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A Calculated Risk Readers Guides

1. “Spirit and Matter” of Money

Katherine Neville has said in interviews that she actually wrote A Calculated Risk in the 1980s and updated and published it in the early 1990s. Yet the book’s main “plot line” seems to keep resurfacing in each era, as demonstrated across the world of international high finance.

The message or theme of A Calculated Risk is summed up early on by Verity Banks, the book’s heroine, in her observations about the ephemeral nature of money versus the grasping, earthbound nature of financiers with clay feet. She says:

“It might sound odd to a non-banker, but there are two big mistakes most people make about the nature and well-being of money. The first is to assume that money has some kind of intrinsic (or at least established) value. It hasn’t. The second is that money can be physically protected by putting it in a bank vault or someplace for safekeeping. It can’t.

“To understand why not, you have to accept that money is nothing more than a symbol. The more money you move, and the faster you move it, the more symbolic it becomes: the harder it is to control its absolute value–or even its whereabouts. If big enough sums move from one place to another, and they move fast enough, they practically disappear.

“Then too, only the methods change in theft–not the concepts or the motives. People have been stealing since before money was invented. But the more portable wealth becomes, the easier it is to steal; when cows were the medium of exchange, thieves had a real problem. With the advent of computers, however, cash has become so portable it barely exists, except as an electronic blip. I like to think of our age in high-tech banking as the Dawn of Fiduciary Symbolism–the era when money has become nothing more than tiny dots of light bouncing off satellites in space.”

How would Verity’s observations apply to the volcanic economic implosions going on, today, in the world’s financial arenas? What steps does Verity suggest that we might take to alter the playing field in future? Do you agree with her ideas?

2. “Information is Power”:

Both Nathan Rothschild in the historic chapters and Verity Banks in the modern chapters use the speedy acquisition of information as a tool to survive and prevail over their opponents. The world of information technology has altered vastly since Neville wrote A Calculated Risk. Advances in technology like the Internet, Google and Wickipedia, pocket-sized computers (which Zoltan Tor had just invented!) have taken place since then, and many other such technological breakthroughs. How could Verity’s multiple scams be altered today? What would make her caper easier? What might make it more difficult? What real-life “capers”and scams in recent history are examples of the security issues she was complaining bout–and how? What real-time information today would alter the plot of the book?

3. “Calculated Risks”:

There are two “risks”that are interwoven through A Calculated Risk. One is the risk that Nathan Rothschild takes by using his entire family fortune to back the British against the French at Waterloo. The other is the risk that Verity Banks–the daughter of a third-generation banking family and the top female executive of the world’s biggest bank–takes when she stakes her whole career to prove a point about inadequate security in the banking industry.

What are the other–perhaps even deeper–risks that these two figures, Nathan and Verity, are really taking? What is calculated about them and what does the expression “a calculated risk”–within these two contexts–really mean? How are their two risk situations, though set two hundred years apart, similar to one another? How does each of these support the underlying theme of the story?