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5.0 out of 5 stars
A Must Read - Thorough, Measured and Compelling, 12 Sep 2011
Anglo Republic: Inside the Bank that Broke Ireland by Simon Carswell is a thoroughly satisfying and compelling read. Carswell documents the rise and fall of the bank demonised by the Irish media in a superbly thorough and measured fashion. Eagerly anticipated, the volume brings together many of the tantalisingly shocking stories surrounding the high-flying executives of Anglo Irish and weaves them together with technical explanations and thorough research into an eminently readable and ultimately fulfilling expose of the big decisions and the the mindsets that led to the downfall of the institution.
I was eager to read the book to understand the fuller story behind the headlines and I was not disappointed. Like most Irish these days I would love to see the publicly identified culprits behind the mess at Anglo Irish hanged, drawn and quartered. Their lavish lifestyles and seemingly reckless disregard for the implications of their decisions seemed clear and unforgivable. Surprisingly, with the presentation of the fuller picture, I found myself more understanding of the human dimension to the story. While not able to accept the reckless actions, one comes away with a fuller appreciation of how small risks lead to larger risks and how personalities combine to catalyse specific and fatal outcomes. The failure of regulators and of the government to deal with the developing situation and their own culpability is made blatantly clear. In both of their cases, intentions may well have been laudable, but the capacity to undertake the hard and measured decisions to deal with the crisis at the appropriate time and in an effective way were crucially lacking. Lack of information and a recurring need to choose the seemingly least damaging solution lead to not just wrong, but potentially disastrous results for all parties. Unwillingness to gain a full understanding, or willingness to countenance borderline illegal activities in hope of a future salvation that will excuse such actions by regulators and politicians are identified. The parallel with the way in which decisions are made and justified within Anglo is hard to miss. While the government operates with the misperceived interests of the country and heart, the bank operates with similarly dangerous misdefined interests of shareholders. Both are complicit and held to account. The human face of Anglo is never doubted, we learn that inter-bank rivalries, failures to maintain relationships and implicit instructions from the central bank are (perhaps not unknowingly) misinterpreted leading to what can be judged as clearly illegal in the greater perspective but are muddlier on the firing line.
The book is not an attempt to make apologies or to allow for the excusing of what are deeply illegal and ingenuous actions, but surprisingly they put Anglo and its executives into a broader picture of mistakes, misdeals and inability to comprehend the true gravity of the situation throughout the Irish and european banking community and the financial regulators and the Irish government itself. There is a point when all become victims of their earlier actions and generally helplessly caught up in the current of the larger economic situation - if the books posits any question for the reader, its a matter of when particular actors hit this point of losing control.
Sean Quinn comes out of the story particularly badly. His seemingly all or nothing gamble on taking options on Anglo shares is pictured as a naive move that leads to his manipulation by self-concerned bankers. Anglo's efforts to find a solution to his altruistically presented attempt to take a dominant equity position in the bank are made surprisingly undertandable and desperately necessary (allowing for some sense of paranoia on the banks part). Suddenly the Maple 10 seem far less culpable in this strange affair - in this volume presented as largely names signed to agreements (although some seem to have benefited substantially largely without their own direct intent). Quinn is painted as simple man driven by good intentions but caught up in machinations far behind his control. This portrayal seems somewhat less than plausible given his demonstrable past business acumen. He is painted as no different from many of these rags to riches celtic tiger billionaires. From simple backgrounds, many built commendable firms through hard work and determination. At some point though they, like Sean Fitzpatrick, became deal junkies and just couldn't stop even when the numbers ceased to add up. They all fall victims to the carefully manipulated and contrived financial pictures they were publicly presenting.
Clearly the entire experience is a story of hubris and greed, but Carswell has extend this simple reflection into a deeper appreciation of the times and circumstances that lead smart businessmen to attempt stupid things.
For all the Irish taxpayers wondering where their and subsequent generations livelihoods are being spent and what mentalities surrounded the mad celtic tiger drive for growth, this book is required reading. It is crafted in a most readable fashion and presents a very balanced and surprisingly rational look at what would otherwise be a creative tale, were it not all too true.