Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity
edited by Michael Lewis, W. W. Norton & Company, 391 Pages, $27.95, Hardcover, December 2008, ISBN 9780393065145
Michael Lewis is one of my favorite non-fiction writers. I always look forward to a new book of his, but when I first looked closely at the cover of Panic, I was a little upset. There, in sharp contrast to the large font advertising his name, are the words "edited by" in small italics. This isn't a compilation of Michael Lewis writings on the economy but a collection of other people's writings--albeit respected and talented writers like Paul Krugman, Lester C. Thurow, Robert J. Shiller, James Surowiecki and Roger Lowenstein--taken from The New York Times
, The New Yorker
and even Technology Review
. There are a few Michael Lewis essays included, but they don't dominate the book.
As I read on, though, I quickly found that this book didn't make me feel slighted in the least. Instead, it was easy to enjoy this stellar collection of current, relevant and brilliantly written essays about five of the most recent traumas to our financial system, including the crash of 1987, the Asian currency crisis of 1999, the deflation of the Internet bubble and the bursting of the real-estate bubble. Lewis provides an overview to each section, and the essays run the gamut from serious analysis of serious times to a brilliantly funny Dave Barry piece on real estate and how to make money. Sometimes it's both serious and funny at once. You get the human side of the collapse of the Internet bubble with Jerry Useem's essay in Fortune, from 2000, where we meet Jim Cramer, pre-TV show. Discussing what's next for him after Thestreet.com, he says "Oh, this unbelievable project. It's called 'Coaching Fifth-Grade Soccer.'"
I believe Panic
will set the standard for anthologies of financial writing. While there are many lists of books to read about the current financial situation, this is the book to read for an informed look at the past and current financial crises. To paraphrase a famous quotation: "those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it." It is clearly crucial for us all to get more educated about what has happened to our economy over the last two-plus decades. Panic
provides that education.