Top critical review
on 4 December 2012
The definition of modern schadenfreud is reading about how a hedge fund manager's life goes down the toilet, and the dirtier and more foul the toilet, the better. Octopus promises such a tale but it becomes, almost literally, a tale told by an idiot. As the main protagonist in the book develops from being an apprentice Master of the Universe on Wall Street to inhabiting a different Universe altogether, I began to feel I could be told a similar story from a number of patients on a mental ward who think they're either Nelson Mandela or Napoleon. As you read of how this hedge fund trader became duped by a series of con-men trying to rob him of his millions, you actually begin to feel sorry for him. He's clearly mentally ill but the author resists making this diagnosis, instead trying to con us, the reader, into thinking that there may well be a "shadow market" in the world, run by the rich and powerful for the rich and powerful. Baloney. Wall Street isn't much more than a casino that outlandishly rewards dumb luck and privilege. Books like this try to lend it an aura that it doesn't deserve.
To be fair, the book was well written and the plot keeps moving, but I found it difficult to believe in the main characters as they became increasingly unlikeable and disconnected from reality. As ever, one guy with the ability to stand back and ponder the old adage that if something looks too good to be true then it probably is, begins to unravel the whole scheme. It seems, however, that there's no fool like rich fools and that while in the world of finance, greed might not be good, it is almost endemic. I finished the book thinking that there was a deeper and better story to be told from this tale, one that looks at just what is wrong with the systems and psychologies that allow the worst excesses of capitalism to happen. When we begin to understand that then we might start to make the world a better and fairer place.