Whoops!, By John Lanchester

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The Independent Culture

"We are in Britain, to use a technical economic term, screwed," writes John Lanchester in this primer on the global financial meltdown. He relates the complex roots of the crisis with admirable clarity, attributing the crunch to a congruence of factors: "a climate" (the triumph of free-market capitalism with the end of the Cold War); "a problem" (sub-prime mortgages); "a mistake" (bankers' maladroit risk calculations); and "a failure" (on the part of governments, which let it all happen).

A prize-winning novelist, Lanchester brings his literary imagination to bear on the subject, but the results are mixed: the Swiftian flourish in his description of the financial regulators – restraining the giant banks in the Lilliputian manner, "with lots of little ropes" – is inspired, but elsewhere his attempts to evoke humour falter ("house prices go up and down like a bride's nightie").

But this is a witty, informative précis, and Lanchester's conclusion – that policy-makers' failure to tighten regulation in the wake of the crisis could pave the way for another crash – seems ominously plausible.