Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Song for Steve

My dear cousin and close friend, Steve, passed away on a recent October morning, one month shy of his fifty-seventh birthday. I visited Steve a few times during the final months of his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive and fatal motor neuron disease that has taken the lives of five of my family members.

As the inevitable end drew near for Steve, I found myself reflecting on the years that we spent together growing up in Scarborough, Ontario, and the unforgettable adventures of our youth. We played little league baseball and road hockey together. We were in the same Boy Scout troop and spent hours playing in the ravine across the street from where he lived.

In our mid-teens, we both bought our first cars (Steve's was a candy apple red Chevy Nova, mine a sleek Pontiac Beaumont), which was like a rite of passage and a ticket to freedom. To help pay for gas and insurance, we both worked at a local gas station, and the stunts we pulled during that period gave new meaning to the phrase 'misspent youth.'

By the time we hit our late teens, we hung out and did some travelling together (Florida, Virginia Beach), but we also started to develop different interests. Steve attended Centennial College and was eager to pursue a career in his chosen field, while I spent my early twenties writing poetry and wandering through Europe.

One thing that united us - from childhood until middle age - was music. During our teens, we spent endless hours listening to and discussing our favourite bands: Queen, Supertramp, Bruce Springsteen, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Chicago, Peter Frampton, The Alan Parsons Project, and many more. The 1970s and early 1980s were a golden age for experimental rock and pop music and it gave rise to dozens of classic songs and albums. Steve always got a thrill out of discovering new bands and artists and he loved sharing these treasures with his friends.

Steve had a special ear for lyrics and was drawn to songs that told stories. He introduced me to such classics as Harry Chapin's "Taxi," Billy Joel's "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" and Bread's "Everything I Own." He once asked me to listen to the words of an obscure song by Styx called "This Old Man," which spoke about the dignity of work and how you shouldn't be afraid to express feelings of love for others. Indeed, this was a pretty mature theme for a 20 year old kid to understand.

Another time, Steve urged me to buy an album by an artist with the unlikely name of Meatloaf. So, we rushed over to the record store and I bought Meatloaf's "Bat Out Of Hell" album. We cranked the volume on his stereo and played it over and over until the grooves wore out. A few months later, Steve and I got a chance to see Meatloaf perform at Massey Hall in Toronto; it was one of the most memorable concerts of my life.

It is those memories of enjoying music together that has been such a comfort to me, in the months leading up to - and after - Steve's passing. I'll put on a song that reminds me of a moment from our past, be it the Scout trip where Steve tossed an unopened can of pork 'n beans onto a roaring bonfire, Steve driving us in his mother's car to Virginia Beach or Steve briefly piloting a Cessna as we flew over the cornfields of Markham. My wife asks me why I keep playing songs that remind me of Steve and that make me so sad. Yes, these songs evoke feelings of sadness but they are also a way of connecting to the past and keeping it alive.

We often hear that a picture is worth a thousand words, but music can be just as powerful in connecting the past with the present. Songs like "Candy's Room" by Bruce Springsteen, "Holdin' On To Yesterday" by Ambrosia and "Do You Feel Like We Do" by Peter Frampton remind me of where Steve and I were at a given time. Listening to these musical gems, four decades later, is a way of holding onto Steve and reliving our youth.

One time, Steve and I were driving to Orillia, and the Bee Gees' "Tragedy" came on the radio. Steve thought the song sounded cheesy, but that didn't stop him from belting out the lyrics, "When the feeling's gone and you can't go on / It's tragedy..." in a high-pitched falsetto as he worked an invisible mic. Every time I hear that song, I laugh and think of Steve's exaggerated rendition.

At that time - we were both 20 - we didn't have a care in the world. We were just two guys cruising in my car and enjoying a moment that would become part of our shared experiences. All those years ago, Steve could not have imagined the special place those songs and moments would one day hold in the heart of a cousin whose grief today is beyond words. I'm sure there is a song in there somewhere, and when I hear it, I'll be reminded of the great man and friend that Steve was, and I'll be the first to tell others, That's a song for Steve.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Heat and hilarity in Bourdain's kitchens

Kitchen Confidential, Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
By Anthony Bourdain
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing, paperback edition 2001

There are certain occupations that have always seemed so foreign to me that I've never been able to grasp why or how people are drawn to them. Cooking is one.

AnthonyBourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" dispels some of the mysteries of the culinary profession and answers some of my longstanding curiosities about what goes on inside restaurant kitchens. This amusing book - later made into a short-lived TV series starring Bradley Cooper - is a rambling memoir about Bourdain's first 25 years in the restaurant industry, written in a style that is brash, hilarious, and honest.

"Kitchen Confidential" starts with Bourdain's early fascination with food and follows his apprenticeship to becoming a respected, versatile and productive cook/chef in New York. As a young boy, while on a cruise ship with his family, Bourdain was served Vichyssoise for the first time and was totally blown away that a soup could be served cold and taste so delicious. Through his teen years, he continued to feed his appetite for all things food related and wound up studying at the famed Culinary Institute of America (CIA), a topic to which he devotes an entire chapter.

After graduating from CIA, Bordain's apprenticeship in the culinary arts began in earnest. Throughout his twenties and thirties, he bounced around New England and New York, working in an assortment of restaurants, from greasy spoons to high-end dining establishments, such as the Rainbow Room at the Rockefeller Centre. During these years, Bordain honed his chops and encountered a motley crew of characters who provide amusing fodder for his adventures in the kitchen.

His recollections of these colourful cooks, sou-chefs, master chefs, restaurant owners and busboys are told with frankness and insouciance. One of the most memorable characters is Bigfoot, a pseudonym for a legendary restaurant owner whom Bourdain worked for and who served as a mentor to him.
"He [Bigfoot], more than anyone else I encountered in my professional life, transformed me from a bright but druggie fuck-up into a serious, capable and responsible chef. He made me a leader, the combination of good-guy bad-guy the job requires. He's the reason I am never off sick, go to sleep every night running tomorrow's prep lists and menus through my mind."
I also enjoyed the story about Adam, a bread baker who regularly gets under the skin of his colleagues. "He may be the enemy of polite society," Bourdain writes, "a menace to any happy kitchen, s security risk and a potential serial killer, but the man can bake.... His bread and his pizza crust are simply divine." The author describes how out-of-control Adam's life is in all aspects and how in awe he is of the man's God-given talent when it comes to baking bread.

What makes "Kitchen Confidential" such a compelling read is Bordain's pull-no-punches writing style, his acerbic voice and his sardonic wit. Here he describes a period in which he managed a kitchen for someone nicknamed The Shadow in an Italian restaurant in New York:
"But I was off dope now...and comfortably sedated by methadone, I felt free to visit the service bar numerous times a night, so that I could pack my nose with cocaine. This gave me that lovably psychotic edge so useful for mood swings, erratic bursts of rage, and the serious business of canning people, thus saving my master money."
For years, Bourdain indulged in a variety of recreational substances, all the while managing to perfect his craft, expand his knowledge of the restaurant business and manage kitchens, both large and small, with workmanlike efficiency and flair. Cooking is clearly in Bordain's genes and his passion for food and cooking is plainly evident throughout this rollicking tale.

Bottom line on "Kitchen Confidential" is that it provides readers with a blunt portrait of the personalities and behind-the-scenes work that occurs inside restaurant kitchens. Although preparing food remains a source of mystery to me, and probably always will, "Kitchen Confidential" has shed a morsel of light on an activity that is an essential part of our daily lives. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A spellbinding tale of depravity and glory in the Gilded Age

The Devil in The White City, Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
Published in Vintage Books, a Division of Random House Inc., 2004

Erik Larson's "The Devil in The White City" is a non-fiction book that tells the true life stories of two men who worked in Chicago in the late 19th century. Geography and gender are about all that these men shared in common.

Daniel Burnham was a leading architect and city planner of his day, largely credited with being the mastermind and driving force behind Chicago's bid to host an exposition commemorating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in North America.

Chicago had a lot to prove in hosting the World's Columbian Exposition, which became known as the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Until then, the city was famous as a hog producer and was considered something of a backwater. As Larson writes:
Failure was unthinkable. If the fair failed, Burnham knew, the nation's honour would be tarnished, Chicago humiliated, and his own firm dealt a crushing blow. Everywhere Burnham turned there was someone - a friend, an editor, a fellow club member - telling him that the nation expected something tremendous out of this fair. And expected it in record time....The fair would also have to make a profit.
"The Devil in The White City" also tells the chilling tale of a doctor and businessman by the name of H.H. Holmes, who earned the dubious distinction of being one of America's first documented serial killers. Holmes created a house of horrors just blocks from the site of the Chicago World's Fair and committed dozens of murders right under the noses of customers, friends, neighbours, passersby and the police. He was able to avoid detection for years because of the newness of this type of crime, the lack of investigative resources and Holmes' inherent charm, likeability and skill at manipulating others.

Both Burnham and Holmes possessed powerful egos and towering ambitions; the former harnessed his talents for good in pursuit of the highest forms of artistic expression and human achievement while the latter devoted his life to orchestrating acts of fraud and evil. Larson weaves the lives of both men into a captivating narrative that spans the years leading up to and immediately following the fair.

What I found particularly fascinating about this book is the process by which the fair sprang into being. Burnham, along with his fellow architects, landscape designers, construction workers and participating vendors essentially created a mini city from wasteland on the banks of Lake Michigan over a 26 month period. Blueprints, work schedules and deadlines were fast-tracked in a race against the clock to complete construction on time.

The odds seemed stacked against meeting this impossible deadline. A deepening recession, poor weather conditions, engineering and logistical problems, labour strife and other challenges threatened to halt production and derail the opening of the fair. That Burnham and fellow organizers managed to prevail is a testament to their tenacity and will to succeed. In the end, despite setbacks and cost overruns that tested the mettle of the fair's organizers, Chicago hosted a world-class fair, which attracted millions of visitors from around the world. The fair introduced the latest technologies, product innovations and concepts, such as the Ferris Wheel, Juicy Fruit, Shredded Wheat, Cracker Jack popcorn and Edison's Kinetoscope. The fair became a role model for fairs held around the world for the next century.

In documenting Burnham's challenges in producing the fair, and recreating the setting of the multiple murders that took place at the hands of Holmes, Larson creates an "edge of your seat" drama from start to finish and does a great job keeping readers in suspense. This book has it all: real-life drama, larger than life personalities, a quick pace and enough facts and statistics to satisfy any armchair history buff.

My only quibble with "The Devil in The White City" is the lack of photographs of the main personalities and of the fair itself. A few more photos would have been a complement to this tale that is so expertly told. But a quick Google search will yield many photos of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, along with reams of  information covering this epic slice of American history in the Gilded Age. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Moore's poignant examination of loneliness and despair

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne
A novel by Brian Moore, first published in 1955; re-published in 1988 by New Canadian Library

"The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne" is one of Brian Moore's earliest novels, published originally in 1955 to rave reviews. This book launched his career as a novelist and it was made into a 1987 film starring Maggie Smith and Bob Hoskins.

Set in Belfast, Ireland, in the early 1950s, it tells the tragic story of a plain-looking spinster who suffers a crisis of faith and identity in her early forties. As a child, Judith was orphaned after the death of her parents. She was taken in and raised by her aunt D'Arcy. When Judith was in her late twenties, her aunt suffered a stroke and, for the next 15 years, Judith became her primary caregiver, forsaking her own dreams and happiness in the process.

The novel opens a short time after Aunt D'Arcy has passed away and Judith is moving into another cheap rooming house. Soon she is introduced to the housekeeper's brother, James Madden, an ex-pat who once worked in America and who has returned to his native Ireland. After accompanying Madden to church and to the movies, Judith thinks that Madden has taken a liking to her, and she entertains the possibility of a budding romance, possibly marriage.

She wonders if all the years of sacrifice, caring for her ill aunt, and her faith in God, will finally lead to happiness, a dream that has eluded her for years. But James Madden is not what - or who - he pretends to be, and Judith's hopes of a romance are dashed. She views Madden's rejection - along with his mother's alleged complicity in that rejection - as the last straw in finding true happiness, and respectability.

Madden's rejection triggers Judith's slow, sad mental breakdown. She resorts to drink to dull the gnawing realization that she will probably never find true happiness, and then begins to question her faith. Moore depicts that decline through Judith's eyes and through the eyes of her roommates, friends, all of whom are portrayed as selfish, greedy, cruel and uncaring. Even her local priest, Father Quigley, seems more interested in putting in his time at the pulpit: He'd rather chastise his congregation for attending movies than provide human compassion to a parishioner who needs help.

One feels empathy for Judith, a caring and sensitive women whose best years have passed her by, who is ridiculed and pitied by those closest to her, and whose remaining years will likely be filled with more loneliness and rejection. With each passing day, Judith becomes painfully aware that she's reached a point in her life where she is unloved, alone, afraid, and beyond hope.

Through the use of occasional interior monologues, Moore takes readers into the minds of his characters to reflect on their personal biases and their attitudes towards Judith. Here is Judith's interior monologue in the midst of her decline, while she is sitting in the back of a taxi:
"Oh, I'm in trouble, in awful trouble. And nobody to help me. Where? I've got to talk to somebody, some friend, someone who can advise me, the faith, I've lost my faith, I've burned my boats and it will happen soon, it will happen. Now, if You're there, she screamed wordlessly. Now show me. Anything, a bolt of lightning, strike me down, anything. But don't leave me, don't leave me alone."
By the end of the novel, poor Judith has clearly lost her faith, her dreams, and her way in the world. Alongside Judith's heartbreaking predicament, Moore also explores the themes of class struggles, the passage of time, and the social and religious attitudes of Ireland in the early '50s.

In Judith Hearne, Moore has created a fictional character who is deserving of our empathy, a character who will resonate with readers long after the book is closed. In my opinion, "The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne" ranks as a great fictional narrative from one of the 20th century's great - and sadly underrated - storytellers.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Maltese Falcon is as hardboiled as it gets

If there is a such a thing as a perfectly-written crime novel, you'd be hard pressed to find a more worthy recipient than The Maltese Falcon. More than eight decades after its original release, in 1930, the book remains a true classic in the genre of hardboiled crime fiction.

Written by Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon is a well-plotted, well-written detective story that has been enjoyed by generations of readers, and inspired generations of writers as well. The book has been adapted twice for the big screen, most notably a 1941 film noir, starring Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre. It has spawned several TV parodies as well.

There are so many aspects of The Maltese Falcon that make this a delightful read. The precise use of language, the clever plotting, the subtle humour, the dingy San Francisco streets of the '20s and the lowly band of characters all make this a delightful and entertaining story, which stays with you long after you've finished reading it.

The main protagonist is Sam Spade, a cynical, cigarette-rolling private detective whose work partner, Miles Archer, has just been murdered. Some believe that Sam might have had a hand in Archer's death because of his affair with Archer's wife, Iva. The police question Spade about his potential involvement in the murder and believe him to be a suspect.

The death of Spade's partner triggers a series of events involving an amusing cast of characters, some of whom are intent on obtaining a rare and priceless figurine/bird. Among those wanting to find this bird are Brigid O'Shaughnessy, an attractive and duplicitous blond who tries to win the affections of Spade; and Casper Gutman, a heavy-set and charismatic art collector who has been trying to acquire the bird for 17 years.

Readers must remember that Hammett wrote this novel in the 1920s, when social attitudes about gender equality were much different than they are today. In The Maltese Falcon, Spade views women as little more than sex objects, and his actions towards them are mistrustful and misogynistic, as illustrated in this scene in which O'Shaughnessy is literally throwing herself at Spade:
Their faces were a few inches apart. Spade took her face between his hands and he kissed her mouth roughly and contemptuously. Then he sat back and said: 'I'll think it over." His face was hard and furious.
At many times while reading The Maltese Falcon, I felt myself cringe at scenes like this one. I know Hammett was writing for a different audience, but that doesn't make Spades' demeaning attitudes and actions towards women any more palatable. Indeed, they don't call this hard-boiled fiction for nothing.

When it comes to describing his characters, Hammett pulls no punches and has no qualms about calling a spade a spade (pun intended). Here is the author's no-holds-barred description of Gutman when we first meet this character:
The fat man was flabbily fat with bulbous pink cheeks and lips and chins and neck, with a great soft egg of a belly that was all his torso, and pendant cones for arms and legs. As he advanced to meet Spade all his bulbs rose and shook and fell separately with each step, in the manner of clustered soap-bubbles not yet released from the pipe through which they had been blown.
Hammett rarely misses an opportunity to call attention to Gutman's obesity, frequently referring to him as "the fat man." In Hammett's hands, such descriptions serve both as comic relief and the advancement of plot. Gutman remains a sly and calculating character in appearance, mannerisms and speech, and you know that he'll say and do anything to win the bird. That's part of what makes him so likeable and endearing.

The story advances with a steady and sometimes quickened pace, and with each chapter, readers feel closer to discovering the true motivations of the characters and the mystery of the rare figurine. Hammett does an exceptional job tossing all of the plot twists into the air, juggling them for our amusement, and making sense of them at the end.

There is a reason why The Maltese Falcon is still deemed such a pioneering work of fiction, decades after its original publication. For those who haven't had read it, you're missing a unique reading experience. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

An Interview with novelist, Anne Tyler

Eleanor Wachtel recently interviewed Pulitzer Prize winning author, Anne Tyler, on the CBC's Writers & Company. I've read several of Tyler's novels and enjoyed them thoroughly, although I'd never heard the author interviewed before. Over the course of Tyler's career, she has granted few interviews, and so this was a rare treat.

Tyler spoke about her novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, and about some of her earlier works, such as Celestial Navigation and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (Tyler's 1985 novel, The Accidental Tourist, was a popular film starring William Hurt). A recurring theme of families appears throughout Tyler's work. What intrigues her about families is their propensity for conflict and drama and how they usually end up staying together.

I enjoyed the part where Tyler spoke about her upbringing in a Quaker household in Raleigh, North Carolina. She didn't enjoy being a child (in fact she hated it) because she wasn't in control of her life. She particularly disliked always being put into a car and driven somewhere and never knowing where she was going (most children can relate).

I would have liked to hear Tyler discuss her 1995 novel, Ladder of Years, one of my favourites. Ladder of Years tells the story of woman who deserts her family while they are on vacation, for no apparent reason. Most of the novel concerns itself with the narrator trying understand herself and find a purpose to her life aside from being a wife and raising children. As with many of Tyler's novels, the actual progression of events in this story is rather slow-moving and mundane, but the complexity and understanding that Tyler brings to her characters makes for a powerful narrative indeed.

All in all, this was a fascinating interview with one of the world's most talented - and one of my favourite - novelists. Here is the link to that interview: Writers & Company.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Past and present collide in The Lighthouse by P.D. James

The Lighthouse
A novel by P.D. James
Published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2005

On a privately-owned island off the coast of Cornwall, England, a man's body is discovered hanging from a lighthouse railing. Was it murder? A suicide? An accident? That's what Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team at New Scotland Yard must determine in this slow-paced and carefully-plotted crime novel by P.D. James.

As a straight-up whodunnit, The Lighthouse is a solid work of fiction by one of the world's renowned crime novelists. James (1920 - 2014) methodically builds suspense and moves the action forward with studied calmness and surgical-like precision.

At first glance, Combe Island appears haunting and mysterious, as Dalgliesh and his colleagues arrive by helicopter to investigate the death of Nathan Oliver, a popular novelist and infrequent resident of the island who has come here for rest and relaxation. James writes:
"The middle of the island was a multicoloured scrubland with clutches of bushes and a few copses of spindly trees crossed by track so faint that they looked like the spoor of animals. The island did indeed look inviolate; no beaches, no receding lace of foam. The cliffs were taller and more impressive in the north-west where a spur of jagged rocks running out to the sea like broken teeth rose from a turmoil of crashing waves."
The island serves as a retreat for people who want a break from the pressures of everyday life. But the island also has a murky past, and as the story unfolds, James reveals the various histories and relationships among the main players (inhabitants and visitors alike), dropping clues and sprinkling details in a gradual building of suspense. It's up to Dalgliesh to discover how the island's history connects with the death of Nathan Oliver.

As with all good crime fiction, James introduces several characters who serve as possible suspects. There's bad blood between Oliver and a prominent animal researcher (Mark Yelland), who happens to be visiting the island when Oliver's death occurs; there's the boyfriend of Oliver's daughter whose life would be happier with Oliver out of the picture; and a shadowy figure named Jago, a resident boatman who bears a decades-long grievance involving Oliver's father.

The story unfolds with systematic thoroughness. But Dalgliesh's ability to lead the investigation is compromised when he is suddenly sidelined with a serious illness, and so the role of lead detective falls to his young colleague, Detective Inspector Kate Miskin. Can Miskin overcome her own fears and insecurities and solve the case before the local authorities are called in? The decisions she makes now will have a bearing on her career with Scotland Yard. Miskin and her colleague, Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith race against the clock for answers before the island guests start leaving and outside help steps in.

James builds the story to a fairly satisfying conclusion, although I was somewhat surprised at how abruptly the disparate pieces of this mystery are tidily pieced together within a few paragraphs. I haven't read enough P. D. James to know if this kind rapid-fire resolution is consistent in her fiction.

Nonetheless, the writing, the characterization, the plot twists and the slow deliberate pacing of The Lighthouse made for a satisfying read, and together these ingredients have whetted my appetite for more of P. D. James's fiction featuring Adam Dalgliesh.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Exposing the wizards of Wall Street

The Big Short, Inside the Doomsday Machine
By Michael Lewis
Published by W.W. Norton & Company, 2010

In The Big Short, Michael Lewis (Moneyball, Liar's Poker) takes readers behind the scenes at America's major banks and brokerage houses to explain the litany of events that triggered the global financial crisis of 2008. It's not a pretty picture.

In as much as this book is about high-risk mortgages and complex financial products, and the obliteration of trillions (with a 'T') in market capital, it also explores an interesting David versus Goliath tale where a few clever Davids manage to outsmart the most influential (and wealthiest) Goliaths in the U.S. financial industry with savvy insights and shrewd investing.

In a nutshell, here's what happened: In 2005, U.S. banks made it easy for people with poor credit to secure mortgages that they couldn't afford. Many of these mortgages were sold with teaser interest rates, which would automatically double or more within two years, which put them at a higher risk than traditional mortgages. These high-risk mortgages were packaged and sold as bonds to investors for quick profits with the belief that housing prices would continue to rise forever, and the rating agencies blessed these bonds with Triple-A rating status (Triple-A status made them appear as sound investments).

Few in the financial/investment community saw the potential for large-scale default on these high-risk mortgages. One of the investors who did was Michael Burry, who managed a hedge fund called Scion Capital. He tried to warn the investment community, regulators and the public that a large percentage of these high-risk mortgages would default, based on his reading of the prospectuses. But nobody listened. So, through his hedge fund, Burry bet against the subprime mortgage market by buying millions' worth of subprime mortgage credit default swaps (insurance contracts).  These mortgage default swaps eventually netted Burry and his investors over $700 million.

In the film Wizard of Oz, there is a scene near the end of the movie when Dorothy and her friends finally get to see the elusive Wizard, and they realize that he's no wizard at all, just an ordinary man pretending to be a Wizard. That scene kept popping into my head as I read The Big Short. The presidents of big banks, brokerage houses and regulatory agencies (the so-called wizards of Wall Street) were supposed to be wise and all-knowing arbiters of finance. They were supposed to be attuned to market trends and know all about evaluating risk. They should have known that the subprime mortgage business model was unsustainable and that their businesses were seriously at risk. But they were just as short-sighted and fallible as anybody else.

What Lewis details in The Big Short is events surrounding the financial collapse, including the buyers and sellers of these convoluted financial products who foresaw the potential for damage and who and bet against the subprime mortgage bonds. Throughout the story, readers are rooting for the underdogs (small hedge funds / managers who nobody took seriously), if only because of their clarity of vision and their willingness to stick to their convictions.

The Big Short adopts exactly the right darkly comic tone for the telling of this sad chapter in America's history. Lewis populates this story with several key figures in the mortgage crisis and sets the stage for the eventual collapse of many large banks and resulting government bailouts. For me, The Big Short was an extremely entertaining read, inasmuch as bonds, derivatives and credit default swaps can be made entertaining. The book should be on the syllabus at any college or university that teaches courses on business and finance. 

The beauty of hindsight is that it provides answers that are all too obvious after the fact, and if this book allows for even a smidgeon of common sense to prevail on Wall Street, it will more than have served its purpose.