The higher they rise, the harder they fall. In the 1980s and 1990s, Ireland, once an impoverished backwater from which generations fled, conjured an economic miracle. Fueled by foreign direct investment and real estate speculation, the "Celtic tiger" became a vibrant consumer society with high-tech industry and widespread homeownership, a place to which immigrants flocked. After 2007, the party ended in a morass of insolvent banks, bad mortgages, and unpaid public debt, ultimately sending the proudly independent country begging to the International Monetary Fund. As befits a Bloomberg reporter, Lynch peppers his account of these events with numbers and descriptions of boardroom antics and complex financial deals. As in any good Irish yarn, however, more memorable are the larger-than-life personalities. Seán FitzPatrick turned the tiny Anglo Irish Bank into a financial giant, only to play golf while it collapsed, after which he retired on his wife's generous pension and stuck the government with a $17 billion bill. Yet amid all the details, this well-reported narrative leaves one wondering exactly what crucial mistake Ireland made. Was it financial and political corruption, incompetent financial regulation, membership in the eurozone, a misguided faith in low-tax policies, an overreliance on foreign investment, fundamental imbalances in the economy, the guaranteeing of toxic assets, or Irish cultural beliefs -- or all of the above?
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