what that says about the national character of each. What I found most fascinating about the story of Iceland was not in the book, but in the comments of a friend who lives there. Because Iceland didn't bail out its banks, its banking system went belly up, and the country found itself unable to borrow, but the "real economy" which was always local, was still there, and so the country pretty much went back to being what it was before the bust.Ireland, on the other hand, bailed out banks that were not systemic in any way. (It should have followed the same route as Iceland.) In taking on the debt of private actors, the country bankrupted itself, and made the problem worse. I found the sections on Greece and California to be particularly illuminating (and depressing), though, because they point at the corrosive outcomes as a civilization votes services for themselves while passing the costs on to the future. The hopeful note in the story at the end was a saving grace.The chapter on Germany was fascinating, funny, and disturbing, with its images of a Germany obsessed with colonic filth, wanting to be close to shit as long as they can remain clean. This chapter was less meaningful in terms of really understanding the global financial crisis, since I think here Lewis stretched his point a bit, but it was incredibly entertaining.And in the chapter on California, the portrait of Schwartzenegger was fascinating, both in its view of him as a politician beholden to no-one, who just tried to do the right thing, and in the way that it didn't matter. The system was just too strong. Things will have to get a lot worse before they get better.I highly recommend this book. Our world is in the middle of a significant crisis, and this is a great way to understand some key elements of it while enjoying it, as a kind of travelogue that ultimately makes you think about your life at home.I listened to this as an audiobook. I had an initial aversion to the heavy handed reading style of the narrator, in which everything is over-emphasized, and irony becomes sarcasm and snark, but once I got used to that, and was able to filter it out, I really enjoyed the story and the insights.

  • Melissa
    2019-04-04 20:36

    This book is a collection of articles written for Vanity Fair about the sovereign debt crisis that happened in the aftermath of the global recession in 2008. I didn't know about this book until I was perusing my library's non-fiction shelves and saw Lewis' name on another economic book. I had to read it, and so glad I did. The reader is taken to Iceland, Ireland, Germany, Greece, and finally Southern California (one of the biggest areas of the mortgage meltdown that triggered the recession). I learned a lot about the economic and culture of the countries from reading this and know understand a lot more about the undertones of the political strife now going on in Europe as a result of the sovereign debt crisis. Lewis keeps his entertaining and charming way of writing while getting to the heart of what led to the crises felt all over Europe. The book also goes into the bankruptcy of Vallejo, California and the public financial crisis of San Jose, which also helps understand the political climate in California. I read this just after finishing George Friedman's Flash Points: The Emerging Crisis in Europe and would recommend the two books together.

  • David
    2019-03-25 21:51

    Some adjectives that describe this collection of essays by Michael Lewis: smart, clear, entertaining, breezy, moderately informative . They are fun to read, and though not heavily researched, probably accurate as far as they go. Each of the five essays collected here first appeared, in slightly different form, in Vanity Fair. Those dealing with foreign economies (Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Germany) appear to be based on visits Lewis made to the countries in question between late 2008 and mid 2011. My Irish cousins were dismissive of his account of the Irish economic meltdown, characterizing it as a "drive-by piece based on a five-day visit". I don't agree. Even if his visit to Ireland was short, his account of events seems essentially accurate to me. There is a whole slew of books available by now documenting the various abuses and excesses that led to the global financial meltdown (including Lewis's "The Big Short"). It's like a whole new genre of horror stories. Michael Lewis is one of the more entertaining contributors to the genre.

  • Darwin8u
    2019-03-22 15:50

    I read these essays on Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Germany and California when they were first published in 2009/10/11 in Vanity Fair. It is hard re-reading them now again in book form and not think Michael Lewis is a GOD. IF you haven't read these, go to the Library, buy the book. GET off your butt, go to Vanity Fair and start reading his essays: After you've read this read The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, also by Michael Lewis. That is probably the most important financial book written in twenty years.

  • Aaron
    2019-04-13 22:35

    After The Big Short, this is a weird book. Lewis almost completely abandons the Napoleonic narrative of history suggested by The Big Short in this one, where both success and disaster, no matter how broadly written, is basically the result of the choices of special people who are able to exploit unique opportunities to create economy shaking results. There’s almost none of that here. Whereas the American crisis seems to be the result of a few very smart people either creating or identifying a generally hidden schism in the evaluation of certain mortgage backed securities (and the calamities that followed), the European economic disaster is characterized as having resulted not from personal greatness or systematic efficiency but from culture itself, at a level of generality so grotesque that the decisions of individuals become irrelevant. To explain: Our economy crashed because a few very wealthy Americans very cleverly found a way to become much richer at the expense of absolutely everyone else. Our government regulators were asleep at the wheel, multiple of our most important financial institutions shoved off their fiduciary obligations and started fleecing their own clients, a few smart people figured out what was going to happen before everyone else and made billions shorting the market, making everything worse by an order of magnitude. Then they all got bailed out. This is by now an old story, but a profoundly “American” one. Compare Iceland, who went under because they have a hyper-masculine, overly entitled culture. Or the Greeks, because they’re so corrupt (as a culture) that they are incapable of collective thinking. Or the Germans, who are fatally bound to morally neutral ideas of obeying the rules so deeply that it’s “part of their cultural DNA” (Lewis’ phrase, not mine) and therefore make easy marks for everyone else, and who are secretly obsessed with feces in a way that ultimately causes their banks to make bad financial decisions (seriously).There’s something hard to swallow about all of this. Americans survive as the ultimate genius pragmatists, a few rugged individualists who brought down the whole system because they were selfish, and because nobody else could quite follow what they were doing. Lewis makes a few broad conclusions about “American culture” in The Big Short - we’re litigious, we’re not sufficiently regulated, everyone is looking for an angle - but these silly cultural generalizations are nonetheless not the whole point of his analysis. With Boomerang, his cultural tourism doesn’t go much deeper. It seems profoundly unfair to allow that Americans did what they did because they were profoundly rational, but the Germans became the dupes of our crisis because they secretly want to be tied up and spanked.If anything, Boomerang suffers from follow-up syndrome. After The Big Short and Moneyball, Lewis can pretty much write whatever he wants and someone will publish it. Boomerang is the modest expansion of a series of one-offs written for Vanity Fair and belatedly consolidated into a book, and it shows. Several of the essays have nods to the sort of cultural contemporaneity fine for magazine articles but which serious works try to avoid (at one point, he compares a Greek financial wizard to the Most Interesting Guy In The World from the Dos Equis commercials). This only exacerbates the already extant feeling that this is less a novel of vision than one of opportunity, though Lewis, who is clearly enjoying his moment in the sun, can hardly be blamed for maximizing his income stream, especially given the economically draconian subject matter.This isn’t to say the book is worthless. At times, it’s a solid work of economic tourism and works better when Lewis zeroes in on specifics and spares the sweeping quasi-anthropological narratives for where each country went wrong. His interviews with the Greek monks who made themselves billionaires through cagey use of Byzantine (literally) property claims are an interesting read. His chronology of the downfall of Irish banks is specific enough to be worthwhile. But Lewis can’t help but draw huge conclusions. The Greeks are selfish. Iceland is full of egomaniacal alpha males. The Germans are fetishists. From this, all else follows.

  • Mary Ronan Drew
    2019-04-03 18:52

    Michael Lewis is the author of the blockbuster Liar's Poker from 20 years ago (soon to be a major motion picture, by the way.) Lewis has recently done a bit of "financial disaster tourism" as he calls it and the results are in his latest book, Boomerang.I bought it for Wilhelm but made the mistake of leaving it lying around and yesterday I did what I said I would not do and started reading it. And couldn't put it down. Fortunately it's short.In an attempt to figure out what happened to the euro and what is likely to come of it, he went to Iceland, Ireland, and Greece, three of the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Iceland, Greece, and Spain) whose economies are so bad the entire country may go into . . . what do you call it when a country defaults on it's financial obligations and can't get a loan? He finished up in Germany because if help is to come from anywhere, it will come from the Germans.Lewis will make no friends in Iceland, describing them as he does as belligerant and self-absorbed people. He wanted to answer the question: What made these people think they could run a financial system?There is a charming lack of financial experience in Icelandic financial-policymaking circles. The minister for business affairs is a philosopher. The finance minister is a veterinarian. The Central Bank governor is a poet. [The Prime Minister], though, is a trained economist - just not a very good one.They do things differently in Iceland. They looked around them at their stunningly beautiful country and tried to find something they could do to create a modern economy. Tourism. Great, that's one. Fishing. Let's privatize the fish and make some people enormously wealthy. It will trickle down. And it did, more or less.But the big thing is geothermal energy. It's everywhere in Iceland. What needs a lot of electrical power? Aluminum!So they went to Alcoa and Alcoa visited and thought it was a fine idea to build a plant in Iceland. They picked their spot and assured themselves the energy was there. Then the project stalled.Before Alcoa could build its smelter it had to defer to a government expert to scout the enclosed plant site and certify that no elves were on or under it. It was a delicate corporate situation, as an Alcoa spokesman told me, because they had to pay hard cash to declare the site elf-free, but, as he put it, "we couldn't as a company be in a position of acknowledging the existence of hidden people."It should have been a surprise to no one when Iceland went bust.On to Greece, which has peculiarities of its own. In an appallingly corrupt economy, one Greek monastery has the reputation of being the most corrupt entity in the country, so Lewis wanted to interview the abbot.This monastery is on Mount Athos. Which is not a mountain. It's an island. Except that it's not island. It's a peninsula. The monks have built an enormous wall so that you can't get to the peninsula by land. They allow no women on the island. Not even female animals. Except cats. They allow female cats.Back in Athens, Lewis interviews a finance minister about how Greece ever got into the European community in the first place when their financial situation was clearly not healthy.The finance minister stresses that this isn't a simple matter of the government lying about the expenditures. "This wasn't all due to misreporting," he says. "In 2009, tax collection disintegrated, because it was an election year."What?He smiles."'The first thing a government does in an election year is to pull the tax collectors off the streets.""You're kidding."Now he's laughing at me. I'm clearly naive.

  • Mal Warwick
    2019-04-02 15:38

    What goes around, comes around: following the financial meltdown around the worldIf you’re scratching your head over the financial news from Europe these days and wondering what on earth has been happening in Greece, Ireland, and elsewhere that has everyone, especially the Germans, in a state of panic, Michael Lewis will make it all clear to you with his customary straight talk, humor, and insight. Boomerang — a collection of Lewis’ articles for Vanity Fair on what he calls “financial-disaster tourism” — lays out what even the “newspaper of record” declines to do: tell it like it is.News coverage blathers on about “overspending,” “financial mismanagement,” and other circumlocutions. Michael Lewis tells us that in Iceland, the leaders of the two enormous banks that led to the country’s downfall were twenty-something kids who had not a clue what they were doing and were regarded by even the greatest risk-takers in the banking industry as downright “crazy.” In Greece, “every single member of the Greek parliament is lying to evade taxes,” government salaries put private-sector jobs to shame, and the culture of entitlement is so deeply embedded in the culture that it seems inconveivable Greece could ever agree to pay its debts. In Ireland, another of the financial basket cases, the problem lay with three big banks, all of them run by those whom anyone outside the banking industry would likely call gamblers. They loaned out enormous sums to themselves and even larger amounts to reckless real estate developers whose projects could never be completed. As Lewis writes, “Anglo Irish was probably the world’s worst bank. Even worse than the Icelandic banks.”What is most disturbing about these tales of financial malfeasance in Iceland and Ireland, and probably soon in Greece as well, is the comparison with our own country. “In America the banks went down but the big shots in them still got rich; in Ireland [and Iceland] the big shots went down with the banks. Sean Fitzpatrick, a working-class kid turned banker who built Anglo Irish Bank more or less from scratch, is widely viewed as the chief architect of Ireland’s misfortune: today he is not merely bankrupt but unable to show his face in public.” And Lloyd Blankfein still lords it over Goldman Sachs and, with it, all of Wall Street!Lest you think the failure to prosecute the malefactors of great wealth on Wall Street was America’s only failing, take a look with Lewis at San Jose. As he notes, “San Jose has the highest per capita income of any city in the United States after New York. It has the highest credit rating of any city in California with a population over 250,000. It is one of the few cities in America with a triple-A rating . . . [Yet] the city itself is not all that far from being bankrupt.” San Jose, now the 10th largest city in the USA, is just one of hundreds of cities throughout the country, big and small, that are flirting with insolvency as the federal government pushes ever more financial obligations onto the states, and the states push them further downhill to counties and cities. And many experts concur that the state of California is in the worst shape of all.Boomerang is not a hopeful book. It is supremely well written, hilarious at times, and always lively as it deals with Lewis’ interactions with individual people throughout, but the sum total of the conclusions a reader reaches is to head for the hills.(From

  • Karla
    2019-03-27 19:50

    Thanks to an Amazon reviewer (whose review is no longer there), I was able to get this book of previously-published articles via Lexis-Nexis and the Vanity Fair website. I hadn't heard of Michael Lewis until I saw his interview for this book on The Daily Show (yeah, I don't get out much). Anyway, free book in hand, I thoroughly enjoyed his observations about the meltdowns all over Europe, even if I never completely understood WTF it was all about. But if the people "in charge" had no clue what they were doing with piles of money, then I think I can be excused for being a little confused as well. Still, my recurring thought throughout the entire book was, "But....who....why.....HOW DID THEY THINK THIS COULD WORK???"Also, I had no idea that male Icelanders were such feral alphas. Probably if I had to pick a best chapter, it would be that one. Not every book has exploding Range Rovers.

  • Jillwilson
    2019-04-17 23:31

    Two interesting and intersecting things from the weekend. Towards the end of Boomerang, Michael Lewis quotes Peter Whybrow, a British neuroscientist, who says that dysfunction in American society is a by-product of America’s success. In Whybrow’s book ‘American Mania’ he explores the concept that the human brain has evolved in an environment defined by scarcity – the brain is not designed for abundance. The reptilian core predominates. "When faced with abundance, the brain's ancient reward pathways are difficult to suppress." (p204) What this means in actuality is that when you are faced with an abundance of chocolate cake, you keep eating – the fear of future scarcity is predominant.Lewis uses this theory to provide reasons for the kind of overindulgence, rampant consumerism and crazy decisions made in the global financial market in the last decade. The other interesting thing was on This American Life – a program on Education. ‘Back to School’ featured an economist, James Heckman, who explored whether the drop-out students who completed a short ‘make-up’ graduation package fared as well as those students who’d graduated high school in the regular way. He thought that the fast-track method could prove to be more economically efficient. What he discovered was what you would expect – the regular method led to greater success. The conversation led to a discussion about the importance of ‘character’ of how “non-cognitive skills” — qualities like tenacity, resilience, impulse control — are being viewed as increasingly vital in education.These twin ideas come together in Lewis’ book - which is an exploration of how national ‘character’ both created and responded to the global financial crisis. People who hate stereotypes should cease reading now- Lewis is big on these. “If there is a weakness to Lewis’s writing, perhaps it’s the binary, either/or nature of his characters. Everyone is either a shark or a mark, a genius or a fool… Possibly this technique is an essential element when you’re turning rows of financial stats into an entertaining high-velocity narrative; figuring out whom to root for might slow things down. “ ( visits Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Germany and California, painting a picture of how and why each country got into a mess. “Thus Iceland went mad on banking because, as a nation of fishermen, it has a culture steeped in macho risk-taking; Ireland went mad on house buying because, as a nation beset by a history of oppression and exploitation, landowning was the ultimate escape from the past; Greece went mad on avoiding tax payment and collection because, as a nation built on feuding, nepotism and graft, no one trusts anyone else and each Greek is out to look after himself; while Germany is left to pay the bill for the madness because, as an anally well organised nation with a cultural obsession with Scheiße, it likes the thrill of thrusting its clean fingers into other people's crap.” ( wish he'd written a chapter about Australia!I love his work – he brings the world of finance alive in a unique way. His book ‘The Big Short’, about the build-up of the housing and credit bubble during the 2000s is a stand-out text and ‘Boomerang’ is not quite of its ilk. But worth reading for the description of Greece as a pinata and for details like this: the wage bill of the Greek public sector has doubled, in real terms” with the average government job now paying almost three times the average private sector job. Those who work in jobs classified as “arduous” can retire and start collecting pensions, he adds, “as early as 55 for men and 50 for women”; more than 600 Greek professions have somehow managed “to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians, and on and on and on.” ( ends the book with the story of a British pheasant – which was eaten by a fox after it got too fat to fly. Abundance. We are hardwired to indulge, people in environments of abundance have sacrificed long-term interests for short-term rewards. That’s maybe where This American Life kicks in – we need education systems that promote development of ‘character’ – of capacity to self-regulate, to think about others, to plan for the future and to innovate – or as Lewis says, to “figure it out”, or, like the pheasant in one of his analogies, we will become too fat to fly and will be eaten by the fox (or by the melting of the ice caps – another story from the weekend.

  • Doug
    2019-04-17 17:33

    Michael Lewis is a great storyteller, and the books I like the best are when he connects the story to a bigger picture. In this book he comes up a marvelous metaphor to explain the root cause of the financial crisis: alone, in a dark room with a big pile of money and easy credit, how did different countries react when it seemed they could grab the cash and get away with it? The results range from the naïve Icelanders, who turned their entire country into a giant hedge fund…(interviewing an Icelander who was formerly a fishing captain before going into banking) “You spent seven years learning every nuance of the fishing trade before you were granted the gift of learning from this great captain?”“Yes”“And even then you had to sit at the feet of this great master for many months before you felt as if you knew what you were doing?”“Yes”“Then why did you think you could become a banker and speculate in financial markets without a day of training?”“That is a very good question. For the first time this evening, I lack a word.” . . . At the very least, in a place where everyone knows everyone else or his sister, you might have thought that the moment Stefan Aflsson walked into Landsbanki ten people would have said, “Stefan, you're a fisherman!” But they didn't. To a shocking degree, they still don't. “If I went back to banking,” says the Icelandic cod fisherman, now wearing an entirely straight face, “I would be a private-banking guy.” … to the conniving Americans, who knew exactly what to do if given the opportunity. The people who had power in the society, and were charged with saving it from itself, had instantly bled the society to death. The problem with police officers and firefighters isn't a public-sector problem; it isn't a problem with government; it's a problem with the entire society. It's what happened on Wall Street in the run-up to the sub-prime crisis. It's a problem of people taking what they can, just because they can, without regard to the larger social consequences. It's not just a coincidence that the debts of cities and states spun out of control at the same time as the debts of individual Americans. Alone in a dark room with a pile of money, Americans knew exactly what they wanted to do, from the top of society to the bottom. They'd been conditioned to grab as much as they could, without thinking about the long-term consequences. Afterward, the people on Wall Street would privately bemoan the low morals of the American people who walked away from their subprime loans, and the American people would express outrage at the Wall Street people who paid themselves a fortune to design the bad loans. Of course, the whole financial crisis can all be explained in one word: greed. But what makes this book is fun to read is how Michael Lewis describes the unique forms this greed took and how it shaped each country’s role in the 2008 crises. His arguments are a little anecdotal and by no means is this the definitive analysis of the financial crisis, but a very entertaining book.

  • Sam Quixote
    2019-03-29 18:38

    I'm not a big reader of newspapers or watcher of the news, mostly as the news these days is reported as quickly as possible with the barest of facts and, for larger issues like the economic troubles of recent years, almost no understanding of the circumstances for context. That's not to say I'm not interested, but I would only be interested in reading about the financial woes of late through a writer who could write, not as an economist or academic, but a true writer, and could make the subject come alive and seem comprehensible - enter Michael Lewis. Lewis is a writer I've never heard of before and was surprised to see the recent films "The Blind Side" and "Moneyball" were based on books he'd written. Amazon recommended him, I gave him a shot and I am very glad I did - "Boomerang" is a tremendously interesting read. It collects five essays Lewis wrote focusing on five specific areas of the world: Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Germany, and California. Iceland is a fascinating case as Lewis explains how a country with a population of 300,000 went from fishing to banking within a generation thanks to fishing quotas and over-education. He also goes on to describe the society and something of the country's history, going back decades, to explain how they came to their current situation. Greece's case is incredible. A nation of tax cheats, overpaying themselves and mortgaging their futures through avoidance of fiscal and public responsibility - the essay is startling and shocking, I was shaking my head in disbelief as I read it. The Vespaidi Monastery is the aspect that ties it together into a compelling narrative: a couple of monks with an old land deed went on to build a real estate empire - but remained monks. And yet despite the way that it seems nearly everyone in Greece is responsible for their own mess, they took to the streets to riot. Ireland and Germany are both interesting essays too, but Lewis' California essay - where he describes the way that the public services pensions are bringing the state to its knees - is also mind-bending. The case of Vallejo is both tragic and seemingly a real-life John Steinbeck novel. Lewis also includes an interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger, where the Governator comes across as a fairly intelligent, well-meaning guy who did his best to fix the faulty system but failed due to the inability of the public to think beyond the short-term. "Boomerang" contains far more than I've mentioned and these brief summaries don't do justice to the masterful way Lewis writes and is able to explain complex situations both clearly, concisely, memorably, and compellingly. Halfway through the book I ordered his last book "The Big Short" and all I can say is that anyone curious about the aftermath of the financial crisis and is looking for someone to explain it well, would do well to pick up this book. And it isn't all doom and gloom, Lewis ends the book on an optimistic note citing the case of the current Fire Chief of Vallejo, Paige Meyer - want to know his story? Pick up this book, it's an amazing read.

  • Jane Stewart
    2019-04-13 19:48

    4 ½ stars. Wow. This was excellent. I’m very happy to have this eye-opening knowledge.The entertainment value is the strange incompetence and stupidity of people. But it is also depressing. Terrible things are happening to ordinary people. I loved hearing it as an audiobook, educating me while I was doing other things. Reading this as a physical book might be less desirable for me. In the book the author describes himself as a “financial disaster tourist.” He travels to and writes about five areas: Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Germany, and California. He’s an excellent writer. He makes nonfiction interesting. An example of his thinking follows. In Ireland homeowners can’t walk away from their homes like in the U.S. If the bank forecloses and takes the property, the homeowner still owes the money. He can’t declare bankruptcy to get away from debt. I liked the author’s phrase “In their rush to freedom, the Irish built their own prisons.”I would have liked more thoughts about the future - possibly having different experts give opinions. I wanted more about “what might happen.” The Vallejo, California, story was an excellent example of what can happen, but parts of that were not clear enough. For example, he states “the city had 1,013 claimants with half a billion dollars in claims but only $6 million to dole out to them.” “In August 2011, a judge approved the bankruptcy plan for Vallejo. Vallejo’s creditors ended up with 5 cents on the dollar, public employees with something like 20 and 30 cents on the dollar.” I have a question. Assuming Vallejo dispersed all the money at once today (for example the $6 million) how much will go to “retired workers” (police, firefighters, teachers, and others)? Assume a retired person has $30,000 coming to them each year for the rest of their life. Assume that has a present value of $500,000. Do they get $100,000 today (I’m using 20%) and nothing else? Or is the $100,000 put into an annuity somewhere which would pay them $6,000 per year? Or do they get $6,000 every year from the city as long as there is money? I wish the author would have clarified that. If someone could enlighten me, please do so in a comment. Thank you.I understand this entire book was published in a series of articles for Vanity Fair magazine. All but the Iceland portion is available to read free online - at this time.NARRATOR:The narrator Dylan Baker was excellent.DATA:Unabridged audiobook reading time: 7 hrs and 14 mins. Swearing language: strong. Sexual content: none. Setting: current day various locations. Book copyright: 2011. Genre: financial nonfiction.

  • Joe
    2019-04-13 21:52

    Boomerang is a surprisingly entertaining book about the recent economic collapse(s). Author Michael Lewis undertakes what he calls something like a "financial disaster vacation" and visits, in turn, Iceland, Greece, Germany, and ultimately, California. In each locale, he writes about the causes and results of their particular version of economic problems while bitingly satirizing their cultures. The book is pretty enlightening and definitely amusing. Lewis is fascinated by the human capacity for greed and by how greed easily overwhelms intelligence, experience, and common sense. Basically a lot of really smart people (and countries) have made terrible decisions about their investments. Rather than approaching economic problems from an overly didactic scientific lens, Lewis looks at everything through an insightful human lens. His recurrent metaphor for the economic boom and bust is simple: imagine a person (or a nation) in a dark room with a huge pile of money. What are they going to do? How crazy are they going to go? An example: these incredibly talented and experienced Icelandic fishermen leave their nets to become investors thinking it will go well. (American banks and traders exploit their credulity and rip them off brutally.) The conclusion is surprisingly moralistic - in a good way.There is also a lot in this book about the German fascination with toilets, sheisse, and all things scatological.It is tough to criticize a book for its lack of balance; one can always argue that the author wasn't intending to show that point of view. That said, his final ominous chapter on California seems to place too much blame on the largesse and excesses of the public employee unions. Much blame rests with them, of course, but he ignores the massive reduction in the tax rate over the last 30 years and the shrinking buying power of the middle class. Just pay, pensions, and health care would be easily affordable under the tax rates that existed in the 50's and 60's. This side is clearly and eloquently explained in Robert Reich's book Aftershock which I am still reading.