Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth

Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth

by Margaret Atwood

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780887848728
Publisher: House of Anansi Press Inc
Publication date: 03/15/2007
Series: CBC Massey Lectures
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 757,692
File size: 341 KB

About the Author

Throughout her thirty years of writing, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and several honorary degrees. She is the author of more than twenty-five volumes of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid's Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996). The Blind Assassin (2000) won the prestigious Booker Prize. Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing (2002), was published by Cambridge University Press in March 2002, and Oryx and Crake (2003) was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize. She has an uncanny knack for writing books that anticipate the popular preoccupations of her public.

Acclaimed for her talent for portraying both personal and worldly problems of universal concern, Ms. Atwood's work has been published in more than thirty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian.

Margaret Atwood currently lives in Toronto with novelist Graeme Gibson.


Toronto, Ontario

Date of Birth:

November 18, 1939

Place of Birth:

Ottawa, Ontario


B.A., University of Toronto, 1961; M.A. Radcliffe, 1962; Ph.D., Harvard University, 1967

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher


“A fascinating, freewheeling examination of ideas of debt, balance and revenge in history, society, and literature — Atwood has again struck upon our most current anxieties.” — Times of London

“An extraordinarily vibrant Massey Lecture on debt, how it plays a motor force in much literature, in our own lives, and in the machinations of the crowd we elect to govern us.” — Maclean’s

“Witty, acutely argued, and almost freakishly prescient . . . as amusing as it is unsettling.” — Chicago Tribune

“These pieces offer a panoramic look at how the concept of debt acts as a fundamental human bond and — when obligations go unfulfilled, when ledgers are left unbalanced — how it can threaten to tear societies apart.” — Georgia Straight

“A celebrated novelist, poet, and critic, Atwood has combined rigorous analysis, wide-ranging erudition, and a beguilingly playful imagination to produce the most probing and thought-stirring commentary on the financial crisis to date.” — John Gray, New York Review of Books

“Atwood’s book is a weird but wonderful melange of personal reminiscences, literary walkabout, moral preachment, timely political argument, economic history, and theological query, all bound together with wry wit and careful though casual-seeming research.” — Publishers Weekly

“In Payback, Atwood freely mixes autobiography, literary criticism, and anthropology in an examination of debt as a concept deeply rooted in human — and even, in some cases, animal — behaviour . . . Building an argument that abounds with literary examples . . . Atwood entertainingly and often wryly advances the familiar thesis that what goes around comes around.” — Toronto Star

“Payback is a delightfully engaging, smart, funny, clever, and terrifying analysis of the role debt plays in our culture, our consciousness, our economy, our ecology, and, if Atwood is right, our future.” — Washington Post

“[Payback is] a demonstration of Atwood’s ability to evoke in memorable detail our vanished cultural past, and to examine both past and present in the form of language. Writing in this mode, she’s never off her game.” — National Post

“Elegant and erudite . . . as one would expect from a novelist of Ms. Atwood’s calibre, the phrasing is polished and the metaphors striking.” —

“The evidence is in: Margaret Atwood simply sees more clearly than the rest of us.” — Quill & Quire


Second Words is an invaluable guide to understanding Atwood’s choice of themes, her basic principles, and the development of her work (and world view) ” — Books in Canada

“Certainly we want to know what one of our major writers feels about literature and people . . . And though she is . . . relaxed and conversational in these occasional pieces . . . there are so many good words, so much intelligence, that the garden-variety reviewer seethes with envy.” — Toronto Star

“What comes across mostly is [Atwood’s] critical generosity and her understanding that the art of writing inevitably turns the writer into a global politician; every novel offers a vision of the world. Through thick and thin, Atwood has been a passionate literary citizen.” — Maclean’s

“Second Words establishes critical patterns through which a provocative, original mind interprets the world. Thus it helps us to reassess all her work.” — Christian Science Monitor


“Margaret Atwood’s Power Politics is a true sequence, a death-struggle between man and woman . . . This book, to those who take it straight, moves almost unwillingly, but relentlessly, through a brilliant schema of unflagging suspense and pitches of drama . . . Atwood’s poems are short, glistening with terse bright images, un-tentative, closing like a vise. These are all formed perfections.” — New York Times (August 1973)

“Twenty-five years after its initial publication, Power Politics remains a path-breaking lyric utterance on sexual politics and human survival, unflinching in its emotional honesty. “Beyond truth,” Atwood writes, “tenacity” . . . and no poet has proven more prescient or more courageous in this pursuit. The reappearance of this work is an occasion to be celebrated.” — Carolyn Forché

“The pleasure of reading these poems today is not only in realizing the longevity of their power — the sting is still there — but in experiencing them anew in the light of the poetry and fiction written in the twenty-five years since.” — Linda Hutcheon

“In a century shaken by gender politics, these seminal poems remind us of the deepest kind of change. Love is the real power, demanding — and offering — no less than the transformation of self. Atwood dares to imagine realpolitik at the heart of love’s mystery. It is a measure of her achievement that, over decades, these masterful poems continue to speak with undiminished accuracy.” — Anne Michaels

“Astonishing, notorious, a classic — Power Politics, twenty-five years after its first publication, still negotiates with awesome presence of mind the definitions of heterosexual eros: hook and eye; fact and weapon; truth and brutality. Atwood’s terse, unsparing, and often comically incisive lines are a guided tour of the knotted Laingian underworld of a love affair. The poems are inspired and fluent. Read them and shiver.” — Sharon Thesen

“Brilliant precisionist and angry lover, Margaret Atwood performs an autopsy on a love affair that’s dead but won’t lie down. I feel again the thrill and shock I experienced on first reading these ruthless and moving poems. Power Politics changed the definition of the love poem, the long poem, and, I believe, the course of Canadian poetry. It cuts like a laser beam. It goes beyond sexual politics into the dark heart of a tottering global village.” — Phyllis Webb

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Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Toronto-based author, Margaret Atwood, explores the concept of debt in her book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. The title itself may give the appearance that this book was written for debt management, but one must understand that this book has nothing to do with debt management. Atwood herself states that the book is about “debt as a human construct”(Atwood 2). She also states that her motives for writing the book are for her own “curiosity”(Atwood 1) as she delves deeper into the concept of debt and other subject matter which surrounds it. Atwood, throughout the course of the work, focuses on the reasons debt occurs. She uses this as a means to not only explain the concept but also unravel the mysteries behind debt. This can especially be seen in the initial chapter as she explains how humans somehow have this concept of fairness embedded into their genes since they seem to grasp this concept so early on in their childhood through play. This fairness then gives birth to that of debt since we expect some sort or repayment after something has been done to us. These childlike concepts help bridge and display even deeper concepts of debt such as that of fairness and what it is in regards to debt. To even help further explain her points she uses recurring characters such as that of Dr. Faustus or her own yuppie version of Scrooge. These characters not only serve as a purpose to explain the concepts but to further entertain the audience and make them think. By this time the audience will begin to think like Atwood as they continue to explore debt within the last two chapters. She brings back older concepts which were taught throughout the book which explore how some of this child’s play can be carried on into adulthood. She uses these means to further explain the darkside that debt has to offer where $10 could cost you an arm if you don’t keep your word. This is even more evident in the example she uses which is the Shakespearean play The Merchant of Venice. She reveals that debt does not only have to be generally viewed as a negative and explains that Debt can also have it’s good side. This thought is, what I believe, best displays Atwoods’ open mindedness as she continues to explore the subject and also displays how this book is not in any way biased. She displays the subject to be thoroughly researched to the best of her ability. Lastly, she displays a silver lining when it comes to debt. She begins to display her own theories on how debt can work for a common good. I believe this is what sets her apart from any writer trying to explore economic theories. She really wants good to come out of debt and believes it is vital for the world to continue to have progress. It’s these types of theories and use of her characters such as Scrooge nouveau which truly express Atwood’s creativity to the fullest. It is this creativity and expression which drive the book forward to a promising conclusion. As a reader I would have to say that I am impressed by the book despite the concepts becoming dull at times. Atwoods approaches the concept of debt from a unique perspective which delves into the reasons for debt and why were so bound by it. It is her curiosity and open mindedness which drives the book and helps us come to a satisfying resolution .I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to satisfy their philosophical and economic itch.
melonbrawl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Atwood's conversational approach makes this book a pleasure to just sit down and read. I enjoyed her literary exploration of the topic as much as her historical exploration; the re-envisioning of Scrooge as a 21st-century businessman was a real treat.
StephenBarkley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a fascinating book for a number of reasons: 1. Atwood is a gifted fiction writer and poet who brings her writing skill to bear on this non-fiction topic. 2. The topic itself is quite apropos in our current economic climate. 3. Atwood¿s knowledge of literature provides the her with scads of illustrative material to draw from. 4. Atwood manages to make such a serious topic entertaining, readable, and thought-provoking.This is not a self-help book on personal finance. It¿s an exploration of the role that debt has played in our society throughout history. While the whole book is interesting, the ending is chilling. Using the Scrooge narrative as a framework, the author of Oryx and Crake revisits her apocalyptic vision when considering the debt we owe to our environment.
whistlerclaire on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you can, get the audiobook. Atwood's dry humour is even better with her reading.
VisibleGhost on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My Atwood in April turned into Atwood in April, May, June, July, and August. It was the Massey Lectures Series for 2008. A Canadian program that has been ongoing for some time now. Since 1961, I believe. Atwood shifted some things around for the book format but it still reads like a speech. There are some very interesting themes. Speeches work different than print so putting speeches into book form leaves a something a little off. Not bad, but noticeable. I probably should have just listened to the speeches. Then again, I'm not much of a speech listener. Her thoughts on debtors and creditors were intriguing though.
lauranav on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is the compilation of Atwood's lectures for the Massey Lectures series in 2008. I found the book a comfortable read, humorous and thoughtful about an interesting subject.I believe there are 3 avenues to enjoying this book. The first is a general overview of debt touching on civilization, religion, and nature. This is not a scientific tome, it is much more interesting to read, but provides a number of interpretations and ideas that you could look into further if you found it interesting.Second is a fun romp through literature from the perspective of debt. She talks about how she used to think the nineteenth century novels were driven by love, but just a quick survey of the literature shows how much of it is really driven by debt. I immediately thought of Sense and Sensibility. We wouldn't have much of a story if the older son would provide for the girls as his father asked. She touches on a number of novels, plays, characters, plot points, and more.The third is from an environmental perspective. I think this is the weaker aspect in the presentation and the points she tries to make. She does, however, highlight some things that bear thinking about. Even if the state of the world isn't all man's fault, there is reason to believe the technological ride won't continue as profitable as it has.
stephmo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ms. Atwood's book would better be subtitled, "A Literature Review in Which Debt as Theme is Studied and Some Mentions Outside of Literature are Briefly Mentioned and a Last Chapter Nearly Goes Off the Rails."That being said, for fans of Shakespeare, 18th- and 19th-century literature, mythology and comparative religion, Ms. Atwood certainly mines a lot of information on the nature of debt and debtors. If one's never gotten the scoop on the evils of mills and millers or has ever wondered exactly what the upside of being a sin-eater might be, there are interesting tidbits to be found. There's a rather healthy dose of Faust (both Marlow's and Goethe's) and perhaps too much time spent on Scrooge. It is most certainly worth reading the first 4 chapters of the book as literature review for these pieces.And as interesting as all of these anecdotes may sound as a literature review, it doesn't really gel as promised into an investigation into the idea of debt as an ancient and central motif in religion, literature, and the structure of human societies. I suppose one out of three ain't bad - I could possibly bump it to two out of three by giving society and religion a generous "halfway there" treatment due to a loose assortment of anecdotes and factoids and vague statements offered as fact.As to the last chapter going off the rails, I knew I was in trouble when Ms. Atwood decided to use the "imagine Scrooge, only updated!" as her metaphor. I honestly believe she thought she was being clever. After umpteen modern retellings of the Scrooge story that have included everything from Scrooged to the cast of Married with Children, one has to wonder which of her friends couldn't tell her that this was a path best left alone. Worse yet, it simply ended up a lecture on environmentalism in which she decided that real debt was a debt to earth. While it is a lovely sentiment, it wasn't at all in line with the rest of the book (it should be a separate lecture altogether).
tangledthread on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What happens when you take a skilled writer, teacher and editor with a bent toward social activism and give her a topic like debt to present as the Massey Lectures on CBC in November 2008? You get this book: an essay in 5 chapters that explores the topic of fairness, morality, and social attitudes about debt and wealth over the ages.This is not a look at debt from the perspective of an economist, banker, or anyone in the finance world. Nor is it a 'how to' book, as in how to stay out debt, or recover from overwhelming debt.Instead it is a book that deals with the narrative of debt and wealth through the ages....from ancient times to current times, as well as from the perspective of a child to death bed thinking.In this time of financial crises, as we all stand around wringing our hands wondering when will we hit bottom, this book provides a means to step back and look at debt and paybacks from a different perspective. It's not terribly refreshing. In fact it's scary in some ways I had not thought about.The book is drawn with literary references and analogie along with the author's memories and experiences in learning about debt and paybacks. And it is peppered with Margaret's signature dark humor and basic common sense.
bruchu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting But No New InsightsI guess it would be a stretch to expect something revolutionary about economics from a literary writer. "Payback" is more of a philosophical and philological analysis of debt and credit as opposed to a theoretical analysis which again, you would not expect from a Margaret Atwood.Atwood's humanist approach is refreshing. What she is really seeking to explore is why and how the system of credit affects and is influenced by human traits of desire, fear, and trust. The first few chapters on the classical texts of the Bible, or Dickens, or Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" are good. The last chapter on Scrooge is too moralistic bordering on elitism.As part of the Massey Lectures series, I thought this was a good addition. Certainly innovative in having a literary writer analyzing a topic such as economics. Definitely an interesting read, both for the topic and because of the writer.
cdawn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I got tired of Scrooge by the end, but the book was filled with curious and enlightening ideas about the third leg of the forbidden topics of sex, religion and money. Will my ex ever find it in himself to wipe the slate clean on that stupid promissory note?
owenre on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting and unexpected, however not riveting and it felt a little bit contrived. I tried out the topic as Atwood saw it at dinner last night and had the same reaction - "What?" "Oh." Next topic.
mahallett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
very enjoyable. atwood has a very stupid chuckle which is kind of endearing. i don't want to live with it but okay for a bit. i enjoyed the first 4 but the last put me off. i have very little time for dickens, especially scrooge and it was a modern arrangement of scrooge.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Have you ever been hurt? Of course you have; pain is a part of life. Have you ever been hurt so badly that you feel like your pain can only be satisfied by blood? Margaret Atwood discusses this idea in Payback at the end of chapter three “Debt as plot” and throughout most of chapter four “The Shadow Side”: “It presented itself as a pleasure to him to do the very thing that would cause Mr. Tulliver the most deadly mortification, - and a pleasure of a complex kind, not made up of a crude malice, but mingling with the relish of self-approbation. To see an enemy humiliated gives a certain contentment, but this is jejune compared with the highly blent satisfaction of seeing him humiliated by your benevolent action… That is a sort of revenge which falls into the scale of virtue” (Payback, p 117). Wakem started out as, “an honest miller” (p 115), but when he loses a lawsuit against Mr. Tulliver, he loses his mill and everything he owns to Tulliver, who takes control of the mill and hires Wakem as a simple employee. Wakem is consumed by his rage till the day he dies. Atwood is, of course, quoting George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss. She uses this quote to explain how debt can corrupt even the most righteous and how, “death pays all debts” (p 119). “Death pays all debts”, but some debts can be repaid before your utter demise. Atwood addresses this by referring to Charles Dickins’ A Christmas Carol. She  Summarizes the well-known story to show how there can be redemption from debt, but then throws in her own new age twist. She bring in a character called Scrooge Nouveau, who, “lives in the 21st century, […] he doesn’t have a firm, he has a corporation. In fact, he has many. He collects them – it’s a hobby of his” (p 175). So Scrooge Nouveau is basically like Dickens’ Original Scrooge, except that Scrooge Nouveau is richer. With his own golf course and private jet, the wealth of Original Scrooge can’t even compare. Atwood then goes into a lengthy story about the Ghosts of Earth Day past, present, and future, visiting Scrooge and showing him pictures of pestilence and plague, and the possibility of a beautiful future, or of a damned tomorrow. “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if preserved in, they must lead” (p 201), says the Spirit of Earth Day Future. We have been given gifts. The question is how we will use them: will we squander our wealth, or pay back what is due. Atwood finishes her book with Scrooge rolling out of bed, walking over to the window, and thinking to himself the iconic line, “I don’t really own anything, […] [n]ot even my body. Everything I have is only borrowed. I’m not really rich at all, I’m heavily in debt. How do I even begin to pay back what I owe?” (p 203). Everything we have is a gift; it’s only borrowed. We are in debt to whatever made us. Do everything you can to pay back the debt you owe. Atwood tries to explain debt by using commonly known references to popular books and ancient cultures, which makes the book interesting, but then she decides to continue on elaborating and elaborating about references she has made. This results in the text becoming dull and hard to follow. She has several widely acclaimed novels such as The Edible Woman and The Blind Assassin that are fun to read and beautifully written, but this book ends up being just a conglomeration of ideas that never seem to have a complete point. Even the most educated would have trouble following the plot. It was a decent book; I’m just never going to read it again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In Payback, Atwood employs a large assortment of references to prove that debt can be much more complex than is commonly believed to be. The concept of debt is unraveled to become much more than a monetary issue, instead, it has ties into religion and the overall structure of our society. Atwood demonstrates with example of how debt is embedded in our human culture. We start demonstrating the knowledge of fairness at a young age, as Atwood describes how children are often heard screaming, “that’s not fair,” in a case where they might feel as if something was indebted to them (p13.)  This examination of debt crosses over to the perception of debt. We often see debt in a negative way, but is debt so dark that it can be considered a sin?  Atwood proceeds to study the exploitation of debt and how people use it in malicious ways. She creates a bridge between debt and sin in her next chapter by referring to the vernacular of Jesus Christ where debt and sin are synonymous (Atwood p45.) Ultimately debt effects most, if not all people in our society, but this debt does not magically appear, Atwood also examines how debt becomes entrenched in our lives. She suggests debt involves a sequence of events and is the consequence of these events. (Atwood p81.) To continue her trend of debt being a static evil, Atwood presents the darker side of debt by addressing the certain kind of debt that cannot be paid by money. This kind of debt can only be paid by blood or someone’s life referring to the play, The Merchant of Venice written by William Shakespeare (Atwood p152.) By the end of this novel, many questions were raised about exactly what Atwood was trying to prove about debt, but she eventually gets to her point. Although she effectively ties up all of her convictions about debt, at the end, she leaves the reader with a much more pivotal question.   After reading through the novel, a few concepts stood out to be the impetus that created the evil in debt. It’s the concepts of people being enslaved by their debt and how the time will always come for someone to pay their debt. To support her claims, Atwood uses terrifying details and reveals debt to be much more dangerous than we commonly believe.  The Code of Hammurabi of Mesopotamia are a collection of amendments that allows a man to sell his wife, his kids, inhabitants of his household, and even himself into slavery to pay off a debt (Atwood p56). Even though these laws were dated in 1752 B.C.E., debt slavery still exists today (Atwood p57).  Consider the entrapment that is involved with smuggling illegal immigrants from Asia to the United States. In return for their long journey over, they are forced into labor to pay off their tremendous debts to these smugglers (Atwood p57). In another situation, the operations of a brothel includes renting rooms, clothing, and selling drugs to prostitutes on a tab that could never be paid off. This type of control chains people to continuous work and essentially enslaves them to their debt (Atwood p58). The notion that someone can be enslaved by his or her debt is distressing, but the certainty of the collection of ones debt presents a more demoralizing aspect.  When there is debt, there exists a time frame or a certain date in which payment must be made. This date will always come, and it can be seen through the play of Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus. This story involves a man known as Dr. Faustus who sells his soul to the devil for worldly goods and wealth. The tragedy comes when its time for Faustus to pay up his end of the bargain. It’s a scene where he begs for more time to be with his loved one but time is relentless in nature and just keeps ticking. (Atwood p169) It becomes more relative as to us by examining the questions provoked by Atwood in Payback. What is our debt to society? What is our debt to our earth? If there is a debt that we owe to our society, we can be certain of one thing, the time to payback these debts will eventually be at our doorsteps (Atwood p166).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Self-Destruction Margaret Atwood is a powerful writer who takes her time developing a strong and solid foundation, as she sheds light on mankind’s life-long struggle with spiritual and financial debt in her 2008 publication, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. Atwood ensures that her readers are capable of grasping every idea she introduces by taking them back in time and revisiting where it all began. Atwood overloads our mind with ancient tales, and countless examples of how mankind has sabotaged himself and set out on a path of self-destruction. Atwood takes her readers back to the original sin of Adam and Eve, showcasing mankind’s inability to resist the temptations of the Devil. She makes it undeniably clear that mankind has been selling his soul to the Devil since the beginning of time for a gain of worldly goods and luxurious lifestyles, as they become totally oblivious to the eternal life of slavery that they will have to endure at the end of their natural life. Mankind’s lack of a proper justice system allowed their gain of power and wealth to vastly turn in to Greed and corruption. In man’s attempt to prevent mayhem from spreading through the towns, lawmakers were set in place to help govern and ensure fairness amongst all people. However, the laws that were created only benefited the wealthy and allowed them to take advantage of the poor. People became indebted to society and were forced to pay taxes on everything they owned. With lawmakers possessing the power to raise taxes whenever they saw fit, it became overwhelmingly impossible for people to keep up with their payments. Man resorted to pawning and selling valuable assets to get by. Atwood puts it best when she said, “The best nineteenth-century revenge is not seeing your enemies red blood all over the floor but seeing the red ink all over his balance sheet” (p100). Mankind greedily set out to increase his wealth by spending the taxpayer’s dollar on technology, building machines that are capable of dominating the ocean. These man-made machines have ripped apart our ocean floors killing thousands of living creatures in the process and destroying our world’s largest food resource. Mankind’s lack of self-control and preservation for our lands natural resources have created a problem that is now beyond our control. Concluding Atwood’s extensive journey through ancient history, she informs us that, “unless people [treat] the gifts given by the natural world with respect, and [refrain] from wasteful-ness and greed, divine displeasure [will] follow, signaled by drought, disease, and famine” (p179). Atwood did a phenomenal job revealing the self-destructive life cycle that has been plaguing mankind from generation to generation, while thoroughly explaining the correlation between debt and sin. Atwood not only shows us how mankind has dug himself deeper and deeper into a hole, but she also reveals that in order for us to correct this devastating problem, “We need to calculate the real cost of how of how we’ve been living […]” (p203). We can no longer use the excuse that this problem is too large for one man to control. In my opinion, Atwood’s use of excessive ancient tales make it a little difficult to follow her at times, but she does a great job at roping you back in and bringing awareness to the crises that is taking place here on Earth. Overall it was a powerful and informative book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Perspectives of Debt In our everyday society you will most likely encounter debt somehow. Whether it be a conversation, on the radio, on tv, or even a situation of obtaining your own debt. Most people cringe when they hear anything about debt, but why? Where does debt even come from? Why does debt have such a bad image in our society? Many professionals provide research for those people interested in the subject of debt. Margaret Atwood has done her research and provides some very intriguing insight into the subject of debt in her book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. This book is not going to explain how to pay off your debt and it is not going to tell you what your best option is to become wealthy. Atwood’s book evaluates the author’s own research into the topic and provides many references to help readers relate to the different ideas presented. Throughout this book, the author provides many references to literary work, real life scenarios, Greek mythology, and even personal imagination.  From Charles Dickens’s character, Ebenezer Scrooge, to Saint Nick, to the Bible and ancient legends of Gods and Goddesses, Atwood develops multiple perspectives that help the reader develop their own perspective of debt. One of the most recognizable references is Mr. Scrooge himself from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (Atwood p86). The author evaluates the life story of Scrooge and helps develop the background of the character. She helps the reader understand how Scrooge relates to our everyday lives and the debt within it all. The character, Scrooge, is used throughout the book and is also compared with another literary character, Doctor Faustus, from Christopher Marlowe’s play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. Both characters have many similarities, but they have different outcomes in the end. By comparing these two characters, Atwood provides an image of multiple results of debt and the different types of debt. Doctor Faustus and Ebenezer Scrooge are referenced throughout the book, but Atwood provides a much deeper analysis for Scrooge.  During the explanation of Scrooge, the author eventually dissects the multiple personalities of the character. Each personality is given its own title and made into new characters. The first personality is named “Scrooge Original”, the second is “Scrooge Lite”, and the third is a personality developed by Atwood named “Scrooge Nouveau” (Atwood p173-4). Payback is filled with references to Scrooge, so by taking each personality by itself, the reader gets a much deeper understanding of the overall character and different scenarios that are used throughout the book. Because Scrooge is so recognizable, it makes it very easy to develop a personal perspective within these different personalities. Scrooge Original is the stingy old man that is present in the beginning of the story. He is the character that nobody wants to be, nor does anybody want to be around. Scrooge Lite is the character at the end of the story that is given a second chance. He is given the opportunity to “redeem” himself. Scrooge Nouveau is the twenty-first century version of Ebenezer and is opposite to Scrooge Original. This new character spends his money, but not on others, he spends it all on himself. The development and analysis of Scrooge Nouveau is provided to help bring a more relatable character into the setting. By doing this, Atwood helps the reader grasp the reference of Scrooge throughout the book. All of the different ideas that are provided by Atwood can be wrapped into the story of Scrooge and that is why it is easy to reference the character throughout the book.  The development of all of the author’s references can be difficult to readers if they are not knowledgeable on the different subjects. To completely understand this book, it may take some research by the reader. Atwood never states a solid answer to where debt comes from, what it is, or how to get out of it, but she provides many different perspectives, and challenges the reader to develop their own perspective. Payback has an open conclusion, lets the reader evaluate what they have read and provides a good starting point for anybody interested in researching the overall subject of debt. This book makes the reader think and analyze many different things with the overall goal of developing a new perspective of debt. “Maybe it’s time for us to think about it differently” (Atwood p203). 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Debt Shall Have Its Dominion It's not only money - our thoughts and actions are also weighed in the balance, as Margaret Atwood's erudite account shows. With this short, lively and exceedingly timely book, Margaret Atwood has written what might be described as an intellectual history of debt. There are no Alvin Hall-style tips for getting out of financial difficulty, and those looking for insights into the causes of our current economic predicament will be disappointed. Atwood's focus, instead, is on debt as a “human nature”(Atwood p.11) - or, to put it another way, debt as an idea. Not surprisingly, given her day job as a novelist, she peppers her argument with copious examples from literature, dipping into texts ranging from Aeschylus's The Eumenides to Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. The end result is not so much a single argument as a compendium of mini-essays on the various ways that debt has been thought about through the ages. Debt is certainly a good subject for a survey of this sort. For one thing, it's a topic that rarely gets tackled by anyone other than economists and personal finance gurus, so the territory is wide open. For another, the concept of debt is, when you think about it, amazingly broad in its reach. Understood at the most basic level, a debt has nothing to do with money; it is simply something that is owed. And all sorts of things can be owed, both material and non-material. We can be indebted to someone for their love and friendship, or we can be indebted to them for the cup of sugar they brought round the other day. Equally, we can incur debts for wrongdoing. If I hurt my friend then it is reasonable for him to expect me to make up for that hurt. If I don't then he may consider it his right to do me an injury in return. This is the principle of revenge, to which Atwood devotes several pages. Almost every human interaction carries with it a metaphorical balance sheet, an implied burden of obligation and reward. Debt, understood this way, is inseparable from the business of life. Moreover, the concept of debt underpins many of society's most important belief systems, most obviously the law, morality and religion. Our notions of justice and punishment are predicated on the idea that those who break the law owe society a debt, which they must make good either with a monetary payment - a fine - or by means of some other penalty, such as a prison sentence. Morality, too, is at root a system of debt, although this time the entity you owe payment to - the creditor - is not society but God. The Christian narrative can likewise be viewed through the prism of debt, with God figuring as a kind of benign banker. He has given us something of incalculable value - life - and, if we play by His rules and make our moral repayments on time, we'll be allowed to hold on to it forever. By the same token, the Devil can be seen as a malevolent creditor, tempting us with material benefits of wealth, sex, power in exchange for our long-term spiritual health. It is no surprise that in literature the Devil is often portrayed as a lawyer or accountant, totting up the debts or, in the Faust legend, souls owed to him in a ledger. In Payback, Atwood touches on all these themes and many more besides. The book began life as a lecture series, which perhaps explains its ultra-chatty style. Atwood clearly isn't bothered about coming across as a know-it-all, and the knowledge she displays is formidable. She appears to have read the whole of Western literature and to be an authority on ancient languages. At one point she even makes a foray into animal anthropology, citing a study of capuchin monkeys which, she claims, demonstrates that a rudimentary grasp of debt exists in primates. Still, Atwood's enthusiasm for her subject and lively style go a long way toward making up for these flaws. She can be a brilliant phrase-maker, and has a gift for summing up an idea with a single vivid image. She points out the fundamental ridiculousness of the self-help idea of “owing it to yourself”(Atwood p.153), since it casts you as your 'own creditor and debtor rolled into one'. Elsewhere, she memorably describes Hell as being “like an infernal maxed-out credit card that multiplies the charges endlessly”(Atwood p.109). And the topic itself is so endlessly interesting that it is hard not to be carried along. Although Atwood doesn't make a big show of the fact, many of her discussions are highly relevant to current events. She probes the relationship between debt and evil, for example, with a brilliant account of the various Devil-as-creditor characters in literature. The most famous is, of course, Mephistopheles, and Atwood, with her usual erudition, describes not just the Marlowe and Goethe versions of the Faust myth but also a less celebrated 19th-century retelling by Washington Irving. What emerges is how malleable the legend is, how easily it can be re-cast according to the values of any era - including our own. It wouldn't require too much of a leap, for example, to see the modern-day sub-prime creditor as yet another Mephistopheles, tempting us with gaudy fantasies of earthly riches. Unlike his predecessors, though, this Mephistopheles wouldn't be interested in your soul: he'd be after your house. Atwood's discussion of the connection between evil and debt leads, in turn, to another pertinent question - that of blame. Who, she asks, bears most of the blame for debt: the lender or the debtor? As she points out, in different times and in different places the balance has shifted. The idea that being in debt is sinful has deep roots in Christianity - as indicated by the existence of debtors' prisons. But Atwood points out that moneylender have most often been made scapegoats for financial turmoil, and it is by no means only the Jews who have suffered in this respect. This is something that we should bear in mind before we become too pious in our condemnation of City bankers. Atwood rounds things off by moving from finance into more wishy-washy territory. She ends the book with a modern-day retelling of Scrooge, which concludes with a banal vision of ecological redemption. It is by no means the highlight of the book but that doesn't mean its message has no value. At a time when so many of us are mired in debts of the financial variety it is worth remembering that it is the other, non-financial debts that we owe - to the planet, and to each other - that may prove most important.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Debts, Debits, and Debtors Payback is a book about debt. No-it is not another Idiot’s Guide to getting rid of your financial debt. It is more of a reference book describing debt as a concept in relation to finances, morality, and life in general. Atwood cleverly disguises her title so that your first thoughts are revenge, when in fact, she barely goes into the concept, choosing instead to focus on debt. It postulates and hypothesizes, it questions and answers. It delves into the past, while remaining in the present, defining and dissecting payback’s counterpart- debt. In Payback, Atwood details the history of debt as  we know it- from the ancient gods, to Deuteronomy, she describes how debt is characterized and its relation to fairness and justice. In her book, Atwood states that “Without memory, there is no debt. Put another way: without story, there is no debt. A story is a string of actions occurring over time- one damn thing after another... and debt happens as a result of actions occurring over time.” Atwood then goes on to reference some well known story characters all directly connected to this concept- Charles Dickens’s Ebenezer Scrooge, as well as Madame Defarge, Washington Irving’s Tom Walker, and Thackeray’s Rawdon Crawley to name a few. She briefly introduces each character to us- her readership- and then has a tendency to quote long passages from the story or play being referenced. In doing so, Atwood answers those questions that plague her at the start of the section. Atwood then goes on to describe the dark side of debt or “the shadow side”. In this chapter she discusses the unwanted job of the money lenders who were often chased out of their homes, so that records could be burned in order to absolve some sinner of his debt. Or in Atwood’s eloquent words: “Whenever you have an out-group to whom an in-group owes a lot of money, “Kill the Creditors” remains an available though morally repugnant way of canceling your debts.” She discusses the primarily Jewish trade of moneylending a few centuries back, and after describing their persecution says “You’ll notice I got through  this part without mentioning the Nazis. The point being that I didn’t have to. For they have not been alone.” Alone in what? Alone in their antisemitism, and fierce determination to rid the planet of all things Jewish.  She also delves into the ancient Greek saying “The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small” describing its meaning and then returns to good ole’ Mr. Scrooge to tell the end of her tale. Margaret Atwood is witty, informative, and at times a bit of a rambler. In my opinion,se rambles a bit too much, often times going on a tangent that just seems to bring  on another tangent making the book a bit hard to follow if you’re looking to actually read about debt and payback. But she tells an excellent story and clearly wants to appeal to a broad audience based on the variety of references that can be found in Payback. I would recommend Payback to a person who is well read and looking to expand their horizons a bit. Just bear this in mind- Payback is no bathroom book. It will require your undivided attention- and perhaps that of your favorite search engine- for several hours.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago