This little book, as attractive in its format as in its verbal felicity, is based on a series of lectures about debt. They must have been memorable. It is not about the credit crunch - although the book's publication is timely - but about the imaginary constructions underlying concepts of indebtedness in the widest sense. Using folklore, religion, ancient history, literature, computer simulations and experiments in animal behaviour, Atwood shows that a sense that there should be balance and fairness in relations between debtors and creditors lies deep in the human psyche and that when this is absent, things turn nasty. This applies even among the higher animals, as shown by a fascinating experiment in which monkeys were taught to trade stones for bananas. She concludes with an examination of the `debt to nature', arguing that mankind cannot go on taking rather than giving, without destroying the Earth on which it depends, the point being illustrated with a chilling modern version of Dicken's A Christmas Carol.
Atwood makes the most serious points in a way that is engaging to read, constantly throwing new light on familiar things - from The Merchant of Venice to the meaning of `publicans' and `trespasses' in the New Testament. Once started, the book is hard to put down. It would make salutary reading for economists, politicians and City folk.