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Whoops!: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay Paperback – 7 Oct 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 144 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (7 Oct. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014104571X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141045719
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (144 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 18,771 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


This is what George Bernard Shaw might have called An Intelligent Person's Guide to the Crisis of Modern Capitalism, and everyone ought to read it (Robert Harris, Sunday Times)

Original . . . beautifully written . . . both entertaining and profoundly anger-inducing (Chris Blackhurst, Evening Standard)

The route map to the crazed world of contemporary finance we have all been waiting for. John Lanchester's superb book is everything its subject - the 2008 crash - was not: namely lucid, beautifully contrived, comprehensible to the reader with no specialist knowledge - and most of all devastatingly funny (Will Self)

Wickedly funny . . . Good humor and good company will be the things that'll get us through (Dwight Garner, New York Times)

Endlessly witty, but the wit is underpinned by a tremendous, unembarrassed anger and moral lucidity. A superb guide which will turn any reader into an expert within the space of 200 pages. (Jonathan Coe)

Explains the madness of modern capitalism with razor-sharp insight, brilliant clarity and a refreshing dose of humour. A great book. (John O'Farrell)

Scarier than Thomas Harris (Nicci French)

John Lanchester's newfound mission: to explain the world of finance to the general public . . . The result is the perfect read for anyone still wondering what went wrong and why. Unless you'd rather they didn't know (Bloomberg)

Literary and profound . . . a master explainer with an excellent grasp of sophisticated finance (Christopher Caldwell, The Daily Beast)

Acidic, frightening, and sharply funny . . . a better book about the global meltdown than any other to date (EW.com)

[A] sober message lurking among Lanchester's delightful wordplay, and it deserves attention by everyone who cares to understand where we are, how we got here and who is responsible (John Lawrence Reynolds, Globe and Mail)

This is a piece of genius . . . It tells a proper story, like a novel, and we're all part of it - which means it is *gripping*. Yes! Gripping! A book about money! I know! But it's true. It is necessary, particularly - but not exclusively - if you're somebody who thinks, 'Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Iceland, um, mortgages, er...' and doesn't want to keep thinking it until the end of time, amoeba-stylee. I humbly posit that it is a masterpiece (India Knight)

Lanchester has turned that fascination - coupled with a kind of astonished anger - into a lucid, conversational account of the crisis designed for non-financial types and helpfully leavened with jokes, swearing and interesting asides (Quentin Webb, Reuters)

An excellent book for anyone wondering what the hell is going on. Triple A, as the credit rating agencies might say (Irish Times)

Or you could simply borrow the book from someone. If they've read it, even better - they won't be expecting you to return it (The Telegraph)

For anyone still wondering what the hell those bankers did with our money, try John Lanchester's deliciously escoriating Whoops! Even someone who can't remember their eight times tables comes away feeling wonderfully well informed (Allison Pearson summer reading recommendation, Psychologies)

This account is by far the most lucid and entertaining explanation of the world banking crisis of 2008 (Megan Walsh summer reading recommendation, Times)

A lively lay reader's guide to the financial crisis, written by a novelist who sought to educates himself about banking and its failures. Funny and pointed, it exposes the gulf between the two cultures of modern Britain: financial and non-financial (Ed Crooks summer reading recommendation, Financial Times)

If you want to look like a rock of good sense, a person who is deep and wise and worried, then I suggest Whoops! by John Lanchester ... If only the Queen Mother were still alive, it would make sense even to her (Colm Toibin summer reading recommendation, Guardian)

About the Author

John Lanchester is a journalist, novelist and winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award. He is a regular contributor to the London Review of Books and the New Yorker, with a monthly column in Esquire. John's piece on our love affair with the City, 'Cityphilia', generated much response on its publication in January 2008 and indeed predicted a worldwide crash based on the misuse of financial derivatives. In October 2008 he charted the crisis as it had developed over the year in 'Cityphobia', which also attracted much attention as a piece that explained not only what had happened, but how we felt about it. John was raised in South-East Asia and now lives in London.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An immensely readable account of the credit crunch by an informed observer rather than a participant with an axe to grind.

Nobody could avoid being totally bemused by the shenanigins of the financial institutions who brought about the credit crunch in 2008 - 2009. I certainly could not nor could I grasp the scale - what does $ trillions mean? How do sane bankers provide mortgages to poor people without any security of assets or income and convert them into triple AAA rated loans? And how can these loans be multiplied up to such an extent that they threaten the global financial markets? What are derivatives and why do they now dominate the financial markets? Should Lehman's bank and the US mortgage companies - Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - have been allowed to fail? Were we right to bail out Northern Rock and rescue our banks whose key expertise is meant to be assessing risk? And why were the credit rating agencies not blowing the whistle on the incompetent bankers - surely that is what they are paid to do?

Whoops provides a comprehensible and entertaining account of what went wrong. He places the credit crunch in historical context - the collapse of communism in 1989 and the liberalisation of the financial markets especially the Big Bang in the UK and the repeal of regulation in the US. He explains in layman's terms the explosion of derivatives like credit default swaps (CDS's) and collateralised debt obligations (CDO's) and how they rapidly came to dominate the markets. The lack of understanding of their risk by those who ran many banks is absolutely staggering.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am deeply grateful to John Lanchester for this lucid, funny and passionate account of the recent Great Crash. Before I read it, I felt impotent and angry; now I feel impotent, angry but informed - and, considering I surrender, numbed and uncomprehending, after two paragraphs of your average money page in the newspaper, I can say that financially informed is an unusual, but satisfying place for me to be. Others have criticised the informal style. It held me spellbound - true, the tone is conversational, the pace as racy as a thriller, but the book is none the worse for that. JL is also articulate, knowledgeable and totally unpatronising. With friendly charm, he kindly assumes that you are both intelligent and curious, and unravels the complexities of the credit crunch with a deftness and lightness of touch that nevertheless confronts head on the profoundly serious situation, moral as well as financial, in which we now find ourselves.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book will make any thinking person livid with rage and very, very worried. By pure luck I read it back-to-back with Fools Gold by Gillian Tett, an equally excellent though very different account of the same events. (In Whoops! John Lanchester pays tribute to Ms Tett as one of the few journalists to recognise and warn against the risks which the banks were running before it all blew up). Whoops! is aimed squarely at the intelligent reader who isn't an expert in high finance and the author succeeds brilliantly at explaining in everyday terms concepts which are, at best, abstruse. Given its subject matter, the book is quite astonishingly entertaining but the author's conclusion is both bleak and frightening - a real, effective fix for the banks is not going to happen until after the NEXT crisis and that crisis, whenever it arrives, will be far worse than 2008 because "it will be close to impossible for the politicians to help the banks stay solvent". The most worrying thing about this conclusion is that it is contained in an epilogue added in August 2010. Whoops! is a superb book which should be compulsory reading for every banker (or "bankster" as Mr Lanchester prefers to style them), politician and voter. Highly recommended but ultimately a very uncomfortable read.
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Format: Hardcover
If you have any close friends who are investment bankers, don't buy this book: your friendship will be tested to destruction. Everyone else, buy it now. Don't be put off by thinking you're economically illiterate and therefore won't understand it. Not only is John Lanchester not a 'bankster', as he calls financial insiders, his whole point is to show that us ordinary 'civilians' -- the millions who witnessed, open-mouthed and uncomprehending, the 2008 banking crash, and whose jobs and pockets have felt the force of the resulting credit crunch -- can see what the banksters can't, or won't: that what they've been up to for the past 20 years is madness. Readers of romantic fiction are sometimes advised to keep a box of tissues handy, to cope with the crying. I'm really not sure what would be the best thing to keep by you as you read 'Whoops!' A shotgun, perhaps, or a large bottle of Valium. And your voting card, ready to tear up if nothing else.

Take it slowly, a chapter a day at most; too much outrage all at once could stop your heart. This is not over-written hype, despite the whacky, attention-grabber title. Lanchester's a good writer and journalist, and relies on quotes from the banksters themselves, and from the laughably inadequate legislation that 'controls' them. He likens the explosion in financial self-delusion since the end of the Cold War -- the creation of trillion-dollar markets in financial instruments such as derivatives, collateralised debt obligations and sub-prime mortgage-backed securities, much of it rated AAA and, as we now know, much of it worthless -- to the onset of modernism in the arts, 'a break with common sense, a turn towards self-referentiality and abstraction and notions that couldn't be explained in workaday English.
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