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The ShortRead


An extract from the latest book worthy of your attention. Gritty dramas, murderous thrillers, sci-fi epics, non-fiction knowledge enhancers: the ink will still be wet and your book club won't have read it.


16 September

Swimming With Sharks

Author: Joris Luyendijk 

What's the story: Do you know what caused the financial crash of 2008? Sure, bankers - but which bankers? And which exact banking departments were involved? And who's looking to stop it all happening again?

These are just some of the questions that journalist Joris Luyendijk set out to answer when he immersed himself in the City for a few years, speaking to over 200 people. After having enough whispered coffee meetings and exchanging many covert emails, Luyendijk has a chilling realisation: What if the bankers themselves aren't the real enemy? What if the truth about global finance is more sinister than that?

The sort of non-fiction read that makes you wonder why you ever bothered with fiction when the facts are this dramatic.

Release date: 17 September


You’re on a plane. The seatbelt signs have been switched off, you’ve just been given your drink and now you’re trying to decide between the in-flight entertainment and your book. The man next to you is quietly sipping his whiskey, while you gaze absently through the window at the sun and the clouds. Suddenly you see a gigantic flash of fire coming out of one of the engines. You call the flight attendant. Yes, she says, there were some technical difficulties but it’s all under control. She looks so composed and confident that you almost believe her. But you get up, unable to contain your alarm. First the relaxed flight attendant and then an officious cabin manager try to stop you as you make your way towards the front of the plane. Sir, please go back to your seat. You push them aside, grab the cockpit door, manage to open it and … there is nobody there.
Over the past few years I have spoken to around 200 people who work or have recently worked in the financial district of London. Their stories are very different but if I were to summarise them in one image, it would be that empty cockpit.
This project started on a beautifully sunny day in May 2011 when Alan Rusbridger, then editor of the Guardian, invited me to his charmingly chaotic office opposite St
Pancras International station in London. I had first met Rusbridger at a journalism conference in my home city of Amsterdam. We had talked about why many people
seem to have so little interest in issues that directly affect their interests. Is it indifference and apathy, or have many subjects simply become too complicated for outsiders to understand? To find out, I had launched an experiment for a Dutch newspaper. I had taken an important, complicated and apparently boring issue that I knew nothing about – sustainable transport – and asked a beginner’s question: are electric cars a good idea? I had put this to an insider, whose answers led to new questions, which prompted interviews with other insiders and so on until a sort of ‘learning curve’ of articles and stories had come about. Insiders were happy to make time while readers seemed to appreciate it when you started from zero.
Rusbridger had listened to all this with typically English politeness. I thought nothing more of it until months later I found myself in his sunlit office and he asked if I wanted
to do such a ‘learning curve’ for the Guardian. Only not about electric cars. He pointed in the direction of the City and said that we were literally a stone’s throw away from the place that only a few years ago had seen the biggest financial panic since the 1930s. Billions and billions had been spent to bail out the industry yet nobody had gone to prison. Indeed, a few years on, the City seemed to be behaving more and more as if it were ‘business as usual’ again. So, how about a blog on the financial sector?
Behind him I could see the Regent’s Canal glittering in the spring sunshine and a Eurostar train speeding towards Brussels or Paris. Alongside the New York Times, the
Guardian is the biggest online quality newspaper in the world. Insiders would surely make time for such a prestigious newspaper, wouldn’t they? I understood as little of
the world of finance as the average reader and this was a perfect example of an issue with a huge gap between the public interest and the interest of the public. Tell someone their money is not safe and you have their full attention; say the words ‘financial reforms’ and people switch off.
I eagerly assented, thanking Rusbridger for the opportunity. How was I supposed to know that the English use that stiff upper lip of theirs to suppress enthusiasm as well
as negative emotions?
So that’s how a Dutch journalist with five years’ experience in the Middle East and a degree in anthropology ended up in the City on an unusual investigation: Tintin
among the bankers.

(Images: Flickr/Kate Hiscock; Rex)



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