In January 2008, I scribbled down some ideas for a book about what was then a crisis sparked by subprime mortgages, based on my decade of experience writing about financial derivatives. Three-and-a-half years later, the book has now been published.
It was the feeling of being trapped inside history that prompted me to write the book. Long ago, I was working as a teaching assistant for Stephen Jay Gould at Harvard, and I remember him explaining how paleontology was different from the rest of science because it was based on history that was unique and could not be replicated in any experiment.
That Yucatan meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was not inevitable, and nor was the emergence of hominids on the African savannah. I’m a fan of Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart’s This Time It’s Different, which argues that financial bubbles and painful sovereign defaults are inevitable and repeatable, but having watched history as it happened, I’m still with Gould. We happen to live in the world in which the events of the last four years happened but the fact we are looking back on them now doesn’t mean they were inevitable. You can hear some of my thoughts on the book in this webcast organised by my publisher.