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5.0 out of 5 stars
A Ship Of Fools, 20 Oct 2011
In 1494 a German author, Sebastian Brant, wrote of a ship of 110 fools who set off in a search for paradise. The crew departs from Basel on its unfortunate journey, its human inhabitants perishing along the way as a result of their errant behaviour.
Five centuries later another, much larger group of people, global financiers, set off on a spectacular, wild ride, taking whole economies with them. Their objective: to borrow oneself into prosperity. Poetically, the rules under which the bankers operated were also written in Basel.
Unfortunately, the inevitable collapse of their speculative endeavours - which Satjayit Das likens to the sticky mess resulting from a candy floss - has consigned the world economy to years of recession.
Das chronicles - brilliantly - the craziness of the last three decades of extreme money, ridiculing bankers, regulators and politicians along the way. Illustrative quotes from historical figures pepper the text and add greatly to the book's effect.
Bankers - the author used to be one - come in for special treatment. Their excuses now, post- (or should I say mid-?) crisis, are along the lines of someone having murdered their parents and then appealing for clemency on the grounds of being an orphan, says Das. Alan Greenspan may wish to avert his eyes from pages 347-356, where his contribution to the crisis is made clear and his subsequent attempts to avoid blame are debunked, mercilessly.
Not that Greenspan - now the recipient of lucrative retainers from a bank (Deutsche), fund manager (Pimco) and hedge fund (Paulson) may care.
This is a sobering and, at the same time, a highly entertaining read. Human nature never changes, says Das. Our capacity for self-deception is never-ending. People go mad in crowds, but recover their senses only one by one, as another great chronicler of financial extremes, Charles Mackay, once wrote.
Or as Gene Simmons, base player of rock band KISS said, quoted by Das, "Life is too short to have anything but delusional notions about yourself."