A History of the United States in Five Crashes describes the 1907, 1929, 1987, 2008, and 2010 stock market crashes. Scott Nations’ thesis is that crashes tend to follow a pattern where some new financial construct causes investors to let their guard down. The false sense of security allows for a rapid market run, then some event triggers it to come crashing back down. The introduction of algorithms and computer-directed trading has also sped up this process and created new vulnerabilities in the market. Continue reading “Book Review: A History of the US in 5 Crashes”
The End of Alchemy is the most comprehensive book on financial crises that has been published since the Great Recession. Mervyn King headed up the Bank of England during the 2008 Financial Crisis. However, unlike Timothy Geithner and Ben Bernanke, he doesn’t set out to defend his actions during the crisis or make excuses for questionable decisions. Instead, King criticizes the system that allowed the crisis to happen, allowed the crises before it, and will inevitably create future crises if it is not changed. Continue reading “Book Review: The End of Alchemy”
The Big Short is more technical and more entertaining than I had expected. When it comes to coverage of the 2008 financial crisis, there are few in books or media who do an adequate job of explaining the mortgage-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, and other technical finance concepts involved. Michael Lewis manages to make sense of a complex system of debt speculation that the people who were responsible for understanding didn’t seem to understand. It is exactly what one might hope to get out of this book, but it’s not the thing that makes this book truly special.
What is really surprising about this book is its tone. Wall Street investors can be very brash. The investors covered by Lewis are outsiders. They share many characteristics with Wall Street stereotypes, but for various reasons they don’t fit in to those social circles. They are rogue investors, searching for any niche they can find, striving to be contrarian. They speak with a colorful vernacular; Lewis doesn’t bowdlerize. In fact, Lewis adopts a bit of the voice of his characters to better tell their story.
As the story progresses, the tone drastically changes. The events that unfold have huge implications for capitalism, democracy, and the history of the world going into a new century. Seeing how the men who predicted it profited from it and eventually reacted to it is what The Big Short is really about.