billions to bust – and back
Thor Bjorgolfsson with Andrew Cave, Profile Books, 244 pages, $29.95
In March 2007, when Thor Bjorgolfsson celebrated his 40th birthday, he was the 249th richest man in the world, with a fortune of more than $4 billion. He was a folk hero in his native Iceland: its first billionaire and the embodiment of the Icelandic economic miracle.
Within 18 months the Scandi-hero had been reduced to an Icelandic zero. Ninety-nine percent of his fortune had gone up in smoke. Icelanders treated him as a villain — a man who had tempted them with fool’s gold and then plunged the country into bankruptcy.
“Billions to Bust” is the story of Bjorgolfsson’s business career. The book is far from perfect; it reads as if it were dictated by a busy man rather than carefully crafted. And it spends too much time rehashing the details of long-dead business deals.
For all that, Bjorgolfsson provides one of the first insider’s accounts of the financial crisis. Journalists have provided first-rate blow-by-blow accounts of what went wrong. But as a participant Bjorgolfsson does a better job of explaining why people who have more money than they can spend are tempted to spin the roulette wheel one more time.
Bjorgolfsson has put his life back together. His investment group is flourishing again. He says he has learned from the debacle. Whether the global financial system has is moot. Bjorgolfsson notes that two of the world’s biggest bankers — Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan and Brian Moynihan of Bank of America — have recently phoned him offering help in any future deals. In a book about irrational exuberance that is a terrifying discovery.