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Book review: The Spider Network

If you liked Michael Lewis’ Flashboys and The Big Short, you will love The Spider Network.

I’ll admit it, being pitched the idea of reviewing a book about the Libor scandal didn’t excite me. In case you don’t know (and who did?) Libor stands for the London Interbank Offered Rate and in simplest terms, it underpins a vast aray of financial products, and also acts as an indicator of the overall health of the financial system. Anyway, back to the book. I was also little daunted when the book started with a seven page list of the characters – presumably to make it easy to keep them straight.

Reservations aside, I absolutely loved this book. Author David Enrich is a masterful storyteller – this book is a page turner the likes of which you never would have believed of a finance-driven book.

The story charts the life of Tom Hayes, a brilliant mathematician with Asperger’s Syndrome, who found himself at the centre of the Libor scandal – and is now serving 14 years in prison as a result. The scam he created cost banks and taxpayers billions of dollars, so how was it that I found myself feeling sorry for him?

From his earliest days Tom is singled out as a maths genius – and banks were willing to pay sums many of us would only dream of to get him on their team. But he never really fit in. Whether it is the awkward social situations where he drinks himself into oblivion in an effort to keep up, or his over the top reaction in a taxi on his way to the courthouse for the final ruling, Tom is an outsider from the start. And despite his efforts (and possibly his beliefs) over the years, he remains an outsider until the very end.

Why will you be glad you invested time in reading this book?

  • First, it is not a traditional business book. There are no ‘how-to’s’ but you will learn. A lot. It makes a refreshing change if you are a perpetual seeker of personal development resources.
  • It will make you think about the ethical challenges in your own business and industry. Are there things that everyone does, that no one questions, but that might be in a grey ethical area?
  • It will challenge your ideas about culture. Culture is the buzzword of the moment. It’s a powerful thing and the Spider Network shows just how powerful culture can be, in all the wrong ways.
  • You’ll never look at a bank the same way. Post Libor, Barclays bank brought in a CEO (Antony Jenkins) who was committed to reinstating a values-driven business. And he appeared to do just that, until three years in, he was unceremoniously sacked. Could it be that when the rubber hits the road, short term profit trumps values in the banking sector? An insider’s look at the industry like this definitely calls it all into question.

The book will be out tomorrow. If you add this one to your bookshelf you won’t be disappointed.

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