At some point during Gillian Tett's absorbing year gallop across the Wild West of the world's financial markets, the reader will find themselves snapping away from the page and saying, "Hang on a minute. This is nuts. Would that we had had this narrative in real time. We are familiar enough with the chain reaction of explosions that began two years ago, deep in the credit markets, closing in on the real economy until they blew up our pensions, house prices and job prospects.
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They had parties, we got the hangover
Much the same is true of financial innovations: financial products don't destroy financial systems, people destroy financial systems. This, at least, is the premise of Gillian Tett's latest book. An editor at the Financial Times, she is also a trained anthropologist who has spent as much time mulling over wedding rituals in Tajikistan as delving into the weird behavioural patterns of bankers: her way of looking at the ongoing credit crisis has been to study the personalities of the small tribe at J. Morgan who unwittingly unleashed the catastrophe. She starts at a hotel in Florida, describing the high jinks of a team of young J. Morgan traders at an 'offsite' meeting in
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Rewriting the Rules
To understand the calamity on Wall Street, we need erudite financial analysis and good old-fashioned stories about human fallibility. Gillian Tett, who oversees global market coverage for The Financial Times, offers some of each. Morgan built a monster that got out of control and helped destroy much of their industry. She shows us the financial world through the eyes of her talented but short-sighted subjects: geniuses at math and marketing, they thought they had discovered how to defy the laws of nature.