2010 was the year when the chickens hatched by the great crash of 2008 came home to roost. The biggest bust in living memory prompted a slew of books analysing the disaster and aftermath. Profiling the people behind the headlines has become the author's most popular device.
My reading year started with Too Big to Fail by The New York Times writer Andrew Ross Sorkin. At 600 pages it was almost too big to read, but its style set the tone for those to follow with dramatised accounts of events the author could not possibly have witnessed first-hand but which make the story immediate and vital. We are told that at 'seven am on Saturday September 13 the CEO of JP Morgan stood in his kitchen with a headache as he knew too much'. We are taken into the extraordinary world of excess where executives commute daily by helicopter and remuneration packages are in the tens of millions for people who would cost taxpayers tens of billions. This book is mainly the story of how Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson battled to stop the banks going under.
The Greatest Trade Ever by Gregory Zuckerman tells how another Paulson - John, the hedge fund manager - made a profit of $20bn by betting against the very mortgage-backed securities that got the banks into the mess. It also includes personal vignettes such as the wife of one of Paulson's managers going to an ATM to discover that $45m had appeared, without warning, in the family bank account - being the down payment on the monster bonus due to her husband for his part in organising the hedge fund bet that millions of Americans would be unable to pay their mortgages. This is a more technical book for those who want to really understand the arcane world and alphabet soup of CDOs (collateralised debt obligations) and CDSs (credit default swaps).