I spend a lot of time researching and read at least a book a week on average. One book that really fired my imagination is ‘Boomerang’ by Michael Lewis.
In this follow-up to The Big Short, Michael Lewis examines the men who made fortunes out of subprime mortgages, Boomerang addresses the scarier phase of the financial meltdown: the debt crisis in Europe and America.
It is written as a travelogue-come-investigative-report, with Lewis jetting off to Iceland, Greece and Ireland before stopping in Germany – the pusher supplying the addicts – and then finishing back home in the US
Having risen to prominence as an acerbic commentator on the wide boys, wackos and wizards of high finance, Lewis finds plenty of targets for his scathing wit on this tour. While risking offence to entire nations, the narrative is at times caustically funny. Icelanders “have a feral streak in them, like a horse that’s just pretending to be broken”. Germans long “to be near the shit, but not in it”.
Elsewhere, there is a dark edge to the humour. The preface describes the author’s unsettling encounter with Kyle Bass, a billionaire financier who hoards precious metals in anticipation of impending apocalypse and spends weekends shooting sniper rifles on his Texan ranch. The intractability of the debt crisis, with Europe’s sickliest economies in a seeming death spiral makes later passages in Boomerang both urgent and chilling.
Lewis has a talent for distilling complex ideas and arguments into pithy comment. Ireland’s property bust, he writes, was caused by Irishmen using foreign money to buy Ireland from one another. While the Greeks want no part of the debts they all accrued, the Irish seem willing to repay money borrowed by a few banks “without so much as a small moan”.
In the final chapter, Lewis visits the California city of Vallejo, bankrupted by the cost of public-sector pensions and an American aversion to raising taxes. In a place that cannot afford firefighters and police, he meets a British neuroscientist who blames the ill-design of the human brain. Hardwired to be gorgers, people in environments of abundance have sacrificed long-term interests for short-term rewards. It is a troubling end to a thought-provoking read.