Thursday, April 09, 2009

Panic! edited by Michael Lewis

I'm sure many of us, on first glance at this book, thought "Oh good -- Michael Lewis is smart and savvy about financial stuff and a fine writer; he'll be able to explain why the markets are in such a mess." And then we looked closer and realized that this is not a new book by Lewis about this panic (or any other), but instead a collection of writings edited by Lewis about the last four major global financial panics.

Once our expectations were appropriately adjusted, though, Panic! starts to look quite good again -- it covers the 1987 Wall Street crash, the 1997-98 Asian currency crisis, the popping of the dot-com bubble, and the early stages of whatever the heck we should call the current debacle, has been very intelligently curated to provide valuable perspectives on all of those events, and does have quite a bit of Lewis prose in it, to explain and introduce and tie together all of these materials.

The whole thing is, somewhat improbably, half-copyright to McSweeney's, and Lewis's acknowledgements explain that the project is a benefit for 826 National and for a fund for rebuilding New Orleans -- both excellent causes, though I'm a little fuzzy on how they relate to the subject of financial panics.

As I said above, Panic! covers the last four major crashes, starting with the 1987 event called "Black Monday" until last fall showed us all what a really crashing market looks like. Lewis has pulled articles from the usual financial-reporting suspects -- the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Barron's, Economist, Fortune, Time -- as well as pulling chapters from books by John Cassidy (Dot.con), Franklin Edwards (After the Crash), Lewis's own work (both Liar's Poker and The New New Thing, plus several of his journalistic pieces), Tim Metz (Black Monday), and, of all people, Dave Barry (Dave Barry's Money Secrets). Other reporters and commentators with work in the book include Paul Krugman, Roger Lowenstein, James Surowiecki, and Peter Goodman.

I learned a lot from this book, though I'm afraid I didn't know enough about any of these events ahead of time to be sure if this is book is fully accurate, or if it embodies any kind of an agenda. It certainly seems authoritative, and I mostly trust Lewis -- though he's presenting one essentially unified explanation for each crisis, and I'm sure that there are competing theories, even now. So I liked Panic!, and found it very useful and informative, but I might have liked it better if I had a clearer idea of its biases and the general shape of the different explanations of the crashes.

No comments:

Post a Comment