Review: Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America by Matt Taibbi

Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America
by Matt Taibbi

# ISBN-10: 0385529953
# ISBN-13: 978-0385529952


  • Covers areas of financial fraud both well-known and obscure in the American economy over the last few decades.
  • Surprisingly deep and human treatment of the issues and the politics helps you understand the people and the issues.
  • Makes an attempt to explain the financial issues that often go unreported and mis-understood.
  • Attempts to keep a sense of humor about some of these things as horrible as they are.


  • Explanation of economic issues really is not kept simple enough to explain to people without an interest in economics.
  • The author's mixture of humor, outrage, and swearing may turn some off (while others will enjoy it immensely).
  • Doesn't always dig deep enough into the patterns described.
  • Has little suggestion on solutions to the problems.

SUMMARY: Griftopia is a flawed, but interesting, examination of decades of financial fraud in America.  It is more for people who have the inclination and knowledge to dig further into the financial messes in the US.

I've been wanting to read Griftopia since it came out, but hadn't managed to find the time until now.  I'm for anything that helps people get a handle on the financial mess we face now and have faced in the past, and Tabbi has a passion for what he does, combined with a mix of intelligence and rage at injustice.

I had hoped Griftopia would be the kind of book that you could hand someone to give them a good idea on the problems in the American – and in many cases, world – economy.  Sort of like The Management Myth was to business processes, but more accessible. The bizarre economic issues out there need to be explained to people clearly so we can deal with them and prevent them.

Unfortunately this book is not exactly what I had hoped for.  It's good, but it's a mix of too much and not enough.

What Tabbi does is, chapter by chapter, explore various financial issues, frauds, and incidents in America over the years.  He dives from individual human stories to deep looks at financial processes, mixing in salty language, deep insights, and excellent writing.  By exploring these frauds, crises, and collapses over the decades in such a manner he helps paint a picture of how in far too many cases America's economic situation has been damaged by chicanery on the part of assorted institutions and politicians.

The book helps give you an idea of the extent of financial scams perpetuated at times by the largest institutions out there, and how elected representatives abetted or ignored them.  You will become informed, you will become outraged.  In my case I was surprised a few times as I found things out that I, econogeek that I am, had missed.

The financial misadventures and disasters are explained with some remarkably human insights, from Tabbi referring to certain people with understandable level of obscenity, to an in-depth discussion of political groups that may make you rethink your opinions of certain people.  This lends real impact to the book on a number of levels, because it not only humanizes the numbers Tabbi deals with, but also shows a true empathy and understanding on the author's part.  The author, in short, gets people – even when he hates their guts.

Unfortunately the mix of research and deep human feeling doesn't entirely work.  At one point there's a fascinating psychological deconstruction of the Tea Party movement, and the next moment you're dealing with three pages of dense statistics.  The book feels like several books at once, almost as if it is trying too hard to cover everything.

This broad approach also means that some of the deep financial discussion is very deep, and frankly is not going to be for everyone – you have to be into economics to get a good chunk of what the author explores.  This book thus limits itself because, despite its human approach, you're going to have to have the mental equipment to process some of the financial issues he discusses.  The book misses its chance to be a handbook for everyone to get the financial messes and instead becomes a mix of deep finance wrapped up in human interest.

The author also doesn't do much to propose solutions.  That may not be his point – he's sounding alarm bells – but it makes the book overwhelming at times.  If you're looking for a "what's next" book this isn't it – though it may inspire you to action and awareness.

Thus Griftopia, though a good book that verges on greatness is just not the great book I'd hoped for – something that I could hand people and tell my readers to get ahold of so they could get a handle on the banking, loan, and trade chicanery we're all dealing with.

Instead, Griftopia is a book worth recommending if you're an economgeek like me and want to get a bigger and better picture of what's gone on over the years in the world of corrupt, economy-wrecking financial scumbags.  It's for people like, well, me.

For myself?  I got it as an ebook and am keeping a copy around on my Kindle for reference, but am not sure I'd have wanted to get it in print.  I'm also not sure who else I'd lend it to since I'm the biggest Econogeek I know.

That probably gives you an idea of wether you'd want it or not.

A side note – I've occasionally seen criticism of the swearing in the book.  Frankly it didn't hurt the book for me, and in some cases added to the human feeling that made it easier to read.  Tabbi's swearing often seems justified, and frankly is at times just plain funny.

This book needs the laughs.

Steven Savage