Tim Harford gets better and better, now with a whole thoughtful book exploring the concept of evolution as applied to markets and other complex systems. He is really becoming the UK's Paul Krugman with his colourful analogies that bring to life economic concepts for the lay person - Coco bonds as airbags and 'economic Bulldogs' for the unintended consequences of well intended policy. So why only four stars? Well, most unfortunately, Tim (who, as we all know, is himself a highly competent presenter, well able to read his own book) delegated this task to some actor who decided to deliver various lengthily quoted passages in the supposedly appropriate accent. So Adam Smith appears with a rich scottish burr, and various Americans with a transatlantic drawl. This is irritating and unnecessary (and probably inaccurate) but tolerable. It becomes unbearable when we have third world economists such as Muhammad Yunus (founder of the Grameen bank). The narrator can't actually face the horror of putting on a faux-Bengali accent so he does a sort of 'humble peasant voice' instead. Made me squirm. Tim - read your own books - please.
I've read several books (Gillian Tett's Fools Gold, Michael Lewis's The Big Short, Gordon Brown's apology..) about the financial crisis, so I can't really say I learnt anything new from John Lanchester. However, I was richly amused and entertained by his whimsical and informal style. His wry wit and colloquial turn of phrase often had me laughing out loud. And it is a story so amazing, so profound and so ongoing (unfortunately) that it bears retelling a few times, in different registers, by different people. Mr Lanchester is a definite outsider. Son of an old fashioned (good/safe) banker, he read English and became a writer. He can take the 'man in the street' perspective, and uses analogies that make the whole episode both accessible and maximally absurd.
Normally I don't like narrators trying to mimic real characters (e.g. the voices of Ronald Reagan and Alan Greenspan), but in this context - a rather theatrical book - it does more or less work. The narrator also manages to personify Mr Lanchester's animated and humorous style.
A dramatic story that leaves a normal person feeling very angry. The bad guys waltz off with millions and the good guys aren't exactly heroes either. Some details are a little hard to grasp for a layperson, but then again 99% of Wall Street insiders didn't quite understand the Ponzi scheme they were rolled up in either. An amazing tale of our times, well-told by an able story-teller.