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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Boomerang by Michael Lewis, 2011, * * * * *

Michael Lewis possesses the rare storyteller's ability to make virtually any subject seem both lucid and compelling.  In his new book, Boomerang, he actually makes topics like European sovereign debt, the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.) and the European Central Bank not only comprehensible but also fascinating - even, or especially, to readers who rarely open the business pages or watch CNBC. The book could not be more timely given the worries about Europe's deepening debt crisis and the recent warning issued by Christine Lagard, managing director of the I.M.F. that "the current economic situation is entering a dangerous phase."  Combining his easy familiarity with finance and the talents of a good travel writer,  The book does not aspire to provide a broad overview of the debt crisis but does provide a sparkling prism by which to view the problem from a global perspective. In examining the cases of Iceland, Ireland, Greece and Germany, Mr. Lewis seeks to attribute the differing causes of economic turmoil and their varying outcomes to each country's distinctive national characteristics.  Thus Iceland went mad on banking because, as a nation of fisherman, it has a culture steeped in macho risk-taking; Ireland went mad on house buying because as a nation beset by a history of oppression and exploitation, landowning was the ultimate escape from the past; Greece went mad on avoiding tax payments and collection because they are a nation built on feuding, nepotism and graft and Germany is left to pay the bill because they are a nation who likes the thrill of thrusting its clean fingers into other people's dirty laundry. Michael Lewis has a wonderful talent for distilling complicated stories, whether bond trading in New York (Liar's Poker) or a baseball-analysis revolution in Oakland, CA (Moneyball) in simple terms and with telling detail. Boomerang, adapted from a series of essays he wrote for Vanity Fair Magazine, does not disappoint on this score.

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