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Our review of the kreppa books and reviews

So I’ve been back in Iceland since Wednesday and, as is always the case when I don’t post for a few days, I start to suffer from writer’s block. Not because I don’t have anything to say – but because I have too much to say and I have such a hard time choosing. I’ll never understand bloggers who have to struggle to come up with topics for their posts. I tend to get overwhelmed by the topics that just seem to THROW themselves at me.

Things here are pretty much the same as they were before I went away – everyone still fighting over Icesave and the government on the verge of collapsing. Of course I was absent on the “official” one year anniversary of the collapse, marked by the day when then-PM Geir Haarde made his infamous “God Bless Iceland” speech on the telly [October 6th]. A full year already! How time flies when you’re having fun.

Of course the media, both foreign and domestic, is busy these days reviewing the events of those fateful few weeks one year ago when this country’s economy went down the toilet. Personally I lost interest after the first few clips on RÚV and I really can’t be bothered to read all those reports in the foreign media – they were overkill then and usually marked by a parachute-journalism style that I found really annoying, and they’re kind of overkill now.*

Also? I don’t have much time for those books coming out on the subject written by former bank insiders who promise to reveal lots of salacious details. And I’m not alone – judging by the discussion on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere, most of my countrymen are ready to gag at the sight of Why Iceland? or Frozen Assets, both written by Kaupthing insiders. Author of the former, Ásgeir Jónsson, worked in Kaupthing’s Research Division and, as I heard someone remark the other day, “was collecting a salary for lying to the Icelandic nation” about the status of the bank. The other, Ármann Þorvaldsson, was head of Kaupthing Singer and Friedlander in London, took home an exorbitant salary and was best known in this country for being the guy who hired Tom Jones to sing at one of the bank’s New Year’s Eve parties, which incidentally was held in the lobby of the Natural History Museum in London and attended by Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, vice-chair of the Independence Party [quel surprise].

To top this off, the two books, that are coming out in Icelandic now and which were allegedly written in English originally**, are being published by an individual who – surprise surprise – used to be the PR manager for Kaupthing.

So, you know, maybe these books will be gobbled up by overseas readers hungry for info about Iceland’s bank crash, written by people who were there at the scene of the crime, as it were – but  believe me, most people  here in Iceland have no stomach for that sort of literature.


Some of you complained about lack of illustration on this site when I was in Italy earlier this week, so this is for you. First, a photo from lovely Ferrara, Via delle Volte [Vault St.] which was their main shopping street in medieval times:

Vault Street

And one from the exquisitely beautiful Venice:


The full set of pictures is here.

It’s a little different here than in Italy, let me tell you, phwoar! Yesterday we had our first major storm of the season, and boy, was it a doozie. We bolted down the hatches well beforehand [read: brought the gas barbecue inside] and YT stayed all cocooned up inside for the duration of the day – until I could no longer form a complete sentence in my head for lack of fresh oxygen, at which point I was forced outside. Today it’s a bit calmer, although still with chilly gusts of wind. Right now 6°C [43F], with the sun rising at 8:01 am and setting at 6:26 pm.

* That said I did read a rather good piece in the Financial Times this morning by my [Facebook] friend Robert Jackson – although I have to disagree with his analysis of the Icelanders’ emotional condition in the first paragraph – I don’t know anyone who’s suffering from ‘a mild form of cancer’, thankfully. Most people I know are just getting on with things and having their ups and downs as usual.

** I say “allegedly” because I heard through the grapevine that old Ármann had contacted a translator here in Iceland to translate his book into English. So, I’m kinda confused now that it’s coming out in “Icelandic translation”. Maybe it’s that old trick of making the English-speaking market think that you wrote the book in English, because it’s good for sales. Wouldn’t be the first time, either, and boy – could I tell you a story about that.



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Silvia Planchett October 10, 2009, 9:31 pm

    Ásgeir Jónsson
    Why did you join Kaupthing Bank?
    I was an assistant professor at the University of Iceland with a career planned out in academia when I was contacted by Kaupthing in late 2003. I decided to join when I realized all the possibilities waiting for me at Kaupthing to put theory into practice.

    Another example of why a PhD in economics may not be something you want your children to aspire to!

  • Alexander E. October 11, 2009, 12:12 am

    Some visuals of the
    storm in Reykjavik

  • maría October 11, 2009, 12:52 am

    I just got Why Iceland? in the mail. I’m in Spain, so I guess I fall into the “overseas readers hungry..”.
    And funnily enough, my best friend, who’s a foreigner in Iceland and who was laid off in March, has just been hired, after six months on the dole… by Kaupþing! The same people who in turn had sacked his now girlfriend exactly one year ago.

  • buc October 11, 2009, 1:54 am

    @silvia planchett….really? maybe we need more from real universities. from people who acquired the job on credentials. to handle things….come on. sorry you made the wrong choice.

  • PeterRRRRRR October 11, 2009, 10:51 am

    I’d say it is somewhat unfair of you to review either of these books w/o actually having read them. While I haven’t read either of them either, it seems to me that there are really two parts of the kreppa story — there’s the “numbers” side, the technical, macro-economic story, of what was going on in financial markets, statistics, and so forth. From the NY Times review I saw (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/business/16shelf.html), this seems to be the bulk of Ásgeir Jónsson’s book (which is why I haven’t read it myself). Then there’s the “human” story, of who did what and when, the natural, human desire to find blame, the story of Good vs Bad. I suspect most Icelanders (and others) are more interested in the later. But that’s a much harder book to research and write, something not to be expected from a PhD economist.

    On a totally different topic, congrats on becoming a Step-Grannie. As a recent Step-Grandpa, it is really a great thing. Among other things, you now get the honor (?) of sleeping with someone who is actually someone’s Grandfather 🙂

  • James October 11, 2009, 10:53 am

    Ahhh, gondolas. Reminds me I need another holiday.

    Silvia – Physics PhDs led to atomic bombs and economics PhDs led to financial collapses! It’s such a waste that so many numerate PhDs are in banks worldwide focussing on financial arms races with each other, rather than doing something genuinely productive with their minds.

    Alexander E. – I liked your Videy photo; if you increase the contrast, the breaking waves may really pop out…

  • alda October 11, 2009, 11:05 am

    Thanks all – and Alexander, keep posting those pics!

    Peter – whelll, to that I would have to say that I should perhaps just revise my title, because this isn’t really a review of the books, but rather a post about the public response here in Iceland to those books. I guess that’s what you get for trying to come up with a title on the run. – As for your second point – thanks! 🙂

  • PeterRRRRRR October 11, 2009, 11:34 am

    Doesn’t seem that either of these books are being “gobbled” up by us overseas readers either. “Why Iceland” hasn’t gotten a single customer review on Amazon.com, and “Frozen Assets” hasn’t yet been released here in the US.

  • elín October 11, 2009, 1:16 pm

    In addition to all of the media reviews of last year’s events, I am seeing another deluge of travel features touting Iceland as a travel bargain. The focus in these articles is the same over and over again (Blue Lagoon, Golden Circle, Elves and Rúnturs), but I am also reading that Iceland had a record-breaking summer in tourism this year. So whatever helps, I guess.

  • Michael Lewis October 11, 2009, 3:34 pm

    It wouldn’t surprise me if some sort of re-negotiation post the UK election takes place. I think most of us in the UK know what Gordon Brown is (I never voted for him btw) : he’s a desperate man. We’re printing money the sole aim is to try and win Labour more votes. That said, the comments about de-regulation causing the banking crisis (in linked article) are simply wrong. The problem was the regulators rather then regulation. We need re-regulation in banking not more regulation. Now every left wing crackpot is blaming hedge funds (they didn’t cause the problem), and you know you are in trouble when someone suggests the EU as a solution . In short the Labour government acted in its own self interest. Thankfully I think they’ll be gone soon and some sort of re-negotiation will take place and I can plan my trout fishing holiday for next June and not have to hide the fact I’m from the UK 😉

  • Alexander E. October 11, 2009, 3:36 pm

    Alexander E. – I liked your Videy photo; if you increase the contrast, the breaking waves may really pop out…

    Sorry, James, but this is what a fair reporting is about – to show things as they are 🙂
    And the were really that gray. And it was really tricky to make photos – unless you drive a tank. The car was bouncing like a boat under the wind and there were no chances to get out without the risk of seeing you your camera flying away.

    Alexander, keep posting those pics!

    My pleasure 🙂