Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Conspiracy of Paper -- David Liss

Top five reasons why David Liss's A Conspiracy of Paper should be bumped to the top of your reading list:

5. You've never read anything like it. The novel mixes economics, cultural anthropology, and a little game theory with murder, fraud, scandal, and a bit of slapstick humor and romance thrown in for good measure. Time referred to A Conspiracy of Paper as a "genre-stretching first novel" and author Sheri Holman called it a "historical financial thriller" -- I can't come up with any better way to put it than they did.

4. You'll feel smart reading it. The author was working on his dissertation at the time he wrote this, his first novel, and the book feels like it was researched with the utmost care. It's set in the 18th century, and Liss was so concerned with accuracy to the time period that the narration itself (word choice, phrasing, pace) feels as if it is from that era. Even though it is, at its core, a mystery novel, you won't feel guilty about reading this rather than a more "serious" book.

3. The characters are real. Benjamin Weaver is a Jewish ex-boxer (or, in 18th century parlance, ex-pugilist) who now works as a private investigator. Though he may be the protagonist in a work of fiction, he's based on a real person -- as is Jonathan Wild, and many of the other colorful figures Liss includes in his novel.

2. You'll never think of London the same way again. The two times I've been to London, I adored it -- the history, the culture, the general atmosphere. The London of A Conspiracy of Paper is another world entirely: streets flowing with filth, criminals lurking in every dark alley, bribes as a way of life. Your appreciation for picture-postcard grounds of Hyde Park will suddenly take on a new meaning once you've read about what it used to be like to walk around London at the time of this story.

1. The current financial crisis will make a lot more sense to you once you see its beginnings. Liss's novel details the events surrounding the first stock market crash in the English-speaking world: the South Seas Bubble of 1720. True, there were a few times when the narration got a bit heavy on the educational lecture side of things. But you'll understand the meaning of the greenbacks -- and plastic -- in your wallet differently as a result.

Final Verdict: ****

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