How perilously close to the abyss we were! Now the question is how will we keep from returning there. In her concluding pages, Tett dips into her training as a social anthropologist and recommends that bankers and regulators take a “holistic” approach to measuring risk and preventing it from getting it out of hand. That, however, is a nebulous catchword. Here is something more concrete: No more off-balance-sheet entities. No more securities so complex top bankers can’t understand them. No more “too big to fail.” No more unlimited leverage and fake capital ratios. And if you take away a single principle from this book, let it be this one: when lending, bankers must have their own skin in the game.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.