Wait just a friggin‘ minute! Fifth-generation investment banker Henry Warren lies on a company’s profile, defrauds the public in the IPO and the author has me feeling sorry for him!?!?? As Eh?Eh! Has exclaimed to me many times in private conversation, “WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK IS GOING ON HERE?”Well, I do feel sorry for him, and you will too. Ruined City is a quick read, but covers a lot of ground. It’s the improbable tale of a workaholic investment banker (Warren), who becomes tired sucking the blood of the middle class, and decides to do something positive with his life for a change. What could account for such unbanker-like behavior? His wife’s public infidelities, and the subsequent divorce shock him into a fit of contemplation and self assessment. What’s he’s been doing with his life? The answer, as you might guess, is that he’s been exploiting the peoples of the planet who actually do real work, while he and his parasitic banker brethren take the lion’s share of the wealth as their own. Funny that his wife wouldn’t respect him for that, but go figure. What follows can only be described as a psychogenic fugue, as Warren goes wandering around Northern England, searching vaguely for a balm to ease his unsettled mind. Some unlikely circumstances come to pass, which I won’t spoil, and he ends up as a “John Doe” anonymously admitted to a hospital for spontaneous peritonitis (the medical details are very sketchy here). He’s taken as an indigent, and treated to excellent surgical care, despite his assumed inability to pay. During his recovery, the men on his ward fill him in on the hard times their town (Sharples) has fallen on since the shipyards, which were the community’s lifeblood, were closed. To avoid too much spoilerization here, let’s just say the company had been mismanaged for about a generation, and London banks had not supported efforts to get production back on track. Suddenly, old Henry has a new purpose in life: get the Sharples shipyards up and running again. It isn’t easy; the place is practically past saving. This is where things get interesting. Henry’s crusade takes him to the corrupt fictitious banana republic of Levatia, where business proceeds along the standard avenues of corrupt deal making... you know the routine: employing a prostitute to bribe the Minister of Transportation to place an order for oil tankers with a shell company (mis)representing the active-on-paper-but-defunct-in-reality shipyards, embarrassing the German trade representative to Levatia in front of the Prime Minister’s nephew (who is also a high-placed bureaucrat) etc, etc. Some of this part is great fun to read, and I wonder what sort of legwork Shute did to research this. Maybe it's a stretch to believe that strait-laced banker Warren could suddenly go James Bond, wheeling and dealing so expertly in the dark alleys of the developing world. No matter, it makes for a bracing story. Of course, much is made of the seedy deals going down, which is of course a double standard. For example, profits from the Levatian state railroads (the only profitable concern in the country) are put up as collateral on the oil tankers. Later, Warren discovers the railroad profits have been put up as collateral in many deals- far more than could ever be paid out, if payment were needed on all of them. SHOCK!!! HORROR!!! This would never happen in the lawful and orderly developed world, right? Oh wait! That happens every fucking day in the developed world; it's called fractional reserve banking and it's as corrupt as it sounds. It's the reason we had widespread runs on banks in the 30's, and sporatically since then. It's only demonized when developing countries do it to collateralize public works projects. When the Ivy League boys at the country club do it to you and I, it's apparently just fine, because it's enshrined in the sterile and illustrious framework of The Law.... which should be no surprise, if you look at who writes our laws. Moving on, Warren tries to make an Initial Public Offering for the newly-reformed Sharples shipyards, but the public is skeptical. Anything associated with Levatia is assumed to be dirty money, even though Warren is trying to run the operation legitimately. I know exactly how he must feel. Anybody who's been following gold mining companies during this decade-long gold boom we're in has probably experienced a lot of alternate heartbreak and elation with companies located in the developing world. Unlike car and textile factories, you can't move mining operations out of a country; you've got to operate them where the gold is buried. Consequently, the mining sector is famously exposed to a lot of political instability, and the ever-looming threat of nationalization. One company I've been following owns a mine in Venezuela. Whenever Hugo Chavez makes some oblique public statement about nationalizing "strategic assets" (read: commodities) the stock price tumbles (but always recovers and rises, eventually) ...Then there's a company which operates in Ghana. Every once in a while, the Executive Board will put out a cryptic message to shareholders about how the "unreliable" management team at the mine has yet again been completely replaced... leaving it to shareholders to figure out whether this means that the departed were merely ineffective, whether they were stealing from the company, or whether they were lined up and summarily executed in some sort of uprising. Okay, enough with my mining-sector bellyaching. Ruined City concludes nicely, with the good people of Sharples finding dignified and productive work, as the shipyards start turning out tankers. Shute does a nice job following the trail of money from Levatia to the pockets of the drydock workers. It's all very idealized, framing the venture capitalists as Promethei, benevolently bringing the fire of working capital to the unwashed masses, neglecting to admit the element of self-interest behind it all. Sure, it's a healthy and fruitful self-interest when the system is working properly, but it is self-interest nonetheless, and should at least be identified as such. The book seems to lean a bit too much towards making the whole operation seem like a charity Mr. Warren is running. In the heartwrenching final scene, tearfully grateful workers swarm around Mr. Warren, embracing their savior with puppy-like gratitude, almost as if he isn't going to make a cool several million off them. Puke. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh in my judgment here. There is some nice character development, as Warren comes to realize how his chosen profession profoundly affects the decent hard-working folk his class is rarely directly exposed to. There are elements of Dickens' A Christmas Carol here, as well as The Prince and the Pauper, as well as Pretty Woman... isn't that what Richard Gere did in that movie? Hung out with a prostitute and then went from investment banking to shipbuilding? I wonder whether the writers for Pretty Woman were consciously influenced by Ruined City. Wouldn't it have been cool if Pretty Woman had been titled Ruined City? That probably would have been a bad marketing decision.Thanks, Jen, for a fun read I probably wouldn't have found on my own!