The early years of the 18th century produced two great monuments - one, Christopher Wren's new cathedral of St Paul's, an enduring testament to principled craft and masterful construction, and the other, an empty fraud of such magnitude that its collapse threatened to overturn monarchies and governments. Its failure delayed the introduction of modern market economies by two generations. Yet the full scale of this monumental deceit was quietly covered up and hidden, its enduring legacy a poorly understood colloquialism: the South Sea Bubble. It was all planned by one ambitious promoter, who had decided to launch "a company for carrying on an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is". This 18th century mission statement has now acquired an almost uncanny resonance: these words could aptly have been applied to the bursting of the Internet bubble and the collapse of Enron. With the financial scandals that have beset global companies recently, such as Rank Xerox and Worldcom, this tale is all the more relevant today. Malcolm Balen reveals the full story of corruption and scandal that attended the birth of the first shareholder economy, and with it uncovers a parable for our times.
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Malcolm Balen is the author of a much praised biography of Kenneth Clarke. With a degree in History from Cambridge, he is currently editor of ITN's Carlton news, having previously worked as editor of the BBC Nine O'Clock news and for Channel 4.Review:
'As successive corporate accounting scandals surface in America, and global share prices again tumble, Balen reminds us that the murky tale of the first Bubble still stands as a cautionary tale for our time.' Lisa Jardine, Sunday Times 'They are rattling good yarns, and Balen spins them with all the mastery of the seasoned news man that he is.' Peter Jay, Guardian 'Author Michael Balen has picked a good time to tell a tale of skullduggery, mania, and greed...It is the classic story of boom and bust.' Express
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