On my holidays earlier this year, I read “The Lost Continent” by Gavin Hewitt, the BBC News’s Europe Editor, about the causes, effects and response to the European financial crisis, with its outlying crises in Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain.
It was a great read and I heartily recommend it to any of you, especially those going on holiday as it both rewards in-depth attention and travel makes a good backdrop to its change of focus between different countries. I find travel often makes me think about the world as a whole, so this book is a great accompaniment to that mood.
He opens with a dramatic image of a one-man-and-a-cement-mixer protest outside the Irish Parliament in September 2010. As an image it’s arresting, and it also proclaims the structure of the rest of the book. Hewitt Starting chapters often with human stories, both at the micro level of individual people in the country whose lives have been adversely affected by the economic crisis, and contrastingly, the leaders at the top of the food chain.
Special focus is given to Angela Merkel, as the “pivot” for a lot of the resolution to the (many) crises, and I came to understand how her innate cautiousness was responsible for the (at times) seemingly glacial progress of the response. Our own response as Britain receives a chapter’s worth of attention, though you are reminded once again how little part we played here.
If like me, you’ve lived through the crisis, but really only been aware of the day-to-day headlines, this is a fantastic book to get a handle on a lot of the big picture and the machinery of government behind the scenes. Themes that I became more aware of included the extent of the property speculation within PIGS – Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain – and how exposed this left a lot of their businesses, banks and governments. At one point he describes how an airport was built facing the wrong way in Spain, because of the scramble to build prestige projects, and baffled locals had been rode roughshod over because of a need for “development” which wasn’t actually there. It is that level of detail which really makes the point again and again, rather than the sheer mind-numbing size of sums required to bail out countries – though those numbers and the reasons for them are also explored very well.
Hewitt seems opposed to the idea of further integration, and though some of us may have a different view, or be waiting to see what is proposed before making a decision it is definitely a good account of the major players and individuals affected by and responding to the crisis. I’d venture to say you shouldn’t miss out on reading it, and I’m sure it will be an important book both now and in the years ahead, as we place what just happened in historical context.