Gordon Brown characterises his new book, Beyond the Crash, as "an insider's story" of the financial meltdown. That's neither false nor entirely true.
Though the former British prime minister is clearly an insider, he doesn't kiss, let alone tell, in this 315-page volume. As for his story of the crisis, it often reads like a dreary desk diary and stops on page 66, with the day in 2008 when his Labour government pledged to pump £37bn into three banks: Royal Bank of Scotland, HBOS and Lloyds TSB.
What Brown lacks as a raconteur, he makes up for as a thinker. The balance of the book examines how we slid into the Great Recession and how we might restore global growth.
His assessment has genuine merit; it plays to the strengths of a man who views data as a window on "the hopes and fears, the triumphs and disasters of individual lives".
Readers expecting something akin to Hank Paulson's memoir, On the Brink, will be disappointed. Where the former US treasury secretary gave us a personal, day-by-day account of his late-night meetings and sleepless nights (in boxers and T-shirt), Brown ticks off a dry list of calls placed, speeches given, decisions made. The few anecdotes he provides have all the sizzle of congealed bacon.
The crisis blindsided Brown, who was still heaping praise on the "ingenuity" of London's financial elite in a speech in June 2007, just days before Northern Rock began rattling investors. Yet he soon accepted the severity of the situation and calculated, correctly, that the way to stop the panic was for governments to inject capital into the banks. He's clear-sighted in his assessment of "the tortuous and troubled histories of RBS and HBOS". As for Barclays, it got lucky.
Brown hits his stride in the second half of the book, when he examines why it's a challenge to boost global growth. What's needed, he says, is a "global growth pact". Cooperative action could increase output by some $1.5 trillion over five years, boost global GDP by 2.5% and create more than 30 million additional jobs, Brown says, citing estimates from the International Monetary Fund.